Skip to main content

The National Road - Maryland - US 40A: Middletown and Boonsboro

Just west of Frederick, Route 40 splits in two, the old road and the new road.  If you bear left and take US 40A, you will be on the old road.  Alternate Route 40 through Frederick and Washington Counties bridges centuries of American History.  Taverns and towns that are over 250 years old and mountain passes that were of strategic importance during the Civil War can be found along the over 25 miles of this "old" road.

Middletown is a small village of nearly 4,000 residents sitting near the base of the South Mountains west of Frederick.  Middletown was in the center of activity during the days before the battle of Antietam.  In 1862, Union and Confederate forces in the early September days leading to Antietam would march along the National Road through the town.  The old National Road crosses South Mountain at a point called Turner's Gap.  It was at Turner's Gap, along with nearby Fox and Crampton's Gap, that the Battle of South Mountain was waged on September 14, 1862.  The battle which was a Union victory is called by some the "Prelude to Antietam" which would occur three days later near Sharpsburg.  At Turner's Gap, there are six cast iron tablets describing the battle which were placed along the National Road in 1897.  The tablets were moved to a safer distance from the road in 1987. (1)

The Old South Mountain Inn (Adam Prince)

In addition to being a battle site in the Civil War, there is plenty more history at Turner's Gap.  First, the Appalachian Trail crosses the old National Road here.  Standing nearby is the Old South Mountain Inn which has seen plenty of history since it was built in 1732.  Many dignitaries in early-American history once stayed here.  Including Henry Clay, who many consider as the father of the National Road.  The tavern was commandeered by John Brown's militia before his raid on Harpers Ferry.  During the Battle of South Mountain, it served as headquarters for Confederate General D. H. Hill.  Today, the tavern is well known throughout the area for its fine dining and American cuisine. (2)
 
Dahlgren Chapel (Adam Prince)

Across from the tavern and bordered by the Appalachian Trail is Dahlgren Chapel.  The chapel is named for and was built by Sarah Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren in 1881.  Mrs. Dahlgren who was a noted author, purchased what is now the Old South Mountain Inn in 1876 and transformed it into a private residence.  She built the chapel as a Catholic Church.  Gothic in design, the chapel today can be used for weddings and private services. (3) 

The National Road through Boonsboro (Doug Kerr).
Sitting west of Turner's Gap is the town of Boonsboro.  The National Road through Boonsboro has historical significance as a 10 mile section of the road was the first to be built with a macadam surface in 1823.  The process, named for John Loudon McAdam, greatly improved the quality of the National Road and by 1830, 73 miles of the highway had been converted to a macadamized surface. (4)  Boonsboro has the distinct honor of being the first town or city in America to dedicate a monument to George Washington.  The stone tower was built by residents in one day on July 4, 1827.  The monument is located off of the National Road and is part of Washington Monument State Park.

The Boonsboro Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and consists of much of Main Street.  Many of the buildings along Main Street (US 40A) date back to the National Road's peak period of 1820-1850.  The historic district has been listed on the register since 2005.  Some additional photos of some of the historic buildings within Boonsboro are below. 


(Doug Kerr - October 2011)
(Doug Kerr - October 2011)
(Doug Kerr - October 2011)

Site Navigation:

Sources & Links:



  • (1) Central Maryland Heritage League Land Trust. "Turner's Gap." May 20, 2006.




  • (2) "A History of the Old South Mountain Inn" http://www.oldsouthmountaininn.com/history.shtml. May 18, 2006.
  • (3) Central Maryland Heritage League Land Trust "The Dahlgren Chapel." May 20, 2006.
  • (4) Federal Highway Administration. "1823 - The First American Macadam Road." May 20, 2006.
  • Brian Polidoro
  • US 40 @ MDRoads.net ---Mike Pruett
  • Town of Boonsboro
  • Town of Middletown
  • Central Maryland Heritage League Land Trust
  • Washington Monument State Park
  • Comments

    Popular posts from this blog

    Interstate 5; the West Side Freeway

    The past four years I've frequently driven the entirety of Interstate 5 in San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley.  I-5 from Wheeler Ridge north to a segment near of Woodland is known as the "West Side Freeway."


    The West Side Freeway segment of I-5 refers to an approximately 330 mile portion of the highway from the split with CA 99 at Wheeler Ridge north to the convergence with I-505 near Woodland.







    Part 1; the history of the West Side Freeway and the split of I-5W/I-5E

    In the 1947 Interstate plan I-5 was to be routed up US 99 where it would have split into I-5W and I-5E in Modesto.  I-5W was to planned to use the following current state highways: 

    -  Modern CA 132 west to I-580.
    -  Modern I-580 west to I-80.
    -  Modern I-80 east to I-505.
    -  Modern I-505 to I-5.

    As the second Interstate System was being drafted the path of I-5 was shifted to the western part of San Joaquin Valley which was planned as Legislative Route 238.  I-5W was planned to split from I-5 at the p…

    Old Stage Road; the "real" El Camino Real and predecessor route to US Route 101 on the San Juan Grade

    This past month I stopped in San Juan Bautista to hike the Juan Bautista De Anza Trail on the closed Old Stage Road.  Old Stage Road as part of the Spanish El Camino Real to cross the Gabilan Range between San Juan Bautista and Salinas Valley.



    Part 1; the history of El Camino Real and Old Stage Road

    The Gabilan Range between what is now San Juan Bautista and Salinas Valley was first explored during the second Juan Bautista De Anza Expedition of Las Californias.  While the De Anza expedition likely crossed very close to the present alignment of Old Stage Route their exact path isn't clear.  Juan Bautista De Anza noted the following in his journal while passing near present day San Juan Bautista on March 24, 1776:

    "In the valley we saw many antelopes and white grey geese.  In the same valley we found an arroyo...and then came to a village in which I counted about twenty tule huts.  But the only two people we saw were two Indians who came out to the road and presented us with thr…

    Abandoned Interstate 95 - Newburyport, Massachusetts

    What is now a popular recreational trail in the northeastern Massachusetts city of Newburyport was once a northbound alignment of Interstate 95, and before that, part of a relocated US 1. A trip down this 1.1 mile long abandoned section of highway shows a road that was left mostly intact, complete with the original pavement, curb cuts and pavement markings. But there is a story about how this highway became a trail...

    Originally conceived to be part of a relocated US 1, the stretch of road that is now the abandoned section of I-95 in Newburyport was part of a highway that was constructed between 1951 and 1954 from modern day US 1 in Danvers, Massachusetts and ended just south of the state border between Massachusetts and New Hampshire in Salisbury, Massachusetts. The highway was originally constructed with three 12-foot wide lanes in each direction, although the rightmost lane eventually became a hard shoulder for the road. The highway was not Relocated US 1 for long, as it became I…