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October 14, 2000   St. Elmo, IL
Written and Read by Penny V. Lewis(Fayette County, IL GenWeb Coordinator) for National Road Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
 

  How Did the Road Get Started?


       The "Cries" for a road that tied the east and west was heard as early as the 1740's, well before the birth of our nation. A road was needed primarily as a portage between waterways. Several groups lobbied for a road to ease settlement and the transfer of goods. The military too, found certain advantages of a western road. In 1752, Christopher Gist and Thomas Cresap were hired to explore the land and seek the best route for a western road. Cresap employed a Delaware Chief named Nemacolin to mark a path for a roadway that merely followed an old indian trail. British General Edward Braddock, along with George Washington built a military road that paralleled Nemacolin's Path, from Cumberland, Maryland to Fort Duquesne. Economic considerations were highly in favor of a National Road, which would allow farmers and traders in the west to send their products east in exchanged for manufactured goods and other essentials.

     It was not until 1802, President Jefferson's Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, proposed a plan that sparked interest, known as the "Origin of the National Road". The plan allocated money from land sales, allowing a percentage to be used for the making of the first federally funded highway. 
 
     The first section of the National Road was approved in 1806 by an act of congress and signed by President Thomas Jefferson, officially establishing a national highway from Cumberland, Maryland to the Mississippi. There was one catch, the road would run through the capitals of each state along the route. According to congressional requirements the road was to be sixty-six feet wide and be surfaced with stone and covered with gravel, along with bridges that were to be made of stone. Mandates were placed by legislators for the protection of citizens that prohibited a tree stump on the National Road to exceed 15 inches in height. Surveyors were sent to calculate and measure westward trails. The road would eventually pass through Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, and Illinois.

The Building of the Great Road West

     Even though, contracts were not granted until 1811, road construction did not begin until 1815 in Cumberland, Maryland and reached Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1818, being delayed because of the war of 1812. From Wheeling, Ohio was only a bridge length away. Many families preferred to migrate by Ohio River boats than by slow wagon journey westward through the wilderness of deep ruts and low lying stumps. The terrain varied from state to state as well as the quality of bridges and roads.

     Original specifications for the road were used before the utilization of Macadamization. This rather expensive and sophisticated engineering technique used layers of stone to build the road. To make the road, the ground would have to be dug 12-18 inches deep and stones approximately 7 inches in diameter were used for the base. Then smaller stones that passed through a three-inch ring and graded down. Macadamization was the ideal surface for the time, but due to the expense it was not available everywhere. Plank roads, literally building of a floor of timber as a roadway, was used and look upon as a perfect answer to providing smooth, dust-free roads in muddy rural areas. Over time, deteriation was common among these timber highways and plank roads were not  used everywhere.

          By 1820, money was appropriated to survey the remainder of the states: Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Road building was a huge task. And a variety of skills were needed. Surveyors laid out paths; engineers oversaw construction. Masons cut and worked the stone, and carpenters framed bridges. Numerous laborers pulled and tugged, cut and hauled and leveled to clear the path. By 1822, President James Monroe vetoed a proposed legislation to turn the National Road into a federal toll road. Ownership of the road was handed to the states through which the road passed. The states built tollhouses along the road to collect tolls to help fund repairs needed for the road.
 
 

FAYETTE COUNTY, ILLINOIS AND THE NATIONAL ROAD

     In 1828, a surveyor named Joseph Shriver surveyed the eighty-nine mile route from Indiana to Vandalia, IL. Many hardships endured during his survey in July of that year.  He recorded a few of these in his survey notes:

"Saturday, July 19th, 1828
Run 10-3/4 miles today- 8 or 9 miles of it Prairie-the dividing ground between the Little Walbash and Kaskaskia. 
Encamped on the waters of the Kaskaskia. Lost an ox from the team today, -his death occasioned by the heat and the want of water in xing the prairie.

Sunday, July 20th, 1828
Run 7 miles today over ground not very good for a road. About one half Prairie land, the remainder broken. Encamped on a small spring branch, waters of the stream which puts into the Kaskaskia River opposite Vandalia.

Monday July 21 st, 1828
Run within a mile or less of Vandalia when a heavy rain come on and being in an extensive bottom could not proceed 
further---encamped.  Provisions scarce: breakfast on meat and coffee: --dined on honey and meat and supped on roasted flitch and coffee. Notwithstanding it being so near to Vandalia there is yet not the least sign of anything like a settlement, much less the seat of a Government of a State. Strange case to be within hearing distance of a city and starving."

     It was not long after Shriver's Surveys, Congress appropriated $40,000 in 1830 to open the Illinois section of the road. Later, additional money was granted each year for the much needed work of clearing land, grading and the bridge building  work. New towns began to spring up over night along the route. Many businesses began to set up shop along the road to accommodate the needs of the workers of the National Road. Huge Conestoga Wagons came in droves, traveling the dusty road westward.
 
 

What does the National Road Have to Do with Howard's Point or St. Elmo?

     Two men named George and Wiley Howard settled at Howard's Point in 1834 during the construction of the National Road. The Howard's Point settlement was located at section 27 of Howard's Township, next to the Sugar Creek. It is better known today as Avena Township on the west edge of St. Elmo. A perfect location to supply the small settlement with all their needs of vast timbers, good soil and a waterway. 

