Part 2: St Clairsvile, OH to Vandalia, IL

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks

Because the National Road had channeled considerable prosperity to communities along its path east of the Ohio River, the states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois implored Congress to extend the road through their territories, all the way to the Mississippi River. As the National Road stretched westward, however, trains became a more efficient form of transportation, making National Road travel obsolete, and funding dried up before the historic road ever reached the Big Muddy.

Continuing our westward quest along the "Main Street of America," we have a guest passenger riding along today. Sarah Mauk, a friend who lives in this area of Ohio, is serving as tour guide; and first off she points out one of the most curious structures along the National Road, the stone S-bridges. These bridges were used extensively along the National Road whenever it approached a stream at an oblique angle. The ess shape allowed engineers to build the arch portion of an S-bridge so that it would cross a stream at a 90-degree angle, thereby minimizing the arch's length. The tight curves weren't a problem for wagons but became a hazard to automobiles when they began traversing the road at higher speeds. As automobile traffic increased and bridge building technology advanced, the old S-bridges were bypassed or replaced by steel truss bridges. Sarah shows us the Salt Fork S-bridge near Old Washington, OH, now a roadside exhibit.

The former residence of America's first astronaut to orbit the earth is an attractive Craftsman-style, two-story home with the proverbial white picket fence. Perched on the south side of the National Road in New Concord, OH, it fits John Glenn's all-American image. Visitors are greeted by actors in period costumes and treated to a living history tour of John and Annie Glenn's house and lives.
Our next stop is the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in Norwich, OH. The museum is dedicated to both the National Road and Zane Grey, the prolific American novelist who authored more than 80 books, mostly in the Western genre. Grey grew up in Zanesville, OH, which was founded by his maternal ancestor Ebenezer Zane, who blazed the first trail through the Ohio wilderness in 1796-97. (Much of Zane's Trace was followed when the National Road was constructed between Wheeling, WV and Zanesville, OH.) Zane Grey's study has been recreated inside the museum, which also has many of his manuscripts and other memorabilia on display.

The National Road section of the museum holds full-scale examples of vehicles that traveled the road, including horse-drawn wagons, bicycles and early 20th-century automobiles. Several scale-model exhibits show the type of scenes travelers experienced during the road's peak travel years in the early 19th century.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2009 back issue.