Before Route 66, There Was the Historic National Road

Road signs for US Route 40 and the US Historic National Road (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Signs for U.S. Route 40 and the U.S. Historic National Road (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I’ve long been an advocate for taking the scenic route and finding designated scenic byways when I travel, but there are also heritage highways and historic roads that are worth a detour.

One of these is the U.S. Historic National Road, originally commissioned in 1806 by Thomas Jefferson as a road that would connect the East Coast with the wild frontier country way out to the Ohio River (which of course back then WAS frontier country.)

It was the first federally-funded interstate highway in the United States; construction started 145 years before the Interstate Highway System was authorized in the Federal Highway Act of 1956.

You can learn a lot about the National Road in eastern Indiana, where you’ll find the Old National Road Welcome Center in Richmond IN right on the border with Ohio, and the well-preserved 1841 Huddleston Farmhouse in Cambridge City IN.

The Farmhouse is the headquarters for the Indiana National Road Association. It is open for special events and by appointment – I was lucky enough to see it as part of a Midwest Scenic Byways/National Scenic Byway Foundation conference.

Huddleston Farmhouse Museum on the National Road Indiana (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Huddleston Farmhouse Museum, right on the U.S. National Road in eastern Indiana (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

In the lower level of the house is an small exhibit area to tell visitors more about the National Road, “….from the pioneer era to the present.”

The National Road connecting multiple states (credit to Indiana Landmarks, Huddleston Farmhouse Museum)

The National Road connecting multiple states (photo credit Indiana Landmarks, Huddleston Farmhouse Museum, via the National Scenic Byway Foundation)

Through the exhibits, you can learn about the early days of the National Road up through modern times. One placard explained that the Farmhouse was a popular stop because it had a kitchen, a small store, and could make wagon repairs.

“With its wagon yard, pastures, and travelers’ kitchens, Huddleston Farmhouse primarily served moving families and their stock. Other travelers required different types of lodging. Stagecoach customers expected a higher class of service at their inns and these were usually located right on the Road. Wagoners and drovers stayed on side streets or on the edge of town. They required more barns, stables, and land to accommodate horses and livestock bound for market.”

In the Road’s early days, ideas flowed back and forth as well as travelers on this original “Information Not-So-Superhighway.” People brought news with them, but they also brought information about political movements like abolitionism, women’s rights, plus various religious views.

There are also exhibits featuring more modern travel along what became US Route 40, including an interactive vintage car seat where you can sit and watch video of scenery “through the car window.”

As seen from your car window on the National Road vintage Burger Chef sign in interactive exhibit Huddleston Farmhouse Cambridge City Indiana (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

As seen from your “car window” on the National Road; a vintage Burger Chef sign in an interactive exhibit at the Huddleston Farmhouse in Cambridge City, Indiana (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It is rather incredible to walk around the exhibits, the grounds, the barn, and the house itself, then stop and look out of the dining room window at a road that has run past for so many decades….

Looking out on part of the old National Road from the Huddleston Farmhouse Museum Indiana (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Looking out on part of the old National Road from the Huddleston Farmhouse Museum, Indiana (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

If you have a chance to visit this part of eastern Indiana, do contact the Farmhouse to see if you can visit.

Cambridge City itself has a pretty downtown, with lots of antique shops and eye-catching murals like this one, about Lincoln’s Presidential funeral train that came through the area in 1865 enroute his eventual burial in Springfield, Illinois….

President Lincoln funeral train mural Cambridge City Indiana on Historic National Road (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

President Lincoln funeral train mural in Cambridge City, Indiana on the Historic National Road (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Are you up for a road trip down this famous highway? I would love to go; let’s pack!

Related nearbyExploring Indiana’s Underground Railroad History and Amish Life

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  1. Angie Kay Dilmore February 27, 2019
    • Sheila Scarborough February 28, 2019
  2. Donna Tauber March 3, 2019
  3. April March 3, 2019

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