The National Road was one of the first paved (compacted gravel) roads to cross the Appalachian Mountains.
The United States Congress authorized construction of the National Road in 1806. In 1811, the Congress awarded contracts to private builders to construct the road. The War of 1812 prevented work from beginning until 1815. Construction began in Cumberland, Maryland, and the contractors completed the road to Wheeling, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia), in 1817. Eventually, the federal government extended the road to near St. Louis, Missouri.
The original segment of the National Road across the Appalachian Mountains followed an American Indian trail known as Nemacolin's Path. Nemacolin was a Lenape leader. Thomas Cresap improved the path in later years, but people living in the Northwest Territory still had a difficult time traversing the Appalachian Mountains. In 1802, the federal government promised to provide Ohioans with a road that connected the soon-to-be state with points east of the Appalachian Mountains. The National Road helped fulfill that pledge. From 1825 to 1838, the National Road was extended across Ohio. The federal government authorized individual states, including Ohio, to maintain the National Road. To cover the associated maintenance costs, Ohio turned the National Road into a toll road. The National Road did improve transportation and communication between the frontier and the East Coast, helping increase Ohio's population. Most Ohioans, however, continued to rely on the Ohio River and Lake Erie to send their goods to the major markets of the Eastern United States. The National Road's importance declined with the advent of canals in the 1820s and 1830s and with railroads in the 1840s and 1850s. Modern-day U.S. Route 40 follows the National Road's original route.
The "Historic National Road " was designated an "All-American Road" in the "National Scenic Byway System" by the United States Department of Transportation in 2002.
- Howe, Henry. Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes. Vol. II. Cincinnati, OH: C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Printers and Binders, 1902.
- Hulbert, Archer Butler. The Old National Road: A Chapter of American Expansion. Columbus, OH: F.J. Heer, 1901.
- Raitz, Karl, ed. The National Road. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
- Schneider, Norris Franz. The National Road: Main Street of America. Columbus: The Ohio History Connection, 1975.
- Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Ohio Writers' Program. The National Road in Song and Story. Columbus: The Ohio History Connection, 1940.