Early Trails and Roads into Western Virginia
Compiled by John R. Ice
(CPC 1933)

      American bison or buffalo made the first forest trails in northwestern Virginia and marked ways which the Indians followed in their wars and hunting excursions. The Nemacolin Trail, named for an Indian guide who was employed by agents of the Ohio Company to help them establish the best possible route from the upper “Potomac Valley to the head of the Ohio River. It followed a tributary of the Potomac River from Cumberland, MD., crossing the dividing ridge to the head waters of the Youghiogheny River, thence down that stream by way of Connellsville, until it reached the Monongahela, and thence to the present site of Pittsburgh. In 1754 George Washington in his campaign against the French, widened and improved this path to some point west of Old Fort Necessity. In 1755 General Sir Edward Braddock, in his campaign against the French and Indians, further improved this route for the transportation of his army to Fort Duquesne, near where he met his disastrous defeat on July 9, 1755, and died four days later. General John Forbes further improved the road in the fall of 1758, while transporting his troops in the campaign against and the capture of fort Duquesne, the name of which he changed to Fort Pitt. In 1766 the Virginia Assembly ordered a road cleared from the Valley of south Branch to Fort Pitt. After reaching this old road it no doubt followed it to its destination.

National Road

      The Old National Road, first highway constructed by the United States government, was established primarily to connect Atlantic coast points with Ohio River points. It was routed by way of Cumberland, MD, Uniontown and Brownsville, PA, to Wheeling, western Virginia, thence west to Columbus, OH, and was to have been extended to Saint Louis, MO, but was never completed to the latter place. The actual construction of the road began in 1811 and was completed to Wheeling in 1817. It followed the old Nemacolin Trail or Braddock Road at the beginning and continued as far as possible until required to change the general route to reach its proposed destination at Wheeling. This highway was built on a sixty foot right-of-way, with a level strip thirty feet wide in the center, in which was a twenty foot roadway of small crushed stone eighteen inches deep in the middle and sloping to twelve inches on the sides.

      The first all-Virginia route connecting the eastern regions of Virginia with the country on the Monongahela was the “old state road” from Winchester by way of Romney to Morgantown, between 1784 and 1786. In the latter year a branch wagon road was authorized to be opened from the “state road," at a point on Cheat River, to Clarksburg. A wagon was driven from Alexandria, Virginia, to Morgantown, as early as 1796. The route of this old “state road” was no doubt up Decker’s Creek from Morgantown to the old Rock Forge, thence over the general route of the later Kingwood Pike, crossing Cheat River at Dunkard’s Bottom, to the present site of Westernport, MD, and thence to Winchester. It was probably cleared as pack-horse trail between 1772 and 1776, and was later known as the old “Winchester Road."

      In 1786 the Virginia Assembly authorized the opening of a road from Morgantown to the mouth of Fishing Creek, (now New Martinsville), another from Clarksburg to the mouth of Little Kanawha River, (now Parkersburg). The first actual wagon road in what is now West Virginia was opened in 1781 from Warm Springs, VA, to Lewisburg, WV. In 1784 the Virginia Assembly authorized a road opened from the James River to the Great Kanawha Valley, it was opened to the navigable waters of the Kanawha River in 1790, and to the Ohio River at the mouth of Guyandot by 1800.

      Virginia granted the first charter for a toll road in 1772. Other early roads established in western Virginia were: Clarksburg to Point Pleasant in 1806, Monongahela glades to mouth of Buffalo Creek on the Ohio River, in 1812, Beverly by Clarksburg and Middlebourne to Sistersville in 1817, and Staunton, VA, by Jackson River, Huttonsville and Beverly to Booth’s Ferry, (now Philippi) in 1818.


      Following the turnpikes came the railroads. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came into legal existence on April 2, 1827. Construction work commenced soon thereafter, the road was finally completed between Baltimore and Cumberland, in 1842. In 1845 the Virginia Assembly passed a resolution authorizing the extension of the railroad to Wheeling, on condition that work be commenced within three years and completed within fifteen years, the distance being about two hundred miles. This gigantic undertaking was completed and the last spike driven at Roseby’s Rock, in Marshall County, Virginia, Christmas eve, December 24, 1852. The plans were next made for an extension of the railroad from Grafton to Parkersburg. By June 1, 1857, the road was completed and ready for operation. At the same time a railroad was completed and ready for operation from Marietta, OH, to Cincinnati and from Cincinnati to St. Louis, MO.

      This is the way the Baltimore and Ohio railroads remained as we entered into the Civil War. Other important branches of the Baltimore and Ohio were built as follows: Clarksburg, south to Weston, completed 1881; Grafton, south to Philippi and Belington and in 1888 the Ohio River Road south from Wheeling to Huntington.

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