The National Road in Ohio
I-70 and the National Road cling to each other for 18 miles between Morristown and Old Washington in eastern Ohio. Sometimes the two roads parallel each other closely; other times, they’re the same road. On this map, the blue line is the National Road. (Thanks to fellow National Road fan Christopher Busta-Peck for creating it; go here to see it on Google Maps.) As you can see, it’s often hard to tell where the National Road stops and I-70 begins.
I followed as much of the old road as still exists. Overall it was a pleasant drive, for where the forlorn National Road remains, it is peaceful. I encountered not a single soul as I explored these miles. The National Road passes into Guernsey County at Fairview, where it is known as County Highway 967 and Waymor Road. Here's a westbound shot of the road.
Maybe a mile west of Fairview, the National Road's path was destroyed by I-70. A series of rough county roads serve as a detour, albeit a wide one. In the map excerpt below, the National Road hugs I-70 as it enters from the east and exits to the west, but is gone in the middle.
West of the detour, the National Road is County Road 690 or Bridgewater Road. About four miles east of Old Washington I came upon the only S bridge on the entire National Road that you can still drive. US 40 bypassed it somewhere along the line, and later I-70 bypassed them both. Out here, old US 40 is Bridgewater Road.
Here’s the bridge on the ground. Check out that graceful S shape.
Here’s the bridge from the west. A plaque above the keystone reads, “1828 1936 In memory of the pioneers who built this S bridge – The Ohio Society Daughters of the American Revolution.”
As I researched this bridge, I discovered that a photographer for the Historic American Engineering Record favored the same angle. The record at the Library of Congress suggests that this photo was taken after 1933, but the plaque from 1936 isn’t present. So this photo is very likely from between those years, and my guess is that it still carried US 40 then.
My research also revealed that this bridge is in poor shape and needs considerable work to restore it to full stability. But still, it was great to be able to drive over this bridge. I understand that the construction of I-70 led to the demolition of other S bridges in the area. I have read that the S bridge in this postcard was one of the unlucky ones. Notice that the caption says it was in Bridgewater, Ohio – given that I’m on Bridgewater Road, this bridge must have been nearby, but I can’t find the first hint of a town called Bridgewater. Did I-70 take both the bridge and the town? Perhaps an Ohio expert will read this and chime in.
Beyond the bridge, to stay on the National Road I took the first left, drove under I-70, and then took the first right. The National Road is County Highway 670 or Easton Road here on its way to Old Washington. After 18 miles of laying waste to Ohio’s National Road, I-70 finally relents at Old Washington. US 40 even rejoins the National Road here. The blue line is the National Road’s original path, but unfortunately you can't follow it. You have to keep going on Easton Road, take the first right, go over I-70, turn right on Old Church Road, and then left onto Old National Road. Or, at least that's how it looks like it works on the map. On the ground, I found this to be incredibly confusing. I drove around and around here before I finally stumbled upon a way to get into Old Washington – and now I can't remember how I did it!
You might think Old Washington is so named because it’s old. Well, it is old. It was laid out in 1805, before the National Road was built, as Guernsey County’s first settlement. But the town was actually named New Washington then. When the town incorporated some years later, the New was dropped and the town became just Washington. Then the U.S. Post Office got all worried that people would confuse Washington with another Ohio town improbably named Washington Court House. Thus Washington became Old Washington.
I drove through a lot of old little towns on this trip. So many of them were not even a shadow of their former selves, just a row of abandoned and dilapidated buildings. I drove right through them without stopping. But I stopped in Old Washington. It is what all those other old towns wish they could be. It is virtually a trip back in time to when the National Road was new, at least in terms of its buildings.
Most of them are very nicely kept. Many have simple designs.
Several have a tonier appearance.
The tonier houses share enough design details that I would not be surprised to find the same architect behind them.
While most of the buildings in Old Washington are brick, a few are wooden. This one could use a little loving.
While Old Washington wasn’t exactly bustling the day I drove through, there were many clear signs of life, such as cars parked on the street, lamps in windows, and landscaping around many of the homes.
Someone was busy building a garage next to this house!
