The National Road began as a trail created by buffalo and deer, and traveled by other animals, centuries before Indiana statehood in 1816.
The largest contiguous portion of the Indiana section of the National Road Heritage Trail (NRHT) meanders through Putnam County. We call it People Pathways and use it for walking, running, biking, and fitness/nature-related events.
Indiana’s first cross-state, multi-use trail project, the nearly 20 miles in Putnam County are part of what will be a more than 150-mile trail from the state’s east side, in Richmond, to the west, in Terre Haute. In Greencastle, it runs alongside Big Walnut Sports Park and the DePauw Nature Park.
The NRHT follows retired railroad lines close to US 40 – what, after well over a century, is still called the National Road in many places. It also is part of United States Bike Route 50, designed to eventually be a contiguous bike path from Washington D.C. to San Francisco.
The National Road began as a trail created by buffalo and deer, and traveled by other animals, centuries before Indiana statehood in 1816. Native Americans traveled the path the animals had cleared through thick woods and undergrowth and, later, during the westward expansion, easterners found it the easiest way to travel to, and settle, the American West. Nicknamed the “Main Street of America” and “The Road That Built the Nation,” as many as 200 wagons per day passed through the small towns that sprang up along its route.
The road grew wider, as travelers and residents cleared more woods, and the Vandalia and Pennsylvania railroads built in the cleared, parallel stretches. As the days of wagon trails gave way to pavement, this path across the midsection of the U.S., leading from east to west, was the obvious and easiest stretch upon which to build a road.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago, buffalo decided where US 40 would be. Its evolution continues today with the NRHT’s mission to promote and facilitate development of a multi-use trail for non-motorized travel closely following the Historic National Road across Indiana.