Highways and Byways
One thing leads to another: If you start making cloth, thousands of yards of it, you can't keep it all in New England. You have to send it to other markets. How can you get cloth from Boston to Buffalo? In the early days of the nineteenth century, roads were no answer. Picture this: ruts, holes, mud, stones, and when you come to a riverno bridge. In 1774, Josiah Quincy, a Massachusetts lawyer, climbed aboard a stagecoach in Boston. He was heading for New York. It took a week to get there. (Today you can drive in four hours.) He wrote, "Whether it snowed or rained, the traveler must rise and make ready, by the help of a horn lantern and a candle, and proceed on his way over bad roads, sometimes getting out to help the coachman lift the coach out of a quagmire or rut ."
Road building was not a new science. The Romans and Aztecs had known how to make good roads. But somehow their skills had been forgotten. Then, near the end of the eighteenth century, roads were taken seriously again. Engineering skills went into stone roads with drainage and a slope, or camber, for water runoff. About 1806, some people with big ideas decided that we needed a road that would go across the countrywell, at least from the East Coast to the Mississippi, which seemed across the country to most Easterners then . It would be called the National Road, and would be paid for by the federal governmentwhich made some people very angry. Why should states that didn't get any of that road have to help pay for it? It was a problem of balancing state interests with national interests, and Americans would fuss over that problem again and again. But finally, construction of the National Road began . By 1833, it went as far as Columbus, Ohio; by 1850 it was at Vandalia in central Illinois . One traveler named Charles Fenno Hoffman went the whole way on horseback and then wrote this: "It appears to have been originally constructed of large round stones. These are now being plowed up, and a thin layer of broken stones is in many places spread over the renovated surface. It yields like snow drift to the weary wheels that traverse it."
Before the National Road was built, it took four weeks to travel from Baltimore to St. Louis. On the road, despite the drifts of powdered stone, if you didn't stop you could make St. Louis in four days .