Hit the Road! Trips That Honor America's Pioneer Spirit
Feerick, Jack, The Saturday Evening Post
MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about America's love affair with the automobile; the very phrase has become a cliche. But the essential truth remains that Americans love to travel. Immigration, Manifest Destiny, the Great Migration--the instinct to light out for Somewhere Else seems coded into our national DNA. In honor of that ancestral urge, here are three road trips inspired by the pioneer routes and trails that opened up this country to expansion. Leave time for side trips along the way; the journey, in this case, really is as important--and as fun--as the destination.
In 1806 Thomas Jefferson approved federal funding for one of the first interstate road projects. Known today as the Historic National Road, it stretches 824 miles through six states, from the East Coast nearly to the Mississippi, following the modern I-40 for much of its length.
As befits the route that made the westward migration possible for thousands of settlers, the Road is strewn with sites of historical interest. From the eastern terminus near Hollins Market, the oldest of Baltimore's public markets and centerpiece of the artsy Union Square neighborhood (market open Tuesday-Saturday; www.union-square.us), you'll pass Casselman River Bridge State Park, as well as historic inns and tollhouses. From Maryland, the Road swings west through southern Pennsylvania, with a stop at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield, site of the first battle of the French and Indian War. The Old Petersburg Tollhouse, built from native-cut stone, still stands along the roadside.
Passing through a corner of West Virginia, the Road continues into Ohio, where you can ponder the changes in American transportation at the Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton (www.aviationheritagearea.org). Cut across the entire breadth of Indiana, taking in the famous "Antique Alley"--an extensive loop encompassing more than 900 shops and dealers; it's the ultimate destination for any fan of collectibles (www.visitrichmond.org). The Road ends in Illinois, the land of Lincoln. Leave time for visits to the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site (www. lincolnlogcabin.org) as well as the Lincoln School Museum in Martinsville (open Sunday afternoons through the summer, 217-382-6666).
Tracing a Path
Following what is perhaps the oldest continuously used travel route in the U.S., the Natchez Trace Parkway--a 444-mile stretch of two-lane blacktop running south-by-southwest from Nashville to the banks of the Mississippi--began as a dirt trail used by the earliest European traders and missionaries, and by local Native American tribes for centuries before that. Travel here was once so hazardous that the trail was called "The Devil's Backbone." Today, the Parkway offers the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of the South. …