Travel to Ohio's National Road

The S-shaped Salt Fork Bridge from 1828 lies east of Old Washington in Ohio's Guernsey County. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Bob Downing/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT / September 9, 2011)

BLAINE, Ohio — The Blaine Hill Bridge is a monument to Ohio's past.

The 385-foot, brick-paved bridge in Belmont County is also a surviving link to the historical National Road. It dates to 1828 and is the oldest surviving bridge in the Buckeye state, designated Ohio's Bicentennial bridge in 2003.

With its three arches and sandstone blocks, it once carried travelers on the National Road over Wheeling Creek. It is about eight miles west of Wheeling, W.Va.

Today, vehicles are banned from the bridge that lies in the shadow of the 1932-1933 bridge of steel and concrete that carries U.S. 40 over Wheeling Creek.

The Blaine Hill Bridge once took traffic west onto the Big Hill with its 20 dangerous curves. It is the longest S-shaped bridge in Ohio.

Such bridges were common on the National Road in eastern Ohio. It was easier for engineers to build bridges that were at 90-degree angles to the streams. Curved ramps were then added at both ends, creating shallow S-shaped approaches.

Pasco Drive that leads to the bridge is paved with bricks from 1917-1918.

Today the Blaine Hill Bridge is one of the biggest Ohio attractions along the National Road that some called America's Main Street.

It ran 620 miles through six states from Maryland to Illinois. It was the only land link between the East Coast and America's western frontier in the early 19th century, and was first envisioned by George Washington.

It was America's first federally funded interstate highway, opening the nation to the west and serving as a corridor for moving people and goods. It was the busiest road in the United States by the 1840s, the major means of transportation until railroads were developed.

Today the National Road offers a step-back-in-time charm with sleepy pike towns, sections of old road, taverns and inns, cemeteries and more. It is, some say, an authentic experience.

It runs parallel to U.S. 40 and is a federally designated All-American Road, one of 31. That 700-mile designation stretches from Baltimore, Md., to East St. Louis, Ill.

Sites in Ohio include the boyhood home of astronaut John Glenn in New Concord, the Camp Chase Confederate cemetery and the first Wendy's restaurant in Columbus, and the Red Brick Tavern in Lafayette that has housed six U.S. presidents.

You will also find the National Road/Zane Grey Museum at Norwich between Cambridge and Zanesville. It is operated for the Ohio Historical Society by the John and Annie Glenn Museum Foundation.

Exhibits include a 136-foot-long diorama of the National Road. It also honors writer Zane Grey (1872-1939), who hailed from nearby Zanesville and is well known for his western novels. The museum also spotlights art pottery from the area.

In Pennsylvania, the National Road runs next to the Fort Necessity National Battlefield from the French and Indian War. In West Virginia, sites include the West Virginia Independence Hall and Museum. In Illinois, travelers will find the prehistoric Cahokia Indian mounds.

The road is known for its distinctive milestones that stood at one-mile intervals along the highway.

About three feet of the exposed concrete stood above the ground. Each marker indicated the distance to Cumberland, Md., at the top center, and the name of the nearest towns to the east and west and the mile distances were carved on the sides.

The first markers of concrete weathered poorly and were replaced by sandstone in the 1850s. Concrete was used later to replace weathered milestones. Historians have identified 83 original markers still standing in Ohio, mostly in eastern counties.