Conestoga wagons have been replaced by sleek automobiles and a dirt path has been paved and expanded into a four-lane highway, but the history and culture of the Historic National Road is still prominent in Putnam County and across the country.
The Historic National Road, or better known in Indiana's U.S. Highway 40, is celebrating its 200th birthday this year. This bicentennial event is being promoted and sponsored by many organizations, including the Indiana National Road Association.
Part of the festivities will include the annual Historic National Road Yard Sale Days with 824 miles of roadside treasure hunting from dawn to dusk, May 31-June 4.
The original plan for a international road was formulated by President George Washington, but funding was not passed by Congress until 1806, during Thomas Jefferson's presidency. The Historic National Road was the United States' first federally funded interstate highway.
Originally, the now four-lane highway was simply an earthen path surrounded by trees It was traveled at a speed of 40 miles a day by Conestoga wagons. Today, however, it serves as one of the most heavily traveled highways in the United States. At its conception, the road connected the eastern seaboard of Maryland to the western interior of Illinois. Indiana gained its 156-mile division of the road stretching from Richmond to Terre Haute in 1827.
The Indiana section of the Historic National Road was deemed a National Scenic Byway in 1998 by the National Scenic Byways Program. Also, in 2002, the entire Historic National Road was designated an All-American Road for its historical and cultural significance. It is the longest byway transversing the greatest number of states to receive this prestigious award.
Also locally, the bicentennial anniversary of the Historic National Road will be celebrated with a display at the Putnam County Museum. The exhibit is on loan from Ball State University starting June 12 through August 30.
Many activities will take place to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Historic National Road. In addition to the 824-mile yard sale, a caravan of "tin-can tourists" will drive vintage travel trailers along the entire Historic National Road. This event is aimed to bring back the glory days for "trailering".
Families in all six states, from Baltimore to St. Louis, along the National Road are encouraged to reminisce by taking Sunday drives in cars circa 1910-1979 on June 17 from noon-4 p.m. Antique car owners are also invited to join the Historic National Road Antique Car Tour September 18-28 from the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River to Cumberland Maryland. Drivers are welcome to join and depart from the tour at their leisure.
The Historic National Road represents the development and culture of Indiana and the United States. The history, tradition, and picturesque scenery of Indiana can all be experienced with a Sunday afternoon drive down U.S. 40, even in the year of its 200th birthday.