Historic National Road – MD
- DesignationAll-American Road (2002)
- Intrinsic QualitiesCultural, Historic
- LocationIL, IN, MD, OH, PA, WV
- Length170 of 824 total miles
The National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road) was the first major improved highway in the U.S. built by the federal government between 1811 and 1837. The 620-mile road connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and was a main transport path West for thousands of settlers.
Story of the Byway
Construction of America’s first road to the west, from Baltimore to Illinois, began in 1811 and took four decades to complete. Visitors to the byway can trace the paths of thousands of settlers who once used wagons and coaches to find new paths and meet those who breathe a new life into the nation every day. Visitors should begin their journey at the water's edge in the Inner Harbor area, where they will find shopping, fine dining and walking among harborside attractions. Following the Historic National Road visitors can explore several historic neighborhoods, including Union Square, which journalist H.L. Mencken called home, and see the nearby Baltimore Ohio Railroad Museum. Continuing their journey, visitors will traverse through the town of Catonsville, developed in 1810, which was a popular summer destination, and Oella, which contains the 142-acre Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, dedicated to the African-American mathematician who helped calculate Washington, D.C.’s boundaries.
After crossing the Patapsco River, visitors will be able to explore antique shops and restaurants in Ellicott City and Mount Airy, and they will be able to discover historic sites such as the B&O Railroad Station Museum, America’s oldest surviving railroad station, and Thomas Isaac’s Log Cabin. From there, the Historic National Road makes its way to downtown Frederick, a bustling hub full of charming Mainstreet communities, romantic accommodations, and exciting attractions. In addition to the historic sites such as the Barbara Fritchie House and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, visitors can enjoy theatrical productions and minor league baseball. From Frederick, visitors will journey to Braddock Heights, where they will have the opportunity to explore Victorian architecture and scenic streetscapes and to make a sidetrack to Washington Monument State Park, notable for its migratory birds, and for a hike on the Appalachian Trail to the first monument erected in George Washington’s honor. Visitors will then make their way though Boonsboro and should make a stop at the National Road Museum, featuring exhibits on traveling the National Road in its heyday and the movement to expand settlement into America’s West.
From Boonsboro, visitors will travel through the picturesque towns of Funkstown and Hagerstown, where they will be able to explore historic railroad hubs. Hagerstown highlights include The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and the Hagerstown Cultural Trail, featuring work from internationally recognized artists. Traveling along US 40 toward Clear Spring, visitors will be able to find Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Park, a small waterfront park that offers a fine view of the five stone arches that support the 210-foot-long Wilson Bridge. Dating back to 1819, it’s the oldest and longest bridge of its kind in Washington County. It is also the site of the 160-year-old Wilson Country School and Store. Those desiring to explore America’s revolutionary history should take a sidetrack south along MD 56 to Fort Frederick State Park. Based in Big Pool, the fort was the cornerstone of Maryland’s defense more than 250 years ago during the French & Indian War.
The Historic National Road then makes its way to Hancock, where the C & O Canal National Historical Park offers a deeper exploration of canal life. After a climb up Sideling Hill, which was the scene of many stagecoach mishaps due to the steep turns, visitors have the opportunity to play golf amid the ridges and valleys of Rocky Gap Lodge, Spa & Golf Course before moving on to Cumberland. Cumberland, like Hagerstown, was a transportation crossroads with ties to highway, railroad and canal transportation, and is now just as popular for its galleries, theaters and museums. Visitors can take a steam-engine train ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad or bike on the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail. Visitors will then pass through LaValle, the site of Maryland’s only remaining Toll Gate House, before crossing the Casselman River Bridge, a single-span, stone-arch structure built for the National Road near Grantsville in 1813. The bridge now connects a state park to the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, site of a former stagecoach stop. The village serves as a cultural center promoting local arts, crafts and music from the Appalachian Mountain region of Maryland. The historic road then winds through the Savage River State Forest and over Keysers Ridge to the Mason-Dixon Line.
Begin in Baltimore on MD 144 and continue through Catonsville, Ellicott City, and Mount Airy, crossing over the Patapsco River. Once you reach Frederick, take US 40 Alt through Middletown, Boonsboro, and Funkstown, and Hagerstown. From there, make your way to Cumberland, mostly following US 40 Scenic and passing through the town of Hancock. From Cumberland, follow US 40 Alternate through LaVale, the Savage River State Forest, to the Mason-Dixon Line.
Points of Interest
National Road Museum
The museum is located in Boonsboro MD, where the first macadam road was constructed in 1823. The museum presents artifacts through exhibits, programs and special events.
National Museum of Civil War Medicine
Find a series of immersive exhibits that tell the story of the unsung heroes of the Civil War, the doctors and nurses. Discover new stories of patients, caregivers, and medical innovations of the Civil War.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
Hop on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, which climbs 1,291 vertical feet from Cumberland to Frostburg through the Allegheny mountains.
B&O Railroad Museum
Discover the birthplace of American railroads and visit the most important American Railroad collection in the world.
Casselman River Bridge State Park
A single-span, stone-arch structure built for the National Road near Grantsville in 1813. The bridge now connects a state park to the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, site of a former stagecoach stop.
Wilson Country School and Store
The R.H. Wilson General Store was built in 1847. The store served as a rest stop for drovers, farmers and travelers on the National Road. Today, the store features retro toys, old fashioned candies, glass bottled soda and more. Nearby, the old 1855 school house is a must see historic landmark.
Spruce Forest Artisan Village
The village serves as a cultural center promoting local arts, crafts and music from the Appalachian Mountain Region of Maryland
National Road Museum
The museum will present artifacts through exhibits, programs and special events. The museum is located in Boonsboro MD, where the nation’s first macadam road was constructed here in1823.
The Beginnings of the Historic National Road
Begin at the water's edge in the Inner Harbor area, where you’ll find shopping, fine dining and walking among harborside attractions. Then follow Lombard Street on the first portion of the National Road – originally known as the Baltimore National Pike - through several historic neighborhoods, including Union Square, which journalist H.L. Mencken called home. Your next stop is the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, located inside a beautifully restored roundhouse.
Further west of the city is Catonsville, which was developed in 1810 and became a favorite for summer homes when linked to downtown Baltimore by electric trolley lines. Before crossing the Patapsco River, drive through the charming little town of Oella, which contains the 142-acre Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, dedicated to the African-American mathematician who helped calculate Washington, D.C.’s boundaries.
Beyond the Patapsco River, Ellicott City has antiques shops and unique restaurants in historic buildings. This old mill town features America’s oldest surviving railroad station, the B & O Railroad Station Museum, as well as Thomas Isaac’s Log Cabin.
Next comes Mount Airy. Formerly a railroad and turnpike town, it now features an interesting concentration of vineyards that are open for tours and picnics. This area is also popular for its boutiques and antiques, more of which you will find down the road in New Market. There are many opportunities to stop for lodging before you continue along the byway.
Update this byway information today!