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Setting the Stage

Historical Context

 
Prior to the advent of railroad transportation, people and goods traveled by animal-drawn wagons on turnpike roads, and canal boats on waterways. During the 1820s, passenger travel to and from the port of Baltimore was accomplished by way of the National Road. The National Road was one of a series of internal transportation improvements recommended by the Federal Government to promote and improve commerce and national security. The road consisted of a series of pre-existing turnpikes, improved roads, and the nation’s first federally funded “highway” constructed between Cumberland, Maryland and Vandalia, Illinois. Construction on the federal portion of the road began in Cumberland, Maryland in 1811 and reached the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia (today located in West Virginia) in 1818. Reaching the Ohio River was imperative, as people and goods could then travel beyond it easily by way of ships and canal boats.
 
The National Road’s eastern leg heading west from Baltimore was constructed and operated  by the Baltimore and Frederick Turnpike Company. The company built an improved road from Baltimore to Frederick through towns like Ellicott’s Mills, Middletown, and Boonsboro, Maryland. Construction began in 1805 and was completed in 1818.  The road stretched sixty miles and ended on the western edge of Boonsboro. There the route to Cumberland continued 74.5 miles over the Hagerstown & Boonsboro Turnpike and the Cumberland Turnpike and eventually joined the National Road in Cumberland.
 
The turnpike roads were the 19th century equivalent of today’s highways, and stagecoaches were the  equivalent of modern taxi cabs and buses. Together they carried Americans across the country prior to the railroad. These roads were far from smooth and the journey was anything but comfortable when compared to 19th century rail travel or today’s standards.
 
Source: A Journey from Roads to Rails by David Shackelford.
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