The National Turnpike, also known as the National Road and the National Highway, was our nation's first super highway, and provided employment and/or a convenient home location for a number of Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor cousins from Pennsylvania to Indiana. Before the advent of the Interstate Highway System following World War II, it was "the only highway of its kind ever wholly constructed by the government of the United States," wrote Thomas B. Searight in his 1894 book, The Old Pike: A History of the National Road.
The highway was the brain child of political heavyweights Albert Gallatin and Henry Clay, and was passed into law by vote of Congress and the signature of President Thomas Jefferson. "From the time it was thrown open to the public, in the year 1818, until the coming of railroads west of the Allegheny mountains, in 1852, the National Road was the one great highway over which passed the bulk of trade and travel, and the mails between the East and the West," Searight wrote. "Many of the most illustrious statesmen and heroes of the early period of our national existence passed over the National Road from their homes to the capital and back, at the opening and closing of the sessions of Congress. [President Andrew] Jackson, Harrison, [Henry] Clay, Sam Houston, [James] Polk, Taylor, Crittenden, Shelby, Allen, Scott, Butler, the eccentric Davy Crockett, and many of their contemporaries in public service, were familiar figures in the eyes of the dwellers by the roadside."
Several cousins, including Perry G. White and his son Robert Marshall White were construction contractors on the highway in Somerset and Fayette Counties, PA, as early as 1843. Perry is named twice in Searight's 1894 book, and among a long list of men who were "contractors for work on the original construction of the road." During the period from May 1, 1843 to Dec. 31, 1844, Perry is known to have worked on the Western Division of the National Road under the supervision of William Searight, Commissioner of the Cumberland Road in Pennsylvania, and was paid $116.06 for his labors.
Later, said the Uniontown Republican Standard, "When the late Sebastian Rush was first appointed superintendent of the National road, about twenty-five years since, he put [Perry] in charge of the Monroe gate and he continued to hold such ever since up to the time of his death." Perry's work provided him with "general satisfaction," said the Uniontown Genius of Liberty.
William Alexander Gaither and his family resided along the highway near Chalk Hill, Fayette County, where in 1877 he was appointed as a reviewer of National Road spur construction plans in Wharton Township. In about 1871, Gaither also was named a caretaker of one of the road's most famous landmarks, the ancient grave of British General Edward Braddock, who was mortally wounded in battle during the French and Indian War. A rare sketch of the site, drawn in the early 1840s, is seen here. According to the artist who sketched this view, "A plain shingle, marked BRADDOCK'S GRAVE, nailed to the tree where part of the bones are interred, is the only monument to point out to the traveller the resting place of the proud and brave but unfortunate hero of the old French war."
Among those cousins who also lived along the National Road in Fayette County were Joseph and Sarah "Annie" (White) Hopwood in Hopwood, and Eli and Catherine (Dean) Leonard in Wharton Township. Franklin Ellis's 1882 book, History of Fayette County, states: "The Old Braddock road entered Wharton [Township] from Henry Clay [Township], on the farm now owned by McCarion, then by Eli Leonard's to the Widow Dean's, back of Farmington..." Further west, in Washington County, PA, Lynn and Grace (Miner) White made their residence along the road, then known as Route 40.
~ National Road in Ohio ~
Some of our cousins lived along or near Route 40 in Brownsville, Licking County. Among them were Jacob and Mary (Ferguson) Miner, and their son James S. and Angeline (Hamilton) Minor, who resided a block from the National Road in Brownsville circa 1866. Jacob and Mary's son, Civil War veteran Daniel L. and Frances (Vreeland) Minor, lived directly beside the road in 1877, just about a block west of town.
~ National Road in Indiana ~
In Indiana, in the town of Greenfield, Hancock County, John B. and Mary (Bush) Anderson owned a house on 106 East Main Street (Route 40).
One of the Andersons' neighbors several blocks away on Route 40 was a famous
American writer, James Whitcomb Riley, the "Hoosier Poet," said to have been "one of the best known Hoosiers of all time ... [and] famous for his use of
Hoosier dialect." He was the author of such works as "The Old Swimmin' Hole" and "Mongst the Hills of Somerset."
Riley, whose house is seen here, was a master at capturing the Indiana country dialect and turning it into lyrical poetry. Ironically, upon traveling in the east and visiting Somerset County, PA, he wrote these lines: