TO the citizens of Cumberland, Wheeling, W. Va...


June 14, 1994

TO the citizens of Cumberland, Wheeling, W. Va., Zanesville, Ohio, and other designated sites, early summer brings a novel celebration: a traveling festival recognizing the National Road. Each weekend, the party mosies down the road to another site, ending up in Muskingum, Ohio, on June 17.

"We hope the festival brings an awareness of the importance of the road," said Alan King, the director of the National Road Museum in Norwitch, Ohio. "It was the road that opened the West."

Or at least what was thought of as the West back in 1797, when Baltimore-area businessmen posited that a western road would increase trade. They financed a 135-mile stretch of stone-layered road from Baltimore to Cumberland. Back then, Ohio was in the Northwest Territory, and Wheeling sat on the western border of the U.S. What connected them to the east was the National Road.

It is the oldest interstate throughway, signed into being by President Thomas Jefferson. He took the original strip of stone built 20 years earlier and stretched it all the way to Vandalia, Ill. In the years since, it has seen the likes of stage coaches, covered wagons and Mazda RX-7s. Locally, it's been called the Bank Road, Baltimore Pike, Frederick Pike and the Boonsboro Pike. Today, it's called Route 40.

Maryland historian Robert J. Brugger equated the recent building of the National Freeway across Western Maryland with "bringing the prosperity that the National Road did." Indeed, as far back as the road's inception, local residents lobbied hard for a slice of the opportunities the National Road would bring.

Lydia Boggs Shepherd is a good example. She wanted the road to run past the front door of her manor in Wheeling. That way, travelers could stop at the nearby tavern she owned with her husband. The finished road crossed the same creek three different times to accommodate Mrs. Shepherd. Her husband was the engineer. Today, fans of the National Road hold an annual festival on Mrs. Shepherd's front lawn.

The road and its fans live on. Mr. King hopes to bring "the world's longest festival" to Indiana and Illinios in the future. Columbus, Ohio, has already expressed interest in hosting next year. Sounds like a fine summer celebration.

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