Sometimes a highway bypass is good for historic preservation. Transportation needs may demand a wider, straighter, or flatter road, but to achieve that in a town so often means destroying some of its buildings. US 40 was rerouted a block to the south at some point, allowing all of these great houses to remain. On the west edge of town, the old road comes to an end as US 40 curves around and resumes the National Road’s original alignment.
As the automobile age dawned at the turn of the 20th century, the nation’s network of mostly dirt roads was passable only in good weather. The clamor for “good roads” paved in hard surfaces for all-weather travel led to the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, which created state highway departments and provided money to them for road improvements. Additionally, the United States’ entry into World War I in 1917 highlighted the need to be able to quickly move military equipment and troops across the nation.
And so Ohio began to improve much of its National Road, by now also known as State Route 1, in the mid-1910s. Military needs during World War I caused it to lay bricks on much of the road between the Ohio River and Zanesville.
I’m always excited to find an intact road surface from this era; few are left anywhere. Along the National Road, I’ve seen one brief brick segment in Indiana (see it here) and a long one in Illinois (see it here), plus two still driveable concrete segments in Indiana (see the first; see the second), all laid in the 1920s. But I was especially excited to make my Ohio trip because I knew I’d encounter a few segments of pavement that were even older.
The first brick segment was at Blaine in Belmont County. I expected the second to be just west of Old Washington, as it was clearly an old alignment and Google Maps labeled it Brick Road.
Apparently the evil asphalters got to it before I did. Indeed, Ohio covered most of its brick National Road with asphalt in 1932.
But check out the difference between the old alignment on the left with its narrow roadway and blind hill, and the flat, wide current alignment on the right. Highways continued to be improved during the 20th century for greater safety.
I knew the next old alignment would still be brick because fellow National Road fan Christopher Busta-Peck tipped me off about it on his blog. It lies a bit west of the previous alignment but east of Cambridge, the next town.
It starts off as gravel, but bricks emerge west of Steele Lane. (I’ll bet that if you dig down in the gravel a little bit you’ll find brick in bad shape, hence the gravel.)
Though busy US 40 is 100 yards away, Peacock Road has a remote, secluded feel. I had an strong urge to go to a hardware store, buy an edger, a weed whacker, and some Roundup, and come back here to clean up the overgrowth so the road would be visible edge to edge.
Peacock Road emerges from the woods just before it ends.
About 1,000 feet after Peacock Road ends, another old alignment begins. Unfortunately, this one's covered in asphalt.
Just before its west end the alignment crosses a small creek. I was surprised to find an abandoned bridge there, next to the current bridge. Check out the sway of the old road bed here – it looks like this could have been an S bridge.
Here's the arch from the south.
And from the north.
Next the National Road enters Cambridge.
The first thing I stopped for in Cambridge was this great motel sign.
Here's a postcard image from long ago featuring this sign.
There are plenty of old buildings in Cambridge.
US 40 is plenty wide through town.
The Guernsey County Courthouse is mighty hard to photograph because of all the trees around it.
As the National Road leaves Cambridge, it follows a slightly different route from modern US 40.
The old route crosses a railroad track and US 40 just below the center of the map above. There I encountered another brick segment as the road headed west away from US 40.
It is good, rumbly brick. This road’s center stripe means that it is still considered important. If you squint, you can see the seam where the brick ends and asphalt begins.
A few miles later I encountered Guernsey County's other National Road S bridge.
The Cassell S bridge was built in 1828 and renovated in 2006. It's closed to traffic.
Pretty soon, this deck's gonna need mowed!
Past the S bridge there are two brief old alignments before the road leaves Guernsey County. The first is Mayfair Lane, which I didn't stop to photograph.
The second is Best Road, which I did.
There are two reasons I stopped to photograph Best Road. The first is that it towers over current US 40. I took this photo from Best Road, looking down on US 40.
The second is this great old house.
For this photo, I squatted down trying to get the tree branches to serve as kind of a frame for the scene. I couldn't avoid having them block the roof. But otherwise, this is a photographically more interesting photo than the one above.
Best Road is an uphill climb along most of its short length. Here's where the hill crests.
Created 8 January 2012.