The Old National Road


There has been a resurgence of interest in the Old National Road in Effingham County and for that matter in Illinois and the United States as well. The surveying and opening up of the road that would literally create and open up Effingham County. Prior to the coming of the road Effingham County was attached to Fayette County. At that time period most residents wanted the county seat to be no more than a half days horse ride away, that way they could go and pay their taxes and return before nightfall. That would be between 10 and 12 miles from the county line to the county seat. This would not be true in all cases but it is a pretty good rule of thumb to go by.

Much has been written about the National Road and I would just like to address the Road in Effingham County. It was first surveyed in the summer of 1828 with clearing of the road in Effingham started in the winter of 1830-31. The building of the bridge across the Little Wabash River caused the town of Ewington to appear on the River Bluffs above the crossing and become the county seat. The earliest settlements in the county would be along the course of the National Road. Ewington in 1831, Freemanton in 1834 and Teutopolis in 1839 would be among the earliest settlements that owe their location due to the proximity of the old road. The workers of the road where of the coarsest and roughest sort and many Saturday night fights would ensue when these men came into the settlements looking for alcohol and entertainment. Fist-fights and carousing were common place and many of the drunks were allowed to sleep off their overnight flings in the county jail that was made of logs and the door was propped shut with a good stout timer braced between the ground and door. After paying their fine to the county they were released to go back to their respective job sites.

Work on the road ceased just west of Ewington when the funding ran out and many of these men became squatters in the county working their plots of ground along side the road that brought them here. The work was dangerous as several deaths occurred to labors working on the road in the county as the embankment they were digging collapsed upon them. Compounding the matter was the fact that what little rock was placed upon the road was on the slopes leading into and out of the streams. We know that some rock for the road was secured from the Limestone Creek Settlement, which was just south of Freemanton, which is present day Dexter. I also found a statement that said the foundation stones for St. Peters' Church (now St. Francis) in Teutopolis which was built in 1852 used for foundation stones the stone that had been intended for use on the National Road but abandoned when work on the road ceased. And on the west side of the county little more than some grade work was done on the slopes entering into the creeks and there were no bridges or culverts of any kind. One can almost imagine what an Illinois spring with its rains would do to a road such as this. We also know that the bridge at Ewington did not last very long until the spring floods washed it away.

The road certainly must have been very rough in the 1830's and 1840's as many settlers would prefer to travel down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River and come from St. Louis east to get into Effingham County rather than go from Terre Haute west. In 1847 as stage line began operation over the road from Terre Haute to St. Louis on a regular basis. We know that the stage would stop in Teutopolis at J. Fulle's and switch horses and drop off the mails at the post office.

When coming into town the loud blowing upon a horn announced the arrival of the incoming stage. On more than one occasion the stage driver in showing his prowess with stage overturned it in the streets of Teutopolis. We are told that as the passengers had alighted into the tavern that there were no injuries, (except to the drivers' pride one would imagine). Traveling on the road must have been interesting as well. Most livestock was driven on foot from place to place and many inns and farms had special pens built to hold livestock overnight while the owners rested and slept. Many of the early residents of Teutopolis would get their ducks and turkeys from Spring Point in Cumberland County and carry them on their backs to their homes. Cases of being waylaid by thieves along the road would be common. There were several gangs in the Altamont area and east of Teutopolis that were known to steal livestock. Traveling well armed along the road was common and if you had property it was a necessity. We know that when members of the Teutopolis Land Company went from Cincinnati to Vandalia carrying the gold and silver to pay for their land that they had several armed guards walking on both sides of the horse to protect their investment.

    In Hagedorn's work "Souvenir of the Laying of the Cornerstone of St. Francis Church..etc." I found the following indirect reference to the old road.  In July of 1853 the Bishop came to Teutopolis to bless the corner-stone of the new church.  Hagedorn writes,

"Bishop Van de Velde left St. Louis early in the morning on the 18th instant, accompanied by the Rev. Joseph G. Buschotts, S. J.  They arrived at Highland in time for dinner, where the Bishop was welcomed by several Catholics, to whom his visit was unexpected.  After passing the whole night in the stage, the Bishop and his companions arrived at Freemanton, about sunrise.  Here they were met by a deputation from Teutopolis.  About 5-6 o'clock in the morning, and displaying an imposing sight, as with flying banners they descended the hill, entered the village and wheeled around to welcome the Bishop.  They were led on by their worthy pastor Rev. Joseph Zoegel, and had brought a second carriage for the accommodation of the Bishop and his attendants.  The procession marched through Ewington, the county seat of Effingham County, and reached Teutopolis about 8 o'clock A. M.  Several volleys of musketry announced their arrival.  Three arches composed of trees and adorned with festoon and flowers, had been erected over the National Road, which is the main street of the town."1

     The above illustrates that the stage service ran through the night and the distance covered is about 50 miles.  As most stage lines traveled about 5 miles per hour this meant that the Bishop must have gotten on the stage around 7:p.m.  As Freemanton is about 10 miles from Teutopolis we find that they made that journey between two and three hours time.   Again 5 miles per hour not being very far off the mark. 

In 1870 work on the long awaited Vandalia Railroad was completed and its right away paralleled or in some instances was on the right away of the old road. The coming of the railroad ended the stage coach service as the mails were transferred to the quicker and more dependable railroad. As to how much use the road had after the coming of the railroad one can only wonder but I found the following items. It would be up to the citizens of Teutopolis to rock the National Road through Teutopolis to Effingham themselves, as the state did nothing to maintain the road. It also would seem that the state had little interest in protecting the right-away of the road for in 1896 when the Bell Telephone Company wished to run its line through St. Francis and Teutopolis Townships they could not get the needed easements from the landowners. Apparently in the 1860's a telegraph line that had been paid for by subscription by residents of the townships, but when the concern went bankrupt the local farmers confiscated the wire and poles as payment for their losses. So the Telephone Company proceeded to run their line and placed their poles right in the center of the National Road! The good citizens of Teutopolis took the matter to court and as part of the settlement the telephone company had to move the poles to the edge of the right away and place a telephone office in Teutopolis as compensation.

In the end what a colorful pageantry of life must have paraded down the old National Road through Effingham County. From pedestrians, to hand carts, to horseback, to roller wagons, to stagecoach, to model T, to semi-trucks U.S. Route 40 must have seen it all.

For further information about the old National Road in Effingham County check out

1. Souvenir of the Laying of the Cornerstone of St. Francis Church Teutopolis, Illinois July 20, 1851. Historical Sketch of the Village of Teutopolis and of St. Francis Parish, Eugene Hagedorn, O.F.M., Teutopolis, Illinois 1926 pp.   85-86

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