Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The National Old Trails Road

The purpose of this post is actually to get this sign on the Internet so that people will be interested in its location: I found this sign online, purchased it, and donated it (in memory of my parents) to the National Road Interpretive Center in my hometown, Vandalia, IL, located downtown at 106 S. Fifth Street. Here is the website for the center: http://nationalroadvandalia.org/index.html According to information I have, there is one other sign on display, at the Arrow Rock State Historic Site at Arrow Rock in Saline County, Missouri, but few others are extant. This style of sign is known to have been used in both Illinois and Missouri to mark the old National Old Trails Highway.

That highway was one of the early automobile highways of the U.S. It was established in 1912 and eventually extended 3096 miles from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, CA. The highway’s name comes from the fact that it incorporated older trails like Braddock’s Road, the National Road, the Boone’s Lick Road, the Santa Fe Trail, and the Grand Canyon Route. In 1926 the NOTH was supplanted by several numbered highways---including US 40, US 50, US 350, US 85, US 60, and US 66---when the Federal Highway System was established. But the Daughters of the American Revolution kept the memory of the NOTH alive by placing Madonna of the Trail statues in all the twelve states the highway crossed. One of those statues stands in Vandalia on the corner of the Old State Capitol.

In Vandalia (according to an old AAA guidebook), the NOTH followed Gallatin St. to Sixth St., then Sixth St. to Edwards St., then Edwards St. to Seventh St., then Seventh St. to South Street (St. Louis Avenue). This route was simplified to: Gallatin Street to Seventh Street to St. Louis Avenue. The NOTH in Illinois was also called Illinois State Route 11 until 1926, when the number/name changed to US 40.

The highway approaches Vandalia from the east along U.S. 40, with only a few places where the modern highway diverges from the original alignment (just across the Kaskaskia River, where 40 was realigned slightly to accommodate a new river bridge in 1963, and the place east of Bluff City where 40 was realigned to accommodate Interstate 70, although the original pavement is still present). St. Louis Avenue in Vandalia out of town was signed U.S. 40, then Alternate U.S. 40 after the main route was relocated in the late 1940s, and then Illinois 140 (thus extending the route that already existed between Alton and Greenville). A few years ago 140 was truncated at Mulberry Grove, so the old route is unsigned between Mulberry Grove and Vandalia. On a recent trip, I took a new picture of this abandoned 1920 bridge (east of Vandalia and of Hagerstown, IL) that indicates where the original National Old Trails Road took a wider curve over a stream than the modern alignment.

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