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Play National Road MIDI Clip

About the
National Road

The musical "If the Creek Don't Rise" tells the "story" of the American heartland by portraying a family that has lived and traveled along the National Road for nearly two centuries.

The National Road was the first federally funded interstate road, starting in western Maryland and heading west through a corner of Pennsylvania, then across Ohio and Indiana and beyond. Its construction was authorized by Congress in 1806 and begun in 1811. The road was critical to the early development of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as many states further west. Although the federal money ran out in Illinois in the 1830s, extensions to the road continued westward. Sections were still dubbed "National Road" through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and Utah. The National Road eventually brought millions of settlers westward into the plain states and beyond.

Although the growing prominence of railroads reduced the road's importance in the mid-to-late 1800's, the rise of the automobile restored it. In 1926, most of the original National Road and its extensions were renamed "US Route 40." At one time Route 40 spanned the continent, though the span west of Salt Lake City was decomissioned after the interstates were completed.

Route 40 is still an important road in each state it crosses. Because so many towns and cities sprang up along its path, it has been called "America's Main Street."

Today, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois have designated surviving segments of the "Old National Road" as a "National Road Corridor," parts of which have earned, or are under consideration for the National Scenic Byway designation. Plans are already underway to celebrate the 200th birthday of the National Road (or "birthdays," if you take into consideration that the road's construction from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois took over thirty years).

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