Writers' Program (U.S.). Ohio.

The National Road in song and story online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryWriters' Program (U.S.). OhioThe National Road in song and story → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


\m\s HISTORIC^ survey;

in Song And Story

John M. Carmody, Administrator


P. C. Harrington, Commissioner

Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner

Carl Watson, State Administrator

Printed in U. S. A.




in song and story

Compiled by

Workers of the Writers' Program

of the Work Projects Administration

in the State of Ohio

Sponsored by

The Ohio State Archaeological
and Historical Society

Copyright. 1940


CT'HE basic research for this book was prc-
-*■ pared mainly by workers in the district
supervised by Emerson Hansel. Research for
the verse and the section, "The Milestones,"
was in the care of Alfred Bath; the poetry
resulted from copy submitted by Robert A.
Griffith and Walter Richardson.

The illustrations were drawn by Arthur
Griffith of the Ohio Art Project, supervised in
the State by Charlotte Gowing Cooper.

For sponsorship of this book and for much
assistance and cooperation, the Ohio Writers'
Project thanks the Ohio State Archaeological
and Historical Society, particularly E. C. Zepp,
William D. Overman, and Harlow L. Lindley.

Harry Graff, State Supervisor
The Ohio Writers' Project

^ /UV,^:'>T.


cop- a


THE year 1940 marks the centennial of the completion of
"The Main Street of America" — the "Old National Road."
It was this historic artery that afforded to the Eastern colonics
access to the vast domain lying west of the Alleghenies, and
which came to constitute the life line tying together the far
flung components of the American republic.

The genesis of what was affectionately termed the
"National Pike" was concurrent with the birth of the Ohio
Commonwealth, and its completion a century ago was an
epochal event. For a while it was "time's noblest offspring"
but, as the course of empire took its way, it gradually shared
importance with the canals and other means of travel and trans-
portation. And now, the clumsy ox-drawn vehicle, the stage
coach, and the horse and buggy, convoying the humble and
the great, are but memories. And so, too, are the canal systems.

The canals are gone, perhaps forever. But not so the
National Pike. With the advent of automotive transportation,
it has assumed foremost importance and, as U. S. Route 40,
it may be traversed from Atlantic tidewater to Pacific shoals.

Credit for research, compilation and preparation of the
manuscript of this booklet devolves upon the Ohio Writers'
Project. The illustrations were supplied by the Ohio Art
Project. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and numerous local
civic organizations have made possible its distribution.

The Old National Road is symbolic of the beginnings, the
development and the coming of age of our Nation and our
State. It is hoped that this booklet will crystallize this senti-
ment in the minds of those who may read it.

H. C. Shetrone, Director,
The Ohio State Archaeological
and Historical Society.

The National Road

The ^oad

CT'HE NATIONAL ROAD is one of several highways that
cross the Nation. It is not the Lincoln Highway, with
new fame; it has the long tradition of the first national road,
the path that brought the Colonics across the Ap/palachians
and spread democratic union. It was driven west from the
Colonics after the Revolution, when men through exuberance
or necessity took up again the western journey that had begun
in Europe.

As a rule, men do not build roads in order to settle a
country. They use whatever means arc at hand — waterways
or animal paths — and make their way forward. But when
they settle and raise their families and want civilization, they
build roads from the old homestead to the new and to their

The National Road did not begin settlement of the trans-
Appalachian country. Explorers, traders, missionaries — these
people had traveled the Great Lakes and the rivers and the
forests, and founded towns in the Old Northwest. After the
Ordinance of 1787 opened the Ohio country to general settle-
ment, a small, but important, migration began, founding
towns, cutting farms into the wilderness.

As settlement was made, the pioneer families started to
produce foodstuffs and handmade goods. When they had
surpluses, they looked around for markets. Good roads were
desirable, but rare, and commerce lagged.

In 1796 Congress authorized Ebcnezcr Zane to open a
road across Ohio that would connect Wheeling, West Virginia,
with Limestone, Kentucky. Zanc's Trace resulted; completed

The National Road

in 1798, it went west to Zancsvillc, then southwest through
Lancaster and Chillicothe to the Ohio River.

