By Larry Messing
The National Road played an iconic role in the westward expansion of the United States. Starting from its origin in Cumberland, MD (Hence, it’s alternative name of the Cumberland Road.) and blasting toward the west coast, the road’s construction ended in Vandalia, IL where it succumbed to the growing popularity of rail travel (which made the road’s construction not worth the cost).
The National Road began as the historic Braddock Road in the mid 1700’s, where it was built by the Ohio Company, a land speculation company of the day. In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson authorized further expansion of what became the Cumberland Road, which would replace the old wagon trails and foot paths of the old Braddock Road.
Construction of the National Road in Indiana began in Indianapolis in 1828 and expanded east and west simultaneously toward Richmond and Terre Haute, respectively. Because federal funding was never allotted to fully grade and gravel, the road could often become a sloppy mess causing stuck cars on rainy muddy days.
Some of that began to be addressed in 1917, when a three-mile section running east from what was then the city limits was made into a hard-surfaced road. This section was the first segment of the National Road that was surfaced as such and was celebrated with a huge ceremony in September of that year.
According to an Indianapolis Star article, “The eyes of Indiana and the nation were upon Marion County yesterday afternoon, when three miles of the National Old Trails Road, east from the city limits to the county line, were formally given to the city.”
Dignitaries from the day included Lt. Governor Edgar D. Bush, Judge J. M. Lowe (President of the National Old Trails Association) and Indianapolis Mayor Joseph E. Bell.
The event marked a momentous occasion in the modernization of the country. As noted by Lowe, “Indiana has struck fire here and the sparks have fallen into other states and fired the hearts of the population to good roads.”
During the ceremony, a banner, which was labeled “Bad Roads”, was stretched across the road and cut to symbolize the end of bad roads in Marion county.
Preceding the dedication ceremony was a parade starting from the Capitol, which included streamers and cars draped with American flag.
The National Road still plays a large role in the history of Indianapolis. These days, the segment in the city is known as Washington St and serves as one of the main east-west arteries in Indianapolis.
The National Road, known by most as US 40 or Washington St. in Indianapolis, is one of Indiana’s most historic transportation routes. The National Road was first commissioned by Thomas Jefferson’s administration in 1806 as the first federally funded interstate highway. The goal of the road was to connect the eastern ports to the western territories. As a major east to west route it saw heavy traffic, and was influential in the development of states it passed through. The road was intended to stretch from Cumberland, Maryland to the Mississippi River, but the route terminated at Vandalia, Illinois when Federal funding ceased in 1838.
Despite difficulties and slow construction the road had a major impact on the development of Indiana. In 1827 the National Road was surveyed across the state of Indiana by Jonathon Knight. The following year construction started in Indianapolis and would expand both east and west simultaneously. At the time the road was finished it stretched from Richmond in the east to Terre Haute in the west, passing right through the young state capital of Indianapolis. The road not only brought settlers into Indiana but it was a major trade route. Towns were founded along the road because of the commerce and opportunity it provided. A good example is Knightstown, named after Jonathon Knight and platted in 1827 along the route of the National Road.
Despite heavy traffic seen in the 1830s and 1840s, the road would enter a period of decline. Railroads took the majority of the travel by the 1850s. Without federal funding the road was also never fully graded and graveled in areas leading to muddy paths with large wagon ruts. Counties, towns, and even private companies were charged with the maintenance of the road. They often did not have funds or policies in place for proper road maintenance. It was not until the mass production of automobiles in the early 20th century that much needed improvements were made to our nation’s roads.
Below: A view of road conditions that car traveler's may have faced in the early 20th century.
Automobiles afforded a personal freedom and an exciting experience that trains could not. In early 1900s roads were not well suited for car travel. Poor roads conditions led to the Good Roads Movement, which advocated for the establishment of better road conditions nationwide. In addition to spotty road conditions there was a lack of marked routes for navigation. A number of trails associations were created to promote and create navigable routes for motorists. Signs and logos were painted on telegraph and telephone poles to help travelers find their way. The National Road received support and promotion during this movement.
The National Old Trails Association was formed in 1912 to support the creation of an “ocean-to-ocean” highway. The route ran from New York to Los Angeles, and much of the eastern portion followed the path of the Historic National Road. Elizabeth Gentry, a member of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and Missouri Good Roads Committee, was influential in the creation of the National Old Trails Association. Gentry inspired local and state NSDAR chapters to support the highway. Many chapters of the NSDAR supported the creation of the Old Trails Highway and the historic significance of the National Road. “Markers” or monuments were erected by various NSDAR chapters in many places along the National Road.
