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Construction of the Cumberland Road

James Madison

Construction of the Cumberland Road: James Madison was the 4th American President who served in office from March 4, 1809 to March 4, 1817. One of the significant events during his presidency was the Construction of Cumberland Road that began in Maryland in 1811.

Definition and Summary of the Construction of the Cumberland Road
Summary and definition:
The Cumberland Road, also called National Road, stretched along 600 miles and was the first federal highway in the United States of America and originally served as the main route to the Northwest Territory.

The Cumberland Road was built between 1811-1837 and served as a gateway to the West for thousands of settlers

Cumberland Road History - The Northwest Territory
The Territory of the United States Northwest of the River Ohio (the Old Northwest or the Northwest Territory) covered more than 260,000 square miles and consisted of the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as northeastern Minnesota.

The Cumberland Road History for kids - Purpose of the Cumberland Road
In 1803 the state of Ohio was admitted to the Union - the problem was that there was no easy way for people to get there. The purpose of the Cumberland Road was to unify the new nation by providing the means to travel the across the land in order to reach the new settlements in the west. The primitive roads heading west in 1803 consisted of ancient Native Indian paths or old military trails that dated back to the French and Indian War (1754–1763). The federal government had to take action and build a National road (the Cumberland Road) that would lead from the center of the US, which at the time was Maryland, westward, to the newly admitted state of Ohio.

The Cumberland Road History for kids: The Main Street of America
The eastern end of this great National road was situated at Cumberland on the Potomac in Maryland. It is therefore generally called the Cumberland Road. It would connect Cumberland, Maryland to the Ohio River. It earned the nickname of "The Main Street of America."

The Cumberland Road History for kids: Congress Authorizes Construction of the Cumberland Road
President Thomas Jefferson authorized a preliminary survey and signed an act establishing a National Road that would connect Cumberland, Maryland to the Ohio River. Congress passed the bill into law on the 29th of March, 1806. The law was entitled "An Act to regulate the laying out and making a road from Cumberland in the State of Maryland to the State of Ohio". The Construction of Cumberland Road began during the administration of President James Madison and Important work commenced immediately after the War of 1812 (1812–1814). The contract for the construction of the first section was granted to Henry McKinley on May 8, 1811. One of the Important advocates for the project was Albert Gallatin, the secretary of the treasury, who was given the name the "Father of the Nation Road".

Cumberland Road History for kids: The General Survey Act
The General Survey Act was a law passed by the United States Congress in April 1824 that was extremely important to the development of the Cumberland Road. The General Survey Act authorized the president to have surveys made of important transportation routes.  The law specified that surveys were made for routes requiring roads and canals "of national importance, in a commercial or military point of view, or necessary for the transportation of public mail." The responsibility for the surveys was assigned to the Corps of Engineers.  The Corps of Engineers took over responsibility for the construction of the Cumberland Road.

The History of the Cumberland Road for kids: The 'American System'
The building of the Cumberland was an important part of the economic plan of
Henry Clay and the 'American System'. Part of the American System was based on creating new transportation systems connecting America. refer to the Erie Canal and the History of Turnpikes.

Facts about Construction of the Cumberland Road
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Construction of the Cumberland Road.

The Cumberland Road, also called National Road, was built between 1811-1837 stretched for 600 miles

On August 24, 1814 the British had entered Washington where they burned the Capitol, the White House, and several other public buildings.

The building project took nearly 30 years to complete and stretched for more than 600 miles. It ended in Vandalia, Illinois

Congress passed legislation that allocated the sum of $30,000 for the building of the road

The first construction contracts for the National Road were awarded in the spring of 1811

Because the road began in Cumberland, it was also called the Cumberland Road.

It had to be suitable for heavy wagons, which would have created deep ruts on dirt tracks. It was therefore paved with broken stones that provided a solid foundation

The construction method was pioneered by a Scottish engineer called John Loudon MacAdam, hence the name of “macadam” roads. The lowest layer was 12-18 inches deep and consisted of base stones approximately 7 inches in diameter (they had to pass through a ring of that size) .

It was 80 feet wide, allowing two wagons to travel side by side. Irish workers were lucky to get paid $6.00 a month for breaking and laying stones.

Distances were marked by mile posts. Between 1811 and 1818 mile markers made of stone were placed on the South side at 5 mile intervals. In 1835 the stone mile stones were replaced with cast iron obelisk mile markers that were placed at 1 mile intervals

The early pioneers used the mile stones to check their progress. On average 10-15 miles were traveled each day

Some people never reached their destination - they set up home en route, many opening taverns, inns and stores. Towns soon sprang up along the route

The road reached Columbus in 1833, but by this time, canals were eclipsing roads for federal interest and investment - refer to Erie Canal.

Additional connecting routes were added, including the National Pike (connecting Baltimore) and the Washington National Pike (that linked the nation's capital).

It crossed the Allegheny Mountains and southwestern Pennsylvania, reaching Wheeling, Virginia on the Ohio River in 1818

By 1820 the construction project had reached Wheeling on the Ohio River providing access to steamboats traveling to Pittsburg, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and New Orleans

In 1824 a succession of private turnpikes were completed that connected the National Road (Pike) with Baltimore, Maryland and its port on Chesapeake Bay

In 1832 tolls began being charged. Toll-houses were built about every 20 miles - Refer to History of the Turnpikes (Toll Roads)

Construction ended in Vandalia, Illinois in 1837 when funding ran out

The coming of the railroad made further road building unnecessary and a new form of transportation became available for American citizens

US American History
1801-1828: Evolution Era

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