City Quotient: The National Road Comes to Columbus

Jeff Darbee

I’ve heard Main Street referred to as the National Road. What is or was that?

When our fair city was laid out in 1812, Main Street was called Friend Street, a name it kept until it was changed sometime between 1883 and 1899. As for the National Road, it was the first federally funded road, and it was a big project: a stone-paved highway from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia in central Illinois.

Authorized by Congress in 1806, it was built between 1811 and 1834 and spurred significant economic development because it made land transportation so much easier than on the primitive roads of the time. From Cumberland, the road passed through Brownsville, Pennsylvania; Wheeling, Virginia (West Virginia after 1863); Columbus (in 1833); Springfield, Ohio; Richmond, Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Indiana; and then Vandalia, with connections to St. Louis.

The road came in from the east on Friend Street, turned north on High, and then west on Broad Street, where it sloped down to the original riverbank and crossed the Scioto River on a wooden covered bridge. The National Road became part of U.S. Route 40 in 1927, and in recent years, it has been researched, documented and celebrated as an important historic resource. Features such as inns, mile markers, bridges and historic paving still can be found along it, but maybe the most interesting thing about it is the Historic National Road Yard Sale, to be held between May 29 and June 2, 2020, and advertised as the “king of all yard sales” and “824 miles of roadside treasures crossing six states.”

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What’s the story behind the Audubon Center south of Downtown?

The National Audubon Society has designated a 3-mile stretch along the Scioto River as an Important Bird Area that hosts more than 200 species. In addition, the site is on portions of the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways, the aerial paths followed by migrating birds, so there are both seasonal and permanent avian residents.

The Whittier Peninsula, west of the railroad and extending north from Whittier Street to an abandoned section of Mound Street, once contained commercial and industrial activity—steel mills, the Lazarus department store warehouse and a car impound lot. By 2000, most of the commercial enterprises were gone, and the land was underused.

Enter Metro Parks, Grange Insurance Co., the National Audubon Society, the city of Columbus and other partners. Much of the peninsula had become wild and lush, much to the liking of all those birds. So the 120-acre Scioto Audubon Metro Park was established. The park’s centerpiece is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, dedicated to the protection of birds and education about them. The innovatively designed building opened in the summer of 2009. One great feature: Microphones have been placed around the park, with the sounds of the birds piped into the library—so you can learn about birds and hear them at the same time.

Sources:;; Columbus atlases from 1842, 1856, 1872, 1883; Baist’s 1899 atlas of Columbus, Scioto Audubon Metro Park site visit;

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to, and the answer might appear in a future column.