Two prominent National Road monuments exist in Indianapolis dedicated in 1916. The Caroline Scott Harrison chapter of Indianapolis dedicated a memorial on the lawn south of the Statehouse. The location was chosen to honor the original alignment of the National Road which ran through the Statehouse's current location. Interestingly enough the memorial originally functioned as a drinking fountain. This memorial recognizes the significance of the National Road, Indiana's Centennial, and the impact the NSDAR has had on preserving our state's great history.
A second Indianapolis monument is located at the intersection of Washington St. and South Eastern Ave. The Cornelia Cole Fairbanks chapters of the NSDAR dedicated an obelisk to honor Indiana's Centennial, the Historic Michigan Road, and Cornelia Cole Fairbanks, a prominent NSDAR member. Cornelia Cole Fairbanks campaigned for women's rights, education, and worker's rights in Indiana. The Historic Michigan Road is one of Indiana's earliest state highways. The monument also marks the crossing of the Michigan Road and the National Road.
The NSDAR is also famous for the creation of the Madonna of the Trail statues. These statues honor the pioneer women that traveled our nation's historic routes. The state chapters of the NSDAR funded the statutes and are responsible for their maintenance. 12 Madonna statues were dedicated in total. There is one for each of the 12 states that the National Old Trails Road ran through. Indiana’s is located in Richmond at Glen Miller Park.
Indiana’s centennial also proved to be a historic year for our nation’s roads. Congress passed the 1916 Federal Aid Highway Act due to the efforts of the Good Roads Movement, the DAR, the American Automobile Association, and various trails associations. The act gave federal matching funds to the states for road improvements. The National Road received needed repairs and improvements as a result. The National Road’s role as a major east to west route was acknowledged further in 1926 when the historic route was included in the designation of US 40.
Today the National Road is one of seven State Scenic Byways in Indiana, a National Scenic Byway and designated an All-American Road. These designations honor the significance that the National Road played in our national and state history. The Indiana National Road Association promotes travel, tourism, and communities along the byway. The NSDAR also continues to support the historic significance of the National Road through the restoration and care of their monuments.
The National Road memorial funded by the Scott Caroline Harrison Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Madonna of the Trail statute located in Richmond, Indiana in Glen Miller Park.
The obelisk monument dedicated by the Cornelia Cole Fairbanks chapter of the NSDAR at the intersection of Washington St. and Southeastern Ave. The monument marks the crossing of the Historic Michigan Road and the National Road.
By Raina Regan:
If you’ve ever traveled the National Road from Greenfield to Indianapolis, perhaps you’ve noticed a sign or two marking the community of “Philadelphia.” Drive 9 minutes east of Cumberland or 6 minutes west of Greenfield and you’ll pass through Philadelphia. This small hamlet certainly owes its brief history to the development of the National Road, but owes its ultimate decline due to the waning mill industry of Hancock County. Let’s take a brief look at the history of Philadelphia, Indiana.
Sugar Creek Township was one of the first three townships established when Hancock County was organized in 1828. The National Road, which was surveyed across Hancock County in 1827, and opened in the north half of Sugar Creek Township in 1835, increased the settlement and development in the areas surrounding the Road. The community of Philadelphia was laid out on April 11, 1838, no doubt in response to the National Road traffic, with inns and taverns as one of the early businesses of the community.
On page 292 of J.H. Binford’s History of Hancock County, Binford notes:
“Philadelphia, named in commemoration of the city of brotherly love, is located four miles west of Greenfield, on the National Road. The P., C. and St. L. R. R. runs by it. It contains a two-story public school building, one saw-mill, a flouring mill, post-office, express office, daily mail, druggist, grocer, merchants, mechanics, physicians, and other necessaries to a village of her dimensions. Philadelphia was laid out by the records fail to show whom, on the 11th day of April, 1838, being about six months prior to the laying out of New Palestine.”
The construction of the Indiana Central railroad (later, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and St. Louis railroad) through Hancock County and Philadelphia in 1851 helped provide a second influx of commerce to the community during the 1870s and 1880s. The 1887 Atlas of Hancock County includes a map of Philadelphia at the height of its prosperity; most buildings are situated along Main Street (National Road, now U.S. 40), with one or two blocks of buildings located directly north and south of Main Street. The town remained relatively unchanged from its original plat, with only one addition by Clark in April 1864, located directly south of the original plat.
Binford (p. 294) also notes about Philadelphia: “Prior to the construction of the old Indiana Central R. R., there was a vast amount of travel and moving to the west in wagons, on the National road, and for a number of years the Dayton and Indianapolis stage passed east and west daily through this little burg, at which time the chief business of the place, like others of its kind along this main line of travel, was inn or tavern keeping. Relics of these old buildings, where the westward bound, weary traveler was nightly found, still remain, tottering, but telling monuments of an earlier stage of civilization.”