During the years in which the State of Ohio was being
formed, plans for a road through it westward were being
discussed here and in the East. In 1806 Congress provided
for the building of a road from Cumberland, Maryland, to
Wheeling, West Virginia. Work went forward with few
difficulties until the road reached the Ohio River. TTicn peti-
tions were drawn up that the road be extended west. Argument
and Congressional debate and Presidential veto delayed the
project until 1825, when Congress consented to the exten-
sion. On July 4, 1825, amid speeches and fire-crackers and
refreshments, ground for the road in Ohio was broken at
St. Clairsville.

The road crept west section by section; it reached Zanes-
ville in 1826, Columbus in 1833, and Springfield in 1838.
The stretch from Springfield to the Indiana line was cleared
in 1840, but it was not an improved road until many decades

The State of Ohio was now neatly bisected — and conven-
iently tied together — East to West. The National Road did not,
however, stop at the Indiana boundary ; later additions brought
it across the Indiana and Illinois plains to the Mississippi. As
U. S. 40 it continued west across the great prairie States,
crossed the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, struck north to
Salt Lake City, then west through Nevada, over the Sierra
Nevada Mountains to San Francisco.

Traffic in Ohio did not, of course, await total completion
of the road within the State. Almost from the day it was first
begun at St. Clairsville, the road became an important local
artery connecting with the East. It was significant as the first

The National Road

great thrust of the United States over the Appalachians; and
as it was extended west, it became the great national highway
for Western migration.

Taverns, mile markers, a few museum pieces, and possibly
several other traces remain of the life on the National Road
during its heyday from about 1830 to the Civil War. Many
people important still — men like Henry Clay, women like
Jenny Lind — traveled the road and stopped at the taverns.
And there are many stories about them — for example, the one
about William Henry Harrison and Martin Van Buren, who
happened to be campaigning in the same locality, just west of
Columbus, in 1840. "Old Tippecanoe" turned up at a
tavern, his arm in a sling from too much handshaking, and
ordered drinks for the house; while Van Buren made the
rounds for tea in the politest society.

The people who lived along the pike were envied, chiefly
for the news they gathered from the most colorful characters
on the National Road — the teamsters with pack trains, the
wagoners with the great Conestoga freight ships, the stage
drivers with the gaudy coaches. Each had distinct habits and
moved in separate circles of road society. The wagoners, for
example, drove long distances and stopped at wagon houses,
set back from the road to allow room for parking the wagons
and tying up the horses; whereas the stagecoach drivers were
relieved at frequent intervals and stayed at the handsome inns
along with the passengers. The wagoners, and to some extent
the muleteers, were like the keelboatmen en the rivers — tough,
boisterous, hard-drinking, full-blooded. They ate and drank
and argued and brawled with the full vigor stimulated by a
hard, healthy life. Great men, such as Tom Corwin, rose
from the ranks of the wagoners.

The National Road

The stage coach drivers were chosen for their driving
skill, weight and strength, and sociability. Their reputations
were about like those of today's movie heroes; traveling
celebrities often selected their drivers and were themslvcs
honored by the asscKiation. They rode in gay coaches named
for Presidents and explorers and Indian chiefs and other famous
people — on stage coach lines called the Oyster, the June Bug,
the Good Intent, and other peculiar things.

Those were not the only people on the move. Whole
families came along the National Road in their own small
canvas-covered wagons; individuals on foot and horseback
frequently ambled by. These travelers encamped near the
taverns so that they could mingle with the fun-lovers without
going to the expense of lodging in the building.

After the Civil War, when the railroad began to supersede
other modes of transportation, travel on the National Road
declined. North of the road, cities were enlarging with new
heavy industries; south of it, the old centers of skilled industry,
such as Cincinnati, adapted themselves more slowly to the new
machine age. Then interurban electric railways drove tracks
along the road, and people traveled for pleasure — a trend stimu-
lated sharply when the automobile became practical. Within
recent years a vast volume of freight has been carried on the

Such, briefly, is the pageant of travel on the National
Road. It is hard to overestimate the importance of the road in
spreading the products and people of the United States and at
the same time integrating the country. The National Road has
been the migratory, exchange, and unifying medium of a new
Nation, and it is still the carrier of a huge interstate traffic that
continues its historic functions.

The National Road

The Song


Hear, Traveler!

The road,

slipping between hillsides,

grows garrulous with age,

wishes to speak.

