Friday, September 4, 2009

Stopping Online Beside a Historic Marker

Driving back from my daughter's college recently, I enjoyed getting off the interstate for some miles and exploring U.S. 40, which follows the path of the old National Road. In several places along the route, stretches of old highway veer off from the modern road. In some areas, the older alignment is simply a country lane beside farm houses or an abandoned pathway used to access a cultivated field. I discovered a long, narrow stretch of early highway linking Martinville and Casey Illinois, while the newer path of route 40 lay a bit to the north.

In my Aug. 22, 2009, thoughts, I included a couple postcards of the old highway bridge that once crossed the Kaskaskia River at Vandalia, my hometown. The construction of a new bridge necessitated a rerouting of U.S. 40 a few yards south. As you approach Vandalia from the east across the “bottoms,” you notice how the highway curves a bit to the more recent alignment. But you can also see how the original alignment proceeded straight, since the pavement was never removed. For a few hundred yards, you can drive along the narrow roadbed, which not only had been U.S. 40 but, before that, State Route 11 and the National Old Trails Highway, and even before that, the last, westernmost distance of the National Road. A few businesses stand along the pavement and, until it was removed a few years ago, a forlorn storehouse stood which had originally been a skating rink and entertainment place called Junction Park. My mother remembered going there during her 1930s teen years.

When I was a little boy, a large historic marker was erected along the abandoned U.S. 40 just across the river. According to the site
the marker was erected Apr. 1, 1968 by the Division of Highways and The Illinois State Historical Society. At some point it was taken down, but I don’t know when, by whom, or for what reason. You can still see reinforced holes next to the pavement where the sign had stood. Here is the text of the sign from that website.

“The National Road was the result of the project of Albert Gallatin to unite the East and West. His plan to allocate money from public land sales for this purpose was incorporated into the Ohio Enabling Act in 1802. The original road, as proposed in 1805 and authorized by Thomas Jefferson in 1806, was to extend from the Potomac to the Ohio. Construction began in 1811 and by 1818 the road was completed to Wheeling, Virginia. Two years later Congress agreed to extend the road and allocated funds for a survey through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The route from the Indiana line to Vandalia, approximately 89 miles long was surveyed in 1827. In 1830 Congress appropriated $40,000 for opening and grading the Illinois section. Additional money was granted each year thereafter, but was limited to clearing, grading, and bridging. Construction problems and corrupt practices resulted in the project's being placed under the Army Corps of Engineers in 1834. The road was opened to Vandalia in 1839; however, the Illinois section remained an unfinished surface with only 31 miles of grading and masonry completed. The road had been surveyed to Jefferson City, Missouri but in 1840 Congress terminated construction at Vandalia. On May 9, 1856, Congress transferred the 'Rights and Priveleges' connected with the road in Illinois to the state. It became a part of the 'National Old Trails Road' in the early twentieth century and was, until recently, a part of US 40.”

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