There are few things in history that call to us across time from the beginnings of our nation. The Historic National Road, this nation’s first federally funded highway, is one of them. For more than 600 miles, it is a landscape of historic, cultural and archaeological significance, scenic beauty and bountiful recreation, and a journey through the lives, fortunes and struggles of the people that forged America.
Beginning in Cumberland, Maryland, connecting a bank road from Baltimore, and crossing six states (MD, PA, WV, OH, IN, IL), it stretches westward past historic landmarks, mountain vistas, industrial towns, rich farmland and pastures, to reach the Mississippi River and the Eads Bridge in East St. Louis, Illinois. Conceived by Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson, it is a physical translation of the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy – a nation of citizens whose values and politics were tied to the land. Construction began in 1811 and the first segment of the road – the Eastern Legacy – Cumberland to Wheeling – was completed between 1818 and 1820.