Traveler, listen:

This road

US-40, Ohio,

is important,

the Rational %o2id.

with a history.

This road takes rank with

the Oregon Trail,

the Sante Je Trail,

the i^orthwcst Tassage

(still undiscovered) ,

and the golden road

to Samarkand.

This road, I say, is important,

the first travelers' way

through the forest.

Where dust rose

from the horses' hooves,

where whips cracked

and drivers' curses,

where iron rims

of the wagons jolted,

the smooth purr

of the auto pours

cloud-easy motion.


The National Road

IA[ow, Traveler — the <^oad.


It was long, the completion —

section after section

layer after layer

rippling westward —

it was long ... it took years. . . .

Up in the mountains,

holding their sides,

bending to valleys,

through night and day and weather,

time forwards I have wondered,

longing for completion;

and in the hot grasses,

hiding and sleeping,

in the soft grass lengths,

leaning with wind,

I dreamed of meeting

the mighty ^Mississippi.


It was a hard job,

fighting the rock

ribs of the mountains.

cAnd at first

you were merely

a blaze in the forest,

but soon became

a track for mules

with serpentine trains.

Like a tendril of ivy,

you clung to the mountains,

vine-grasping the roughness,

at times growing swiftly —

Jonah's gourd swiftness —

a tentacle seeking

the heart of a continent.

The National Road


c/fnd I remembered
you as a buffalo trace,
where the hooves
of the hump-beasts
pounded the earth
to a pavement.


The buffalo!

I remember their trampling;

they built mc

with music of thunder,

shook by feet asunder,

I knew them well:

liquid eyes in massive heads,

shaggy-haired, low legs racing

the path they bared

from the saline shore of 'Baltimore

to Ohio's fertile land;

beyond the dense and thick-shrubbed forests

their dust-clad thunder ran,

and rolled oflf into quiet

with the coming-in of man.

They b^at my pattern hard

on the slippery river fords,

the soft tangle of the canebrakes,

the bare solid on the ridges.

'ly' / /y/


Others came:

the people of the mounds;

the Indian with his singing

marking his way

on saplings

like that one,

now a crooked

tree pattern

on the Rational 'Road.

names for rivers,


The National Road


Such trails as these had interlaced
the land God blessed the most ;
and trails the hunting Indian traced
became the highway for a host.

The strands were caught up and entwined,
twisted towards the setting sun,
and the national motto's well designed
to fit the road: "From many, one."


cAnd I can tell how all this came to be,
how all these paths were joined in me.
Jrom Cumberland to Wheeling first I trailed,
across the cv^ppalachian fountains sailed,
against the c/^llegheny uplands fought,
into the valley travelers brought,
turned in sweeping spirals west,
joining paths that were thought best,
steadily through the valleys swept,
where silence and a wildness slept.


O and those lands

through which I sped

were beautiful,

though full of dread

and stained where men

were dead

from violence.

The land was savage then

(claws and wings)

where farmers

are at peace

with soil and man

and hoe

the corn for bread.

The National Road 13

I was the slow course of empire,

barely preceding it.

e//long the barren fiastern rocks

where the (polonies chafed,

between mountains and sea,

the small, torn trails

of bridle-paths

linked stream to stream

and town to town.

^n franklin,

loyal servant to the king,

for trade was westward seeking.

In the year 1744

the English, westward sneaking

for land, sought the Iroquois.

*T'hrough the wild, bushy stand

of this virgin timber land

(tree on aged tree)

Then came a band of men

who had been hired when

the King had named his plan

"Ohio C^mpuny."

They had to cut

and widen out

a one-man trail

made before

by i^emacolin,

whose Indian eye

and hand

had marked

a sinuous trail

along his people's paths.

In this small group
was Washington,
young surveyor


The National Road


to be purveyor
of freedom
to the |A(ation.


It was a time of struggle!
(French and 'British fight)
O the great days of battle!
(fleur-de-lys on the waters,
the St. Lawrence, the Lakes,
the father of Waters;
Union Jack on the coastline,
furling west, and north
toward (panada.)

1755. *Braddock marched

an army through.

Washington, aide-de-camp,

knew the forest.

Slashing through,

four abreast

to Laurel Hill

turning south,

they cut this wagon road

in 1755.

