Historic National Road | Midwest Living

Historic National Road

Two hundred years after its birth, the National Road, America's first interstate highway, offers a rich historical tour.

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  • 1
    Bricks remain on Ohio's Peacock Road, an abandoned stretch of the National Road.
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    The 1883 Guernsey Courthouse in Cambridge, Ohio.
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    Ohio's S-bridges.
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    Lantz House Inn in Centerville, Indiana.

Mixing History and Pop Culture

 

History is that way on the National Road, as common as convenience stores on most highways. If you cruise by the old county jail in Centerville, Indiana, you might notice holes in the bricks over the door. That happened in 1873 when townspeople dragged in "Black Betty, " the town’s ceremonial cannon, and fired a blast at Richmond officials trying to steal the Wayne County government for their town. Unfortunately for Centerville, the blast tore the door off its hinges, allowing the Richmond invaders to run inside and grab the records.

Down the street, the Lantz House Inn has its own marred wall, but a tamer story. Walk close to the building to see nails left over from handbills tacked up for 19th-century National Road travelers.

Farther east, and farther back in time, near Farmington, Pennsylvania, stands the regal grave of British Gen. Edward Braddock, whose 2,400 men hacked through the forest in 1755 to fight in the French and Indian War. Though his road lived on to guide the National Road’s route, Braddock died in battle, shocking soldiers who had probably never heard of anyone shooting at generals, much less seen one cut down in the wilderness. Standing by Braddock’s grave today, you can almost feel the bewilderment of men like 23-year-old George Washington, who prayed over his commander’s body. In this spot, there’s an unmistakable sense of past and present rubbing together a bit uncomfortably. While reflecting at the grave, you’ll probably notice that the Braddock Inn up the hill is advertising six-packs for six bucks.

The same feeling arises on the edge of Richmond, Indiana, where you can’t miss an unusual lawn ornament outside a McDonald’s restaurant. It’s a stone marker, and if you stop to read it, you’ll find it commemorates the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, which set this spot as the boundary between the United States and Native American lands.

 

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