(Posted July 7, 2016)
The village of West Jefferson got its start thanks to construction of the National Road. To commemorate this fact, the Ohio National Road Association (ONRA) dedicated a historic marker in front of West Jefferson’s town hall—which sits along the National Road (Route 40/Main Street)—on July 4.
Founded in 2000, the ONRA is an all-volunteer group dedicated to preserving, promoting and enhancing the section of the National Road that runs through Ohio. The association’s board includes two directors from each of the 10 counties through which the road runs. Madison County’s representatives are John Kile and Kelso Wessel.
Built in the 1830s, the National Road covers 700 miles in six states, from Baltimore, Md., to East St. Louis, Ill.
The new marker in West Jefferson reads as follows:
“In 1831, Congress passed a bill appropriating money for the extension of the Cumberland Road through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. In 1836-1837 this great National Road was completed through Madison County.
“At the beginning of the 19th century, hardly a single road could be found in Madison County. For years after the county was organized, roads were merely wagon tracks through forests and prairies that followed Indian trails.
“When the settlement of Hampton discovered that the National Road was passing about a quarter mile to the north, the village moved en masse to what is now the town site of West Jefferson, using ‘roller logs’ to move their barns and houses.
“The new ‘pike town’ that resulted from the construction of the National Road of National Pike was named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson, the prefix West being added later by the post office department.
“West Jefferson was incorporated as a town in 1833 and with the construction of the National Road grew to about 300 inhabitants, five taverns, a large horse barn used by the stagecoaches, a general store, a blacksmith and two water-powered sawmills. By 1844-1845 there were five hotels and a wagon-making shop.
“Merchants traveled the National Road by stagecoach which ran three to five daily coaches in each direction, connecting to eastern markets in Boston and New York City to purchase goods that were shipped by canal to Columbus and then westward by four and six horse teams pulling freight wagons. Situated on the edge of the Darby Plain, some of the most fertile farmland in Ohio, the region grew as a result of the National Road. Two slaughterhouses were located nearby and furnished much of the dressed meats for the Columbus market.
“The building of the old Columbus and Xenia railroad (later absorbed by the Pennsylvania system) about 1848 slowed the growth of commerce along the National Road.”