Early settlers relied on the Blue River, Sugar Creek, and other creeks and rivers to power mills throughout the county. The Indiana Gazetteer from 1833 noted the following about Hancock County: “The county is advantageously situated for mills; the streams passing through it afford a number of excellent sites for water works: it is also well supplied with springs of the purest water.” The earliest mill on Sugar Creek was founded in 1828, north of New Palestine, and consisted of a simple water mill. Dozens of saw and grist mills operated in the township throughout the nineteenth century, but most of these closed by the turn of the century. The mills played an integral role in the prosperity of Philadelphia and Sugar Creek Township during the nineteenth century. Several mills were opened and operated along Sugar Creek from New Palestine to Philadelphia, dating from the 1850s through the 1890s, relying on the railroad through Philadelphia for shipping. Philadelphia primarily served as a railroad town, with the height of business during the 1870s and 1880s. As the mill industry waned, so did the development of Philadelphia. In the 1916 history of Hancock County, author George Richman made the following observation of Philadelphia:
“…very few improvements have been made in the town during the past fifty years
and the older citizens tell us that it remains very much as it was from their earliest
Today, not much remains of 19th century Philadelphia. If you hop of US 40 to the north or south, you’ll see a few architectural reminders of this National Road community. A historic schoolhouse is to the north. To the south, the recently National Register of Historic Places listed Rufus and Amanda Black House is an excellently preserved Italianate farmhouse. This is the first and only property in Philadelphia listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This blog post includes research completed for the National Register nomination for the Rufus and Amanda Black House.
Binford, J.H. History of Hancock County Indiana from its Earliest Settlement by the “Pale Face,” in 1818, down to 1882. Greenfield, IN: King and Binford, 1882.
Griffing, C.E., B. N. An Atlas of Hancock County, Indiana, 1887. Repr. Kokomo, IN: Selby Publishing, 1999.
Richman, George J. History of Hancock County Indiana, Its People, Industries and Institutions. Greenfield, IN: WM. Mitchell Printing Co., 1916.
Scott, John. The Indiana Gazetteer, or Topographical dictionary: containing a description of the several counties, towns, villages, settlements, roads, lakes, rivers, creeks, and springs, in the state of Indiana. Indianapolis, IN: Douglass and Maguire, 1833.
Sam's Drugstore in Cambridge City
By Bob Hunt:
Cambridge City, Indiana was founded on the National Road in 1836, but in 1846, everyone was focused on the newest transportation system that had just arrived in town. This innovation was already widespread in the East, and promised to revolutionize the movement of goods and commerce. No more reliance on the old horse and wagon, and bumpy roads. The new way would be smooth, carry heavier loads than the traditional wagons could ever imagine, and (for Cambridge City) was directly linked to the busy city and strategic shipping point, Cincinnati.
The Whitewater Canal system ultimately never lived up to the hype and promise, but at this moment, Cambridge City enjoyed the optimism of being hooked up to not one, but two major transportation systems, a major competitive advantage. In the short term, it only got better. In 1849, with the discovery of gold in California, the largest land migration in the history of the United States moving West along the National Road was only getting bigger.
Historic situations like Cambridge City in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s drew people to take large financial risks to try and cash in for the future. Sam Hoshour was one of those individuals. Hoshour wanted to open a drugstore in Cambridge City to take advantage of the large numbers of travelers and burgeoning commerce. In order to insure success and competitive advantage in a city he felt was on the cusp of huge growth and success, his drugstore would be the finest and fanciest Indiana had ever seen. His business would impress customers with magnificent special made cabinetry from the finest woodworking artisans in Cincinnati, whose work could rival their peers in New York City and the elsewhere in the East.
Sam opened his store in 1852, with the large cabinets from Cincinnati delivered by none other than canal flatboats. The beautiful woodwork did not disappoint, it was indeed the finest, best appointed drugstore in all of Indiana. The furnishings were stunning, and Sam’s store was a hit. Stories of the day reported that the solid walnut and ash cabinets with beautiful striped ash/walnut countertops were even complimented by matching floors. Local legend has it that Sam would watch and chase the cowboys out of his store whenever they came in wearing spurs, because they caused scratches. Pretty fancy for a business located virtually on the frontier.
For a time business was good in Cambridge City. In just a few years though, the railroad also came to town, and with it, major changes. The canal was quickly relegated to the past, and transportation by traditional horse and wagon along the National Road was no match for the new “iron” horse. Sam’s Drugstore, for all its finery, was in the same situation as all of the other businesses in Cambridge City. Everyone suffered, because travelers and commerce could now travel straight through from the East headed to Indianapolis and points west. People on the trains didn’t have to stop every few miles to rest as they had with the horses and wagons. Cambridge City would never grow into the large metropolis that Sam and his fellow businessmen had once imagined.
