One of the joys of writing historical novels is the research involved. Recently, I stumbled across a bit of Illinois history that fit well with my WIP (work in progress). Check out my previous post: Novel Research ~ Making it Fun to learn more about my discovery of the first National Road and why it’s important to my third novel, Under Moonlit Skies.
My husband and I took a day trip to Vandalia, IL to learn details about the road’s history. We stopped in the National Road Interpretive Center and chatted with Mary Pruitt about some of the history and folklore of the National Road (Cumberland Road). I hope you find it as interesting as I did!
The idea for the first National Road in the US originated with Thomas Jefferson in 1806, but the project didn’t gain momentum until 1811. Starting at Cumberland, MD, the road traveled through the capital of each state from Maryland to Illinois, with the intention of continuing on to Jefferson City, MO. The project spanned a quarter of a century, suffering several setbacks along the way (War of 1812, lack of funds, poor weather). By 1836, it reached Vandalia (Illinois’ capital city at the time) where it came to a halt due to funds being cut off.
Surveyors used tools like this compass and chains to map out the route. The road was 4 rods wide (66 feet). I can’t imagine the work that went into clearing trees and smoothing the roadway for travelers to pass through with the meager tools they had at the time.
19TH CENTURY SEMI-TRUCKS
One of the most interesting facts I gleaned was that Conestoga wagons were the semi-trucks of the nineteenth century! They carried no passengers, instead, the sixteen-plus foot wagons, weighing more than a ton, were used for hauling huge quantities of supplies, much like modern-day semis. The road was also a stagecoach route with inns dotting the towns along its path. It opened the door to many a traveler wishing to start a new life out west or visit loved ones back east.
Now, semi-trucks and cars travel along State Route 40 which runs where the National Road used to be. Funds did eventually come through to extend the road to East St. Louis, but not until the 1920s. There it stopped.
What a great achievement for Americans to have developed the First National Road which allowed many to charter new horizons during a time when our nation was just beginning to spread its wings and expand westward.
What a glorious country the Lord blessed us with, and we give thanks to the courageous men and women who faced numerous hardships and obstacles to give us access to it. I’ll be posting about another historical stop we made in Vandalia soon, so be sure to watch for it!
*To learn how this Cumberland Road pertains to my novel, Under Moonlit Skies be sure to sign up for my Author Newsletter. Subscribers are the first to receive inside info into my novels along with other perks. I’d love to have you on my list of subscribers!
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