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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

No Orange Barrels, But Ohio Travelers Had Their Own Hazards And Hassles Navigating The Roads

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 4 September 2004
Source:
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The National Road

While different types and systems of roads had been tried, some successful and some failing, the Government had been engaged in building the first superhighway in the nation, the National Road.
The old Braddock Road was the second road that preceded the National Road, the old Washington Road being the first. The blazed trees which marked this route for many years pointed out the trail of the unfortunate British General Braddock to the battlefield of the Monongahela.
Washington, previous to Braddock's expedition, had blazed a trail to the Ohio Valley, this route afterwards becoming the marching path of the British army.
For seventy-five years Braddock's Road answered all the required needs of modern travel, however, the journey over it at most seasons was a rough experience.
The National Road received its name because it was the first road attempted to cross the central portion of the country from east to west. The Federal Government through a bill introduced by Henry Clay authorized it on March 29, 1806.
With its beginnings in Cumberland, Maryland, the name, "The Cumberland Road" was the original term. The proposed target for this road was Vandalia, Illinois, which was then the state capital. Other names for the road were the National Pike, the Old Pike, and, sometimes the "Main Street of America."
Work actually started on the road in Ohio in 1825. The project was financed by the sale of public lands, with two percent being set aside for the project.
The felling of trees, hauling out stumps, and underbrush removal to a width of 60 feet was the requirement prescribed by law.
The road was built as far as Columbus in about 1836. It was constructed of stone set upon edge, and was perfectly straight and adequately graded. The culverts were all of cut stone.
Being a toll-road at first, the toll-takers were appointed by the Governor and there were some brisk scrambles for the openings.
It was to be used for the transfer of livestock, food, goods, commodities and many other trade items. It connected the East with the West and was to eliminate 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 was $6,824,919.33. Its total length was 600 miles and it closely paralleled present U.S. 40 the entire way.
Congress, before the completion of the road, showered so much controversy onto the route concerning its repair that it was eventually turned over to the various states into which it passed.
The road was to be run on a line directly westward as far as the layout of the land would allow. The towns of Dayton and Newark made efforts to have the road run through them, but failed.
In contrast, Columbus had made arrangements to have the pike run through town. A struggle ensued among the citizens as to where the road would run, the route of Broad Street or Main Street. A compromise was reached by which the highway entered the city from the east by way of Main Street, following that line west to High Street, and following the path of High Street to Broad.
Dayton citizens, fairly disappointed at the decision not to run the pike through their town, formed its own company, the Dayton, Springfield Turnpike Company. It was chartered to build a turnpike from Dayton to the National Road connecting in Springfield. The contract was awarded May 12, 1838, and a grand pike was built which afterward connected with the National Road at Richmond.
Zane's Trace
Zane's Trace was the earliest distinguishable road made by white man within the confines of Ohio. Ebenezer Zane cut it in 1796 along with his brother, Jonathan Zane, and his son- in-law, John McIntyre.
Its path was begun at his fort at Wheeling and proceeded through the southern part of the State to Limestone (Maysville), Kentucky. It was at this latter location that Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone established a frontier settlement.
The first passageway was cut to accommodate a horse and rider. A short time later it was widened to provide access for a wagon team. The road crossed the Muskingum at the point where Zanesville now stands, the Hocking at the present site of Lancaster, and the Scioto near the present site of Chillicothe.
Zane established ferries and taverns at these pioneer towns, which became the nucleus around which centered all other frontier interchanges. Without the ferry and tavern these small towns would not have existed.
Taverns were located an average of four miles apart on the Trace. Numerous farmers hung tavern signs in front of their cabins, apparently in need of extra revenue. Traveling at a snail's pace, breakdowns of the coaches or wagons, an approaching storm, or nightfall, all necessitated these frequent stops.
One source mentioned forty taverns on the Trace in 1807. Other references say there were as many as seventy-five taverns before 1830.

The Black Swamp

A most difficult stretch of road construction in the State was the route through the Black Swamp. A passage connecting settlements at the mouth of the Maumee to the Western Reserve was critical. Congress encouraged the route by granting to the State a stretch of land a mile wide along the entire route. It is hard to imagine now the work that was involved in creating a road that once was covered with swamps, forests, and wild beasts.
Before the beginning of the roadway, a story was told concerning the Pot-leg Schoolhouse. It was an early Ohio teaching school that was built on the edge of the swamp.
It derived its quaint name from the fact that the children who lived on the swampy side had to take off their shoes and stockings and wade through the marsh. The name "pot-legs" was given by the more fortunate who lived in the sandy area to the east, thus, the name ultimately stuck to the school.
The fact that there were thirty-two taverns between Lower Sandusky and Perrysburg was another evidence of the obstacles in which the caravans along the route had to undertake.
As traffic increased, the road grew worse. A local story of old Auntie Sheppley, who kept tavern at Perrysburg, is one of consequence. The locals stated as a fact that she could look out in the morning and scan the horizon eastward. If she saw a stage faltering through the mire at a distance, she went back, did the weekly washing, and then prepared the vegetables for dinner. By the time the coach arrived, the washing would be duly flapping in the wind, and the dinner was ready to serve.


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This page created 4 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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