Despite the advent of trains and fewer travelers, the drugstore continued on. First under Calloway, Sam’s partner, and then ownership was eventually transferred to the Grigsby family. The Grigsby’s sincerely appreciated and protected the particular unique elegance of the drugstore, and especially the cabinets. Over the years some changes were inevitable, but kept minimal. Finally, in the 1960’s Rolla Grigsby had to move Sam Hoshour’s magnificent cabinets out of the store forever, to make way for the modern age.
Today, it’s tempting to try and imagine what Sam Hoshour’s Cambridge City drugstore on the National Road must have looked like back in its heyday. Buildings are emptied and re-used over time however, and indeed, the original building that housed the drugstore in Cambridge City is an antique store today. Although a very nice antique store, no visible evidence of the magnificent business that Hoshour once operated there remains.
How grand it must have been to walk into that wonderful space, with the finest apothecary cabinets money could buy. Surrounded by glistening glass doors, hundreds of apothecary jars, and every kind of fascinating advertising posters. Shelves were filled with showy and outlandish patent medicine and cures, and candy beckoned everyone to spend a few cents for something sweet. The store would have also sold from a large inventory of non-medicine items including household cleaners, curtain hangers, tobacco products, dental hygiene, reading glasses, paint, you name it. In many ways, not all that different from their modern equivalents.
Once the cabinets had finally exhausted their commercial usefulness, and were removed to storage, there were collectors and antique dealers interested in acquiring them. Grigsby was approached several times, but always resisted selling. One particularly persuasive party however heard about the cabinets, and made his way to Cambridge City. He was the one who finally struck a deal with Grigsby to purchase the entire interior of the old drugstore from the barn where it was stored.
Because of this remarkable buyer, and his plans, the story of Sam Hoshour’s National Road drugstore and its magnificent cabinets was not destined to end in Grigsby’s Cambridge City barn, but would be re-born. The purchaser was August Hook, and his family happened to control one of the largest and most successful drugstore chains in the United States in the mid 1960’s, Hook’s Drugstore Inc. Hooks was founded in 1900 by John Hook, on the near Southeast side of Indianapolis, and had grown from a single location, to a large and dominant regional chain of several hundred stores, centered and headquartered in Indianapolis. Hook’s Son August (Bud), and some of his senior management had developed an interest in historic pharmacy, and they had an idea for a company sponsored promotion to help celebrate the Sesquicentennial (150 year anniversary) of Indiana Statehood in 1966.
With the cooperation of the Indiana State Fair Board, Hook struck a deal to utilize an underused smaller building on the grounds for a temporary 3 month exhibit of historic pharmacy featuring the re-assembled interior of Hoshour’s drugstore as its centerpiece. The exhibit was in fact a smash hit at the 1966 Fair. It won the Governor’s prize for best corporate contribution to the Indiana sesquicentennial, and drew huge crowds. Visitors loved the old drugstore, whose cabinets had been filled with authentic antiques, and placed in a space that closely approximated the size and feel of the original. People loved the “old drugstore” so much, that Hook’s decided to keep it open indefinitely, and use it as an ongoing company promotion.
Today, more than 160 years after their construction, Hoshour’s original vision in ornate drugstore cabinetry for Cambridge City, Indiana, is operated as Hook’s Drugstore Museum and Soda Fountain. The museum has even outlived the 1994 demise of benefactor and supporter Hook Drugs Inc., and gone far beyond its original 3 month plan. The fixtures and furnishings are today owned by a non-profit group whose mission it is to continue the legacy of this Indiana icon which has become an institution at the Indiana State Fair. Dedicated volunteers, donations and modest profits from sales of ice cream sodas, candy, and nostalgic gifts allow this venerable museum to continue forward on its improbable journey, much to the delight of more than 60,000 annual visitors. Hoshour’s fine cabinets from his Cambridge City drugstore are still recognized as the keystone part of one of the best exhibits of its kind anywhere in the nation. Since being installed at the Fairgrounds, well over 2 million people have visited this remarkable re-creation of a 19th Century Indiana Drugstore, more than any other collection of this type in the world. You may have even visited the Hook’ Drugstore, but never knew the Indiana National Road connection, most people don’t. The next time you come in, just imagine a time before even railroads crossed the State, when Indiana was still very young. High-tech transportation was a flat boat towed by mules on an elaborate (but slow) canal system. It’s not even hard to imagine Sam Hoshour coming around the corner at any moment, just in case some cowboy comes in off the National Road and fails to remove their spurs. Woe be unto them!
Hooks Drugstore Museum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds is open during the Indiana State Fair, during selected events during the year, and by special appointment or reservation. http://www.hooksmuseum.org
By: Joe Frost