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Transportation in Washington County

Union Bridge

From Frederick North

From Thurmont West

Reminiscences Western Maryland RR

Reminiscences Cumberland Valley RR

National Road in Washington County

C & O Canal in Washington County

B & O Railroad in Washington County

Franklin Railroad Company in Washington County

Western Maryland Railroad in Washington County

Norfolk & Western Railroad in Washington County

Trolleys in Washington County


National Road

The history of this area, lying as it does at the crossroads of two great natural pathways, is from early foot and horse trails, through dirt wagon roads, stagecoach routes, a major canal artery, railroad rights of way, paved highways, bus routes, trucking operations, expressways, and commercial airlines, one of transportation.

When the early settlers arrived in the valley to begin life anew in a good land, they first followed the old Indian trails. Many arrived on foot, hacking their way through the primitive forest. Some followed the foot trails of the redman. One could say these became pack horse trails, since the settler often had all his belongings in a sack tied in a pack on his horse, if he had the means to purchase one.

In the summertime, through sunshine and showers, in wintertime, through sleety rain and heavy snow, they found their way into the valley.

The dirt roads in the communities where they settled served their early needs. They were made simply enough through the constant traffic packing the ground and creating a base of sorts resulting from the weight of the wagons. In heavy rains or in winter, it was a muddy picture, an inconvenience, but it was the beginning of progress. The early settlers were accustomed to the conditions of the times.

That a road should cross America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as straight as possible, was a dream of Thomas Jefferson, the second President of the United States. Before the west was mapped, before white men had crossed the Rocky Mountains, when few settlers ventured beyond the Alleghenies, Jefferson foresaw the need to bind the nation together, East to West, by an artery of transport and communication.

That road (Route 40) now exists, right across the nation's mid section.

As this transcontinental highway developed into a reality over the years, Washington County played its role in a small but important capacity.

The contract for constructing a turnpike road from Hagerstown to the Conococheague Creek was let to McKinley, Kinkead and Ramsey of Cumberland, and the stone bridge to Silas Harry in December 1817, the work completed in two years. The cost of the bridge was between $11,000 and $12,000.

The National Road extended from Cumberland on to the West. From the East, the turnpike had not yet reached Boonsboro and the portion between that town and Hagerstown was not completed for several years. At that time, the gap was a serious handicap to travel from Baltimore and Washington to the West.

Intercommunication between the distant parts of a broad land was only maintained, away from the navigable rivers, by means of wagons and stagecoaches. The peculiar character of the soil of the country between Hagerstown and Baltimore and Washington made good roads of any kind other than those of stone almost impossible.

Before the turnpikes were built, the county was frequently cut off from all regular communication with the outside world. Mails were delayed and freight had to be stored in warehouses until the state of roads admitted to travel. This was particularly exasperating because the major part of the transportation involved the use of farm wagons and was most liable to interruption at the very time when farmers were at leisure to do the work. It is not surprising this question occupied much of the thoughts of the people of Washington County at an early date. Many meetings were held and projects and schemes suggested.

As early as December 1, 1776, a meeting was held at the crude Court House in Public Square to devise means for procurring a turnpike road to be built from Baltimore Town through Elizabeth-Town, to Williamsport. General Thomas Sprigg presided. Resolutions were passed setting forth the advantages of the road to the farming interests of Western Maryland, in giving access to market, and at the tune of the year when farmers were unable to work on their farms and could move their crops. General Heister was the choice of the meeting for Washington County's member of the Commission to lay out the road. Adam Ott, Nathaniel Rochester, Daniel Hughes, Samuel Ringgold, William Clagett, and Eli Williams were the committee to procure the passage of a charter. The charter was granted on March 1, 1797.

The road from Boonesborough to Hagerstown was laid down by commissioners in 1822. The completion of this road gave a macadam turnpike, two hundred and sixty-eight miles in length, from Baltimore, through Boonesborough and Funkstown to Hagerstown from the east and from Hagerstown through Clear Spring and Hancock to Cumberland and the west.

The days of the Old National Pike were picturesque times in the county. Stagecoaches dashed through and wagons followed each other so closely the heads of one team were almost in the rear of the wagon before it. There were many private carriages, many travelers on horseback, and an endless procession of cattle and sheep from the rich pastures of what was then called the West. Along the road every few miles was a tavern and the reputation of the meals served in them, the venison, the hot bread, the ham and eggs, the whiskey, have lost nothing from the lapse of time.

The first coach used on the pike was a clumsy affair, carrying sixteen passengers, built in Cumberland by Abraham Russell. It was followed by the last and best, the Concord.

On the old road in the first coaches, a stage journey was seldom a pleasant ride. On the mountains were stumps and rocks, steep declivities and dangers of every sort. When it rained in the valleys, the stages stuck deep in the mud, crossings of the streams were dangerous, and the traveler was bumped and tossed.

From the summit of South Mountain to Clear Spring, about twenty miles, the road passed through one of the most fertile and beautiful agricultural portions of the United States. The panorama of farms, villages, and towns, the beauty of the hills and valleys, the impres-siveness of the mountains, and the variety of vegetation was most enchanting to the people traveling. As a result, many people were attracted to this valley and settled to make it their permanent homes.


Reprinted from:

"It Happened in Washington County" by Reuben L. Musey; published by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, 1976; pp 89-97

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