History of Route 40
Ever since the first human got the urge to wander, man has been looking for shorter, faster, safer ways to get from here to there. In the case of Route 40, here was Atlantic City, New Jersey; there was San Francisco, California. Or was it the other way around?
Regardless of geographic starting point, the history of Route 40 starts in 1806 when Thomas Jefferson signed a new law that would establish the first national road, which was to span the distance between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ohio River. Over time, one segment or another of roadway was joined with the longer one until the entire stretch was christened US 40 in 1925, when the system of US Routes was established. By 1927, the full cross-country route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific was complete.
The original plan for Jefferson’s national road called for a beginning at Cumberland, Maryland, and an end at Wheeling, in what is now West Virginia, after crossing Pennsylvania. The Ohio River was reached in 1818. So impressive was the venture that plans were made to extend the national road all the way to Jefferson City, Missouri. Construction rolled on, reaching Vandalia, Illinois, before the money dried up in 1839.
- Thomas Jefferson
- National Road System
- John Loudon McAdam
- Macadam Road Construction
- US Department of Transportation
- The Historic National Road
The road did eventually reach St. Louis and was extended eastward all the way to Baltimore. The latest technology in road construction, the macadam method, named after its Scottish inventor, John Loudon McAdam, was used for the first time in the US. Jefferson’s road doesn’t follow Route 40 exactly but it’s easternmost beginning is close enough that Route 40 has been known as the national road since it was established in 1925. Norman Y. Pineta, the US Secretary of Transportation, made it official in 2002, when he declared the full length of Route 40 “The Historic National Road.”
When the national road was finished, it started in New Jersey, ran west through Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and finally to California, covering 2,285.74 miles along the way. It’s been shortened a bit on the western end, where it stops in Park City, Utah, today.
Route 40 Milestones
During it’s construction, milestones were placed along the national road, directing travelers through 13 states and six state capitals. It did not run through Dayton, Ohio, however, a fact the citizens of Dayton had a hard time accepting.
To draw traffic away from the true national road and 10 miles south into their city, some of Dayton’s townsfolk built milestones in the same style as those used along the national road. The first one was placed at the fork in the road leading off this road and into Dayton. Similar bogus milestones were placed along the way to assure travelers they were headed in the ‘correct’ direction. This ruse continued until the system of numbered highway routes was established in the 1920s and the national road became Route 40.
Route 40 Today
Even though Route 40 doesn’t go all the way to San Francisco anymore, you can still get there from Park City. You can even take a southern excursion through Dayton, if you like. And along the way, whether you go the long way or opt for a shorter segment instead, there are plenty of places to keep the curious traveler educated and entertained.
Written By: Edson Farnell | Email |