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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 over 250 years old along with mountain passes that were of strategic importance during the Civil War are found along the 25 plus 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 Turner's Gap.  It was here that the Battle of South Mountain was waged on September 14, 1862.  The battle, a Union victory, is called the "Prelude to Antietam," which would occur three days later near Sharpsburg.  At Turner's Gap, six cast-iron tablets describe the battle. The tablets 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 more history at Turner's Gap.  First, the Appalachian Trail crosses the old National Road here.  Standing nearby is the Old South Mountain Inn. A long-standing structure that first opened in 1732.  Many early-American dignitaries stayed here. One lodger includes Henry Clay, who many consider as the father of the National Road.  The tavern was commandeered by John Brown's militia before their 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 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.  She would transform 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 other occasions. (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, significantly improved the quality of the National Road. 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.  It took residents all of one day - July 4, 1827 - to build the tower.  The monument is located off 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 on the register since 2005.  Additional photos of several of the historic buildings within Boonsboro are below. 


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

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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
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