No highway in America has a more historic background or played a more important part in the opening of the Western Territory than the old National Road. The Boston Post Road, Boones Trace, The Natchez Trace, The Oregon Road and The Santa Fe Trail, all have their places in American history. They have an important part in the development of our country but the National Road has a story all its own.
The National Road was authorized by the federal government in 1806, in response to the need to connect East and West by a national transportation system. The section which crossed Pennsylvania began in Cumberland, Maryland – thus earning the title of the “Cumberland Road” and ended in Wheeling, in what was then Virginia.
This project is unique in our nation’s history for it was and remains the only road system wholly constructed by the Federal Government. Construction of the road through mountain and forest wilderness was both costly and tedious. It took five years to complete this first section, and it was estimated that the road between Uniontown and Washington, Pennsylvania, alone cost $6,400 a mile. Construction on the road to the west, through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois continued after travel on the Pennsylvania section began. In time, the cost and difficulty in maintaining the road made the federal government anxious to hand the responsibility for it to the states which it crossed. In 1835 Pennsylvania agreed to administer her part of the road, and authorized the erection of six Tollhouses, approximately fifteen miles apart, to aid in the collection of the necessary revenue.