The National Road- The Road That Helped Build the Nation

The National Road holds a significant place in the history of Ohio and the nation. It was our country’s first federally funded interstate highway and provided both a route to the frontier and market access for the sparsely settled Midwest during the early 19th century.

Conceived by Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson, the National Road fullfilled a desire by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others to build an all-weather road across the Allegheny Mountains. In order to strengthen political and economic ties between the east coast states and the developing west, construction began in Cumberland, Md., in 1811 and  reached the Ohio River at Wheeling in 1818. Debate over the constitutionality of internal improvements delayed extension of the road for several years. In 1825, ground was broken in Ohio, with the Road reaching Zanesville in 1830, Columbus in 1833 and Springfield in 1838. The National Road immediately attracted travelers and commerce, including thousands of wagons, coaches and carriages, riders on horseback and droves of livestock. It spurred the platting of new towns and stimulated the growth of existing communities. The National Road began to decline after 1850 as a new form of transportation, the railroad, replaced animal and foot power as the preferred method of long-distance travel. The cycling craze of the late 19th century brought new life to the old National Road. Bicyclists championed better roads to ride “century” distances of 100 miles or more in a day. Advocates for the “Good Roads Movement” increased dramatically with the invention and increased use of the automobile. In 1916, Congress passed the Good Roads Act to help states pay for upgrades to roads. Reflecting its newfound significance, the National Road was reborn as U.S. 40 in the 1920s. On the eve of World War II, U.S. 40 was a busy 24-hour-a-day artery lined with truck stops, motor courts and diners with hearty food and endless cups of coffee. Traffic on the National Road peaked about 1960 and quickly diminished after the construction of I-70 in the 1960s. Today, the National Road's historic significance is reflected in the many old road segments, mile markers, pike towns, taverns and inns, motels and truck stops.

An All-American Road National Scenic Byway

In June 2002, the entire six-state corridor of the Historic National Road, from Maryland to Illinois, was designated an All-American Road National Scenic Byway by the U.S Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. To be designated a National Scenic Byway, a road must possess at least one of six intrinsic qualities (archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational or scenic) and the road's distinctive characteristics must be recognized throughout the region. To receive An All-American Road designation, the National Road must possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant and contain one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. The Road also had to be considered a destination unto itself. That is, the Road must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.

National Scenic Byways

The nation’s National Scenic Byways are special routes that provide travelers with alternatives to the monotony of high-speed inter-state travel, offer unique views and introduce us to special places. For more information about the Historic National Road and other National Scenic Byways visit

Come Join the Journey with A Traveler’s Guide to the Historic National Road in Ohio

Now your trip on the National Road can be enhanced and made more enjoyable through an exciting publication, A Traveler’s Guide to the Historic National Road in Ohio. This 46-page, highly illustrated, full-color guide provides you with entertaining Road history and culture, a point-by-point description and directions to significant historical, cultural, natural and recreational sites associated with the Road or nearby, from the east to the west.

Click here to learn more about the Traveler’s Guide and how obtain a free copy or call the Ohio History Connection at 614/297-2300 or 800/686-6124.

This is the official logo of the Historic National Road in Ohio. Watch for this sign as you travel the road.

A Plan for the National Road in Ohio

Becoming an All-American Road National Scenic Byway required that a Corridor Management Plan be developed to guide the long term management and development of the Road corridor. The National Road Cooridor Management Plan was completed by the Ohio History Connection with a grant from the Federal Highway Administration National Scenic Byway Program. The Plan was created through a public input process and reflects the goals and priorities of the communities through which the byway passes. The Plan is overseen by the Ohio National Road Association (ONRA). Visit the ONRA website at:

The central focus of the Plan is a set of management strategies that guide the enhancement, development, marketing and promotion, preservation, restoration and interpretation of the Road. The management strategies address the elements required by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for National Scenic Byway Designation, while also providing a practical document from which the Ohio National Road Association and local groups and organizations can work to achieve the visions and goals for the byway. Ten sections address:

·        Preservation and Enhancement Strategies for National Road Resources

·        Strategies for Other Historic and Cultural Resources

·        Strategies for Managing Scenic and Natural Resources and Minimizing Visual Intrusions

·        Strategies for Roadway Management

·        Strategies to Link the Byway to the Region and Beyond

·        Strategies to Foster Economic Development

·        Tourism and Visitor Services

·        A Sign Plan for the Ohio National Road

·        Coordinating with the Five Other National Road States

·        Implementation of the Management Plan

Click here to view the Corridor Management Plan for the Historic National Road in Ohio.

Recognizing the complexity of restoration and development initiatives and the varying levels of control and governance along the National Road, the Ohio History Connection and the Ohio National Road Association have produced the Ohio Historic National Road Design Handbook with a grant from the Federal Highway Administration National Scenic Byway Programs. The Handbook is intended as an aid for numerous audiences, including regional planners, local governments, property owners, developers and community activists. Whether your interest lies in promoting the byways history, protecting its character, developing private property, or making roadway improvements, the Handbook provides information and resources that you can use to help guide decision-making. The Handbook has been called “A solid model for future planning by byway stakeholders.”

Click here to view the Handbook or to download a copy