Historic National Road To Mark Bicentennial in Wheeling

Photos by Scott McCloskey The first travelers on the National Road might have had a similar view of Seventh and Main streets when the road was completed into Wheeling on Aug. 1, 1818. A small re-enactment ceremony is planned at that location at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

WHEELING — A special celebration is planned Wednesday in North Wheeling to mark the 200th anniversary of the National Road’s arrival in the city.

The Victorian Old Town Association is organizing the free festivities. The public event starts at 6 p.m. and will finish by 7:30 p.m.

Chuck Wood, a VOTA member, said the association will hold a small re-enactment ceremony at Seventh and Main streets, where the road came down the steep hill and entered the city on Aug. 1, 1818.

VOTA member Maria McKelvey, who will be dressed in costume of the Regency Period (1811-20), will give a brief introduction to the National Road.

“Then we will walk the short distance to Eckhart House at 810 Main where lemonade and cookies will be served,” Wood said. At the Eckhart House, McKelvey, Wood and Rich Knoblich will tell stories and tales about the road and the people who worked and traveled it.

If it is raining on Wednesday night, the entire observance will be held at the Eckhart House, Wood said. Parking is available in a parking lot off Seventh Street between Market and Main streets, behind Eckhart House, and along Main, Seventh and Eighth streets.

Organizers have not been able to find any newspaper reports of the National Road’s arrival, but Wheeling native Virginia Jones Harper’s 1974 historical fiction book, “Time Steals Softly,” offers a description of the arrival of the first stagecoach in Wheeling. “We will read this and some of the other text in the book, and from other 1870s and 1890s history books,” Wood said.

He noted the novel’s account ends with a passage stating “that stagecoach was heralded … at Wheeling’s new United States Hotel by canons, gunfire, a parade, and a celebration like those of Independence Day.”

Regarding ceremonies coinciding with the pike’s arrival, McKelvey said, “I have regrettably not found at this time any specific information about any particular celebratory events that may have taken place on Aug. 1 in Wheeling.”

Ohio County Public Library staff member Erin Rothenbuehler also has checked period newspapers and has not found any information about festivities in 1818.

For the modern-day observance, McKelvey said, “Lacking verifiable information about a celebration, I have decided to present information about what was occurring in the United States in 1818 to give listeners historical context. As a costumed character, I will assume the position that I am a female citizen of Wheeling, Virginia, meeting a group of strangers at the entrance to the fair city.

“My character is excited about the knowledge that the National Road project has been completed to Wheeling. She will give some historical perspective of the time and what her hopes are for the future with such an anticipated and momentous transportation route finally completed to Wheeling,” McKelvey said. “If time allows at the Eckhart House, I plan to offer a few songs of the period accompanying myself on the Appalachian lap dulcimer.”

Wheeling’s main commemoration of the National Road bicentennial will be held in November, during the Upper Ohio Valley Festival of Books at the library.

Discussing the historic significance of the National Road, Wood said, “This first of America’s federally funded highways was initially funded by President Jefferson to tie the settled eastern seaboard to the expanding western frontier developing from the Louisiana Purchase.

“For nearly 50 years, the National Road (also called the National Pike) was clogged with stagecoaches carrying passengers and mail, and Conestoga wagons bringing hundreds of thousands of migrants westward and carrying coffee, sugar and manufactured goods to Wheeling, and flour and other farm goods to the East. The road also saw huge herds of cattle, pigs and turkey driven east to markets, and lines of chained slaves being sent down river once they reached the Ohio,” he said.

Wood said, “The National Road and its connection to Ohio River travel was the most important stimulus for Wheeling’s early growth. The arrival of the B&O Railway in 1853 continued the flow of travelers and trade through Wheeling, but greatly reduced stagecoach travel along the National Road.”

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