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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Origin Of Modern Roads

Dallas Bogan on 28 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

After General Anthony Wayne's victory over the Indians, in 1794 (the Battle of Fallen Timbers), and the Treaty of Greenville was signed in 1795, the settlers made a demand for roads. With land being bought by the early settlers and no way of clearing and farming because of the constant Indian attacks, the settlers had no way to get to their lands because of lack of appropriate roads.
The Act of 1792 was the first provisional act for the construction of highways. This act gave the Governor and judge's power to initiate programs for roads. Under this act, all able-bodied males, and 16 years and over, should work on the roads not more than ten days annually. A man could hire a substitute or send a team of horses. Refusing to work meant a fine of $.50 per day to be paid to the supervisor. If a minimum of twelve persons, who lived in a county or territory, petitioned for a road the petition could be granted. A surveyor was appointed at the petitioners' expense. The above was recorded in the county clerk's office. The supervisor was responsible for building and maintaining his own roads.
The Act of 1792 was little touched in so far as road building was concerned. Another road amendment was to take place, the Act of 1799. This act changed the minimum age to 21 years, instead of 16, to do labor on the roads. A fine of $.75 per day was leveled on those who refused to work. A road tax not to exceed one-half of the tax levied to defray territorial or county expenses was ordered by the County Commissioners. All public roads or highways were to be kept in repair according to the statutes of law. A notification of twenty days in advance to all owners of improved property whose land the proposed road was to go through was mandatory.
Ebenezer Zane, assisted by his son-in-law, John McIntire, laid out in 1797, a trace, with Congress' authorization, which ran from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Aberdeen, Ohio, via Cambridge, Zanesville, Lancaster and Chillicothe. This route was completed in 1799. It was merely a narrow trail for horseback, not wide enough at first for wagons. This was called Zane's Trace.
The Legislature appropriated $15.00 per mile for laying out a new road over the trace. In 1804, a wagon road was laid out over the entire route. This was the first officially recognized road in Ohio.
The National Road received its name because it was the first and only road that was completely constructed and financed by the U.S. Government. The Federal Government through a bill introduced by Henry Clay in 1806, authorized it. (A monument to Henry Clay now stands near Wheeling, West Virginia. It honors Clay's great service in getting Congress to advance money for the road.)
With its beginnings in Cumberland, Maryland, the secondary name of the "Cumberland Road" was often used.
Many politicians saw that the road would run through their territories, although original plans called for a total westerly course.
Work actually started on the road in Ohio in 1825. The project was financed by the sale of public lands, which was 2 percent. The felling of trees, hauling out stumps, and underbrush removal to a width of 60 feet was the distance prescribed by law.
The proposed target for the National Road was Vandalia, Illinois, which was then the state capitol.
This road was called the "Main Street of America." It was destined for the transfer of livestock, food, goods, commodities and many trade items. This road connected the east with the west and eliminated the many hang-ups as far as travel was in this expanding time.
The Federal Government made its last appropriation for the road in 1838. The total amount spent by the Federal Government was $6,824,919.33. The total length was 600 miles. The road closely parallels U.S. 40 the entire way.
In 1803, Congress set up what was known as the "Three Per Cent Fund," which said in certain terms, that this amount was to be set aside from the net proceeds of the sale of all public lands for the building of public roads and that two per cent was to be set aside for roads leading up to the states boundary. This money was more or less spent to lie out roads rather than for the building of the roads.
It was in 1803 that Jeremiah Morrow was chosen the first Representative of Congress from Ohio. This completely dedicated man had ventured to cross the vast eastern mountains to attend this prestigious appointment. He left his home near Morrow and traveled on horseback, taking with him his wife and two young children to the residence of Mrs. Morrow's parents in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. This annual excursion of sixteen years was one of pure dedication. Mr. Morrow also was a U.S. Senator for six of these years.
The road law of 1804, or the Sheepskin Code, said in effect: "Labor was required of all males between ages of 18 and 50, who were residents of the townships through which the road would pass, each man to work three days or be assessed a fine of $1.00 per day." A highway supervisor was responsible for the roads in his respective township. These supervisors saw that roads were kept in repair; the funds came from the fine fund.
This particular law stated that: "All the road commissioners should make certain that all the roads were properly surveyed and plainly marked to a width of 56 feet." The money to be spent on each road was specified in the Act of 1804, and to ensure equitable distribution of the fund, each road was divided into sections from 5 to 30 miles with an equal amount appropriated for each. A description of the road construction is that "all timber and brush should be cut and cleared off at least 20 feet wide, leaving the stumps not more than 1 foot in height [merely for the wagon axles to clear], wet and miry places shall be made of timber covered with earth; small streams that are difficult to be passed shall be bridged."
The Legislative Act of 1817, provided: "Right of way width-66 ft.; cleared of brush and logs-33 ft.; At least 18 feet to be made an artificial road composed of stone, gravel, wood or other material well compacted together in such manner as to secure a firm, even and substantial road, rising in the middle with a gradual arch, and in no case shall the ascent in any turnpike road be greater than 5 degrees."
The Legislative Act of 1824 fixed width of state roads at 66 feet, county roads at 60 feet, and township roads at 40 feet.

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This page created 28 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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