Foolhardy 'Braddock marched along,

and the Indians hummed his funeral song,

and there wjas musket and martial music,

arrows humming and crackling guns . . .

(musket crack and arrow song)

"Braddock stumbling in wild abandon . . .

(orations gasp and cry and cheer)

men reeling with silent sabre strokes

*5Poor "Braddock, dying in a barbarous meadow.

(Washington bought

the ^reat Meadows

where ^Braddock died.)

The National Road 15


cAnd all this time
I slept in the mind
of Washington
through all the turmoil
of the fighting
the shouting
and the clamor,


Who spread this aisle ' ^=^9r«3»

between the arching trees?

Who marked the course

and charted out the way?

It ran through all

the tortuous valleys, climbed

the slippery hills,

and slithered through the vales,

then crept out on the prairie

like a snake,


and beautiful.

|A(o man could vision this,

this mighty spread

of aisle for league

on weary league —

all through the Territory,

winding to the ©Mississippi,



the rufiiing prairie,

mile on mile

of gasping grass,

cA man is nothing.
This goes beyond
the brain of man,

16 The National Road

beyond his finite powers;

it's shaped

by great events —

like the urge that

forced Leviathan

to hulk up from the deep

and batter out

his life upon the shore.

1776. "Revolution

(tea and taxes)

uniforms and drums

bright red uniforms and drums,

minute men in farmer's clothes —

bright blood stains on any clothes —

and liberty,

a nation born,

a bright new flag

of happy stars

and memorable


1776. Two Zanes,
from the £ast,
bent west
and settled Wheeling.


Out of the "iPennsylvania mountains,

down the valley of Ohio, leaping

the river, threading the forest,

white blaze on dark trees,

I came,

seeking Zanc.

That was the forest !

the greatest stand

of hard timber

ever seen;

The National Road


I ran through it
like a handsaw
through walnut.


1784. cA man with a map

on a rough table

in the crude cabin,

peering at the map, searching

a way over the broken backs

of frowning mountains,

pince-nez on his nose,

staring at the map.


the door rattled,

a stride across

the earthen floor,

the young man, ^allatin.

(In Tennessee

a town was named for him.)

Speaking to Washington,

"Cumberland ^ap dumber Two"

(he was certain and pointing)

"is the only logical way."

cAnd Qallatin and Jcflferson,

the Ohio Company,

and others

looking west

with vision,

in 1787

by an act

of Congress

made the Old Northwest

ready for the settler.

Then over me came families
full of the west-hunger,
bringing change.


The National Road

Slowly they came,

a small trickle

spotting the wilderness,

settlers, squatters,

holding the land

by rifle rights,

watching the wary Indian.


Ho, I remember their coming,

fair-skinned men of the £ast,



urging the horses

straining in mud

with great Conestogas.

They came in under the frown of the savage

(guns and frowns and arrows) ;

they cut their clearings like sores in the forest,

new-raw on dark green,

pushing the strength

of a brash new nation.

Then the war-cry started ringing,

Indian hatred started singing

paeans against squatters

staining shores of clear, cool waters ;

screaming women, musket powder,

made the conflict all the louder.

Came "^ad" c/^nthony with horses,

routed all the Indian forces.

This occurred in '94

and opened wide my settlers' door.


I enter here,

though not formally,

through fibcnezer Zane,

The National Road


who made a way
from Wheeling
to Zanesville
then southward
to Limestone
(now ^^aysvillc),

amasses from the south and east
pushing to the north and west,
crossing my beautiful rivers,
crowding my tumbling hills,
gouging my plains with the plow,
tearing my forest with axes —

settling me,
trampled the road
into being.


1802. S^^n gathered

in solemn session

(people and papers and talk)

four times

gravely thinking.

<A new State?

Yes, it was good.

Said the leaders of law:

"We give you an (lAct

to finable the people

to establish as fact

the State of Ohio."

I marked my property

in 1803.

Zxm&i c/Ohajze^


The National Road



I have dreamed of seeing
a chain of people moving;
and in my dream these
smoke-thin ghosts of men
(great bodies, full curses,
hard with the bottle, hard with life)
were singing, singing,


We heard of Ohio,

we heard of the road,

we crossed the stern mountains

with the lightest of load.

We followed the river
where it wandered between
the hills and the heights
and the meadow's rich green.


