It was America’s first “moonshot,” a road that would carry our young nation west. Carved from forest and mountain, spanning mighty rivers, it was the marvel of its age and stoked the dreams of thousands who followed this macadam and cobblestone ribbon into the frontier. Begun in 1811 to carry settlers and trade from the great capital of Baltimore into the then-wilds of Illinois, The National Road would take four decades to complete.
Through city and town, iconic history and welcoming present, trace a route once traveled by wagon and coach. Be open to adventure, be open to experience-- slow down, see the places and meet the people who breathe new life into every day along “The Road That Built the Nation.”
Baltimore to Frederick
Including MD 144 & MD 27
Begin at 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, which served as a National Road way station.
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.
Frederick to Hagerstown
Including MD 144 & US 40 Alt
Downtown Frederick is the hub from which charming Main Street communities, romantic accommodations and inspirational attractions fan out like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Two centuries of architecture are represented at numerous homes and public buildings, including the Barbara Fritchie House and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. The town also features entertainment ranging from theatrical productions to minor-league baseball. At the end of a long day, one of Frederick’s inns or bed and breakfasts is a welcome sight.
As you head out beyond Braddock Heights and the farming village of Middletown, consider making time for a sidetrack into Washington Monument State Park for a hike on the Appalachian Trail to the first monument erected in George Washington’s honor. The park is also located along a noted migratory bird flyway, so bring your binoculars.
In Boonsboro, the not-to-be-missed National Road Museum, is set to open in 2019, and will feature exhibits on traveling the National Road in its heyday and the movement to expand and populate America’s untamed West.
Continuing west, the farmland of Funkstown is dotted with Pennsylvania-Dutch bank barns and smaller English-style structures.