When was the first federally funded interstate constructed?? Not the one we know today…..the first one?……. 1806 !! Yup, before the Eisenhower Interstate system there was, that’s right, the Washington interstate system (yes, ‘THE’ George Washington….). Although it wasn’t called that, George Washington did have plans to construct a federally funded road, from Maryland to carry settlers to the edge of the frontier, and in 1806, Congress allocated funds for the project. Some know it as the Cumberland road, taking it’s name from it’s origin point, Cumberland, Maryland, but most know it as the National Road. This interstate corridor ran from Cumberland, Maryland, all the way to Illinois’s own city of Vandalia.
The National Road brought thousands of settlers to the frontier, and although funding stopped for the road at Vandalia, the road eventually stretched all the way to St. Louis, being the major crossing point over the Mississippi. The current Illinois Rt.40 pretty much follows the path of the original road and many remnants of the old road can be found traveling the Rt40 corridor.
The city of Vandalia is pretty proud of it’s heritage as being the destination for so many travelers for hundreds of years, and they’ve established the National Road Interpretive Center there. Housing relics of life on the road in the earliest days of our nation, this hub of information exists to serve tourists, historians and anyone else wishing to better understand this important time in Illinois’ history.
The Center will be celebrating it’s one year anniversary on February 12th, 2011 with an open house, featuring an authentic conestoga wagon, the ‘semi-trailer’ of the early road. These giant prairie schooners ferried materials, goods and man power from the east coast to the heart of the nation, helping to build the Nation as we know it today.
Stop by the center and say hello if you’re traveling in the area, or plan a day trip to Vandalia, the States first Capitol, and all the Illinois history it has to share!