Explore Vandalia, Illinois - National Road Interpretive Center


The National Road Interpretive Center in Vandalia, Illinois tells the story of the surveyors, laborers and travelers of the National Road, sometimes called the Cumberland Road or National Pike. Illinois was the last state where construction took place and because the federal government decided to end project funding, we were left with a road that had only reached Vandalia by the late 1830s. The route of the National Road in Illinois was dictated by Vandalia’s position as state capitol at the time.

The Interpretive Center is a museum with hands-on activities for children including a Conestoga wagon that the youngsters can load for its journey. Abraham Lincoln’s connection to Illinois National Road towns is also spotlighted. One of the largest artifacts is an original National Road timber dating to the 1830s. Visitors will develop a better understanding of the importance of this road to Illinois and American history as well as an appreciation for the people that were involved in its construction.

View Some Pics Inside the Building


The early 19th century saw the young nation’s population longing to venture west into the unsettled hills, forests, and plains. The federal government in Washington, D.C. realized that a major road was needed for expansion, commerce and military purposes. After much consideration, in 1806 it was decided that our federal government should build a National Road. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, approved a plan for this road (also known as the Cumberland Road or National Pike) to start in Cumberland, Maryland. Jefferson’s treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, secured funding for the project. Construction began in 1811 in Maryland and continued through Pennsylvania, Virginia (today West Virginia), Ohio and Indiana. In 1828, Joseph Shriver’s surveying crew began their work in Illinois with construction commencing two years later. By 1838 the road had reached Vandalia but the federal government opted out of the project leaving Illinois with an incomplete National Road.

People traveled the National Road in covered wagons, stagecoaches, or horseback. Many settlers were on the National Road for weeks or months before reaching their new homes. Between 1830 and 1840 the Illinois population doubled with the National Road playing a significant role. A large wagon called a Conestoga was used to haul goods from the eastern states. The Conestoga was like the semi-truck of the 1800s.

By the 1850s, the railroad became popular and the National Road was used less. In the 1920s they began paving a new road from east to west and used the same trail as the National Road. This road is now called U.S. Route 40. Today the National Road in Illinois covers 164 miles from Marshall and the Wabash Valley to East St. Louis and the Mississippi River. Seven Illinois counties---Clark, Cumberland, Effingham, Fayette, Bond, Madison, and St. Clair--- are home to the National Road.