     Soon a store, referred to in those days as a "tippling house", was opened at Howard*s Point in 1834 by proprietor B.F. Simons. To accommodate the workers of the National Road, Simons sold food items, merchandise and liquor.  Henry C. Waterman opened the first "tavern" a term used in those days to refer to an "inn" or "a place for lodging". In 1837, Waterman soon established the first post office at Howard's Point and established several stage lines running U.S. mail in every direction. A need for a physician became apparent with the rapid growth of the community. 

Howard's Point Inn-St. Elmo, IL
Compliments of St. Elmo Public Library District
      Dr. George Halbrook was the first practicing physician in the township. His practice often extended twenty to twenty five miles, traveling on horseback on the account of the roads being so bad. Many times, his patients were without money and he often was compensated with produce or coonskins for his services, if any at all. Nicholas Helm saw the need for a mill and built the first sawmill at Howard's Point. Soon a blacksmith was needed and a school. William Smith taught school in an old dwelling house for many years in the small settlement.

     Soon a store, referred to in those days as a "tippling house", was opened at Howard's Point in 1834 by proprietor B.F. Simons. To accommodate the workers of the National Road, Simons sold food items, merchandise and liquor.  Henry C. Waterman opened the first "tavern" a term used in those days to refer to an "inn" or "a place for lodging". In 1837, Waterman soon established the first post office at Howard's Point and established several stage lines running U.S. mail in every direction. A need for a physician became apparent with the rapid growth of the community. Dr. George Halbrook was the first practicing physician in the township. His practice often extended twenty to twenty five miles, traveling on horseback on the account of the roads being so bad. Many times, his patients were without money and he often was compensated with produce or coonskins for his services, if any at all. Nicholas Helm saw the need for a mill and built the first sawmill at Howard's Point. Soon a blacksmith was needed and a school. William Smith taught school in an old dwelling house for many years in the small settlement.

     It was not long before Howard's Point became a village. In Fayette County, Howard's Point was the first settlement that awaited travelers when following the National Road west to their designation. Many families placed their home here after seeing a thriving village. We can be certain of the importance of this village, stemmed from the westward expansion and the National Road. It was not until almost a half of a century later, in 1869 that many businesses and families left Howard's point, to built homes and established residence east of Howard's Point, in what is known today as St. Elmo.

      In 1838 the road had finally reached its end to Vandalia, Illinois, the current state capital at that time. During the summer of 1839 the National Road was open for travel in Illinois. Although the road was surveyed to Jefferson City, Missouri, construction was halted at Vandalia, Illinois. Due to lack of funding by the government and squabbling over the route for  which the road would take.  Missouri wanted the road to travel through St. Louis, MO and Illinois wanting it to travel through Alton, Illinois, a town located along the Mississippi River. After a total of 600 miles and approximately $7,000,000 the road to the wilderness was completed.

     Over time, railroads and eventually the use of the automobile had replaced the old road as major arteries of transportation. In 1926 the road was changed to US Route 40. But for the most part, whether it was huge Conestoga wagons used to haul produce from the farms to the east coast for the exchange of manufactured goods, or the stage coaches that traveled regular scheduled routes to deliver mail, or the thousands of families that braved the wilderness and fought the road to move westward with their hopes and dreams of prosperity and a greater life beyond a vast wilderness, our National Road was by far the most traveled road. It can be for certain, that this road is truly "America's first highway."

Written by Penny V. Lewis      lewis@papadocs.com
Fayette County, IL GenWeb Coordinator
http://www.rootsweb.com/~ilfayett/ilfayette.htm
______________
References:

Brusca, Frank. "History of the National Road and U. S. 40." Route 40  Website. <http://www.route40.net/history/history.htm>
Crumrin, Timothy. "Road Through the Wilderness: The Making of the National Road," Conner Prairie Website                  <http://www.connerprairie.org/ntlroad.html>
Excerpts from Joseph Shrivers Survey Notes, provided by Lyle Kruger, (written 1828).
Hanabarger, Linda. "Bridging the Kaskaskia: Covered Bridge, Toll Houses once marked the end of National Road." 
             Leader Union, Vandalia, IL (January 7, 1998).
Hanabarger, Linda. "Ramsey Creek Stone Helped Pioneers Cross River." 
            Ramsey News Journal, Ramsey, IL  (October 23, 1997).
Hanabarger, Linda. "Howard's Point." Leader Union, Vandalia,IL
Hanabarger, Linda. "Landlookers."  Leader Union, Vandlaia, IL
History of Fayette County, Illlinois, published by Brink, 
           McDonough & Co. (1878).
"Crowning a Century." St. Elmo Centennial 1871-1971
          Published  by the Centennial History Committee.  (1971).

For more information visit:
National Road Association
http://www.nationalroad.org
National Road Association of Illinois
P.O. Box 648
Effingham, IL 62401
PH: (217)-536-6454
 National Road Facts

*  National Road  was the first 
      federally funded highway.

*  Passes through two former state capitals: Wheeling West Virginia & Vandalia, Illinois.

*   Called by  many names:  National Road, Cumberland Road, National Trail, America's Main Street, US 40.

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