We came with guns ready,
with listening ear;
who knew when the warwhoop
would strike us a-near?

We came with the rifle
preceding the axe,
our cattle urged forward
by smarting whipcracks.

We knew not the glamor
of the frontier romance —
books sold by the thousand
in Cngland and prance.

The National Road


Our life was held close
in rough, calloused hands
toiling darkness to darkness
on thorn-bearing lands.

The lands farther west
were those full of gold,
which Spaniards through finding
and force could still hold.

'But we, we had cabins,
had children and farms,
and we couldn't listen
to gold's siren-song charms.

cAnd though we dreamed fondly
of making that quest,
we had traveled our distance. . . .
Our sons took the West.


Those were the first settlers,
(after explorers and trappers)
clearing land for cabins -r-
tree-rich land of Ohio
and mellow flood plains —
before I was builded.


They built business
and commerce
and had much
to sell.
*iBut roads
to the £ast
were rutty
enough to hold
a horse.


The National Road

The wisdom

of the men

who gave me


had provided

for a sinking fund;

money saved

till 1806

was found enough

to start

the |A(ational <7^oad.


The work began

in 1808;

I first reached out

in Ohio

at St. C^airsville,

July fourth,



spaded the earth;

there was clamor of fire-works

and spouting of words,

liberal drinking

and raising of glasses.

That was good. Then

came excitement

and fever-straining men,

hammers thumping,

picks pinging,

great, strong bodies

making a highway.

6very soul
that traveled
ten miles
of my length

The National Road


paid toll,

life blood,

my renewal.

farrow-rimmed wheels

that cut my surface

sometimes to the binding —

these I charged most;

so wheels were broad.

The sharp hooves of cattle,

the iron horse -shoes,

even the slow,

heavy-shod oxen

dug deep

through the limestone,

and everything paid me toll. . . .


c/^nd in the winter

(if you were behind the wagoner)

you could see him cut the ice

with a gadget like a sled

hcK)ked under the sliding hind- wheels,

or with a chain

or a thing like a plow

somehow stuck

upon the rear.


There were

men of the road

hauling freight

like the


on rivers.

The hearty wagoners

loved food

and whiskey and songs,

old stories, lusty jokes,

and deep laughter.





The National Road

cAt night

they lay

in a large half-circle,

at the vast fireplace.

Their horses,

never stabled,

wore a blanket,

from a feed trough ate

at the rear of the freight.

cAnd a wagon house yard

on many a night

held many tired horses

by the side

of many heavy wagons,

while inside

many swarthy drivers

acted as described.


In summer they slept by campfirc light
under slim breezes and the starry night,
their bulky sweat-flecked horses right
near the wagoner's snores.


cA coachman's life

was gentler strife

of dash and whirl and whoa!

then off again

with a freshened team

to another

"^iddap, let's go."

There was dust galore
and rickety-rock noise
of wriggling door
and creaking floor
and the driver's voice

The National Road


and the coach's horns

as it madly tore

past well-stocked barns.

Then the coachman's roar

as faster, faster still

it gave its passengers

a thrill

or chill

(or spill,

though rare) .

The swaying top

on its leather springs

took up again

its rhythmic swing

past the crunch, crunch,

of a freighter string,

with a galloping rush

rolled into a ring

of excited folk,

where the tavern king

filled his hands to bring

the welcome of the house.

(v^nd then, the meal!


What game and fish
and crops
and fellowship
were made
for aught but
a coach stop?


It took skill of great order

to keep the coach to the border,

as the charioteer

the coach would veer


The National Road

past rock-spincd ledges

down sharp hill-cdgcs,

hands tense,

feet braced.

c/fround and away

dived the horses,

their manes and

their forces

tightly strained,

to the valley

to the roadside

to the relay post,

where the harness was stripped

and fresh horses departed.

cAnd once

there came

down the road

one of the stages,

hard-driven, careening;

it made a bad turn,


Henry C^zy

from the Concord (7oach.

"Kentucky C^slJ'" he muttered,

"meeting Ohio limestone."


Those old Concord coaches!

(in museums now)

When you sat on the driver's seat

you could sec all around —

up to the motionless blue above

and down to the whizzing ground

over and past the forest greens,

1 3

Online LibraryWriters' Program (U.S.). OhioThe National Road in song and story → online text (page 1 of 3)