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

    Small Towns of Virginia Series - Charlotte Court House

    This sleepy little rural town in Central Virginia can easily be overlooked.  Located miles from the Interstate or four lane US and Virginia Highways, Charlotte Court House in many ways is easily forgotten.  However, this tiny town of slightly over 400 residents holds a lot of Virginia and American History.

    In 1799, Charlotte Court House saw the passing of the torch from an aging Patrick Henry and a young John Randolph.  The great debate over states' rights was the last for the fiery Henry and the first in public for Randolph.  Randolph would go on to serve in the US House of Representatives and U.S. Minister to Russia.  Henry, who was serving in the Virginia General Assembly representing Charlotte County at the time of the debate, died three months later.

    Charlotte Court House is not the original name of the town.  Originally named The Magazine, then Daltonsburgh, followed by Marysville (which was the town's name at the time of the Henry-Randolph debate), Smithfield, and finally…

    Old California State Route 41 on Road 425B

    While researching the history of the Lanes Bridge crossing of the San Joaquin River I noticed an oddity on the 1935 California Division of Highways map of Madera County.  Today California State Route 41 takes a crossing of the Fresno River west of the confluence with China Creek.  Back on the 1935 Map of Madera County the crossing is very clearly east of the confluence crossing on what are now Road 425B and Road 426 in Oakhurst.   CA 41 can be seen traversing southbound from Oakhurst on Road 425B towards Coarsegold on the 1935 Madera County Map.

    1935 Madera County Highway Map

    After viewing Road 425B on the Google Street Vehicle it was clear that the path downhill from the top of Deadwood Gulch was substantially more haggard than the modern alignment of CA 41.  I finally had occasion to visit Oakhurst today so I pulled off of modern CA 41 at Road 425B.   Immediately I was greeted by this warning sign.






    Road 425B ahead was clearly a narrow road but barely wide enough for two vehicles.  T…

    2018 Mojave Road Trip Part 2; The deadly desert highway (California State Route 127 and Nevada State Route 373)

    After leaving Barstow via Old Highway 58 my next destination was in Death Valley.  To access Death Valley from rural San Bernardino County required a trek on north on Interstate 15 to California State Route 127 which becomes Nevada State Route 373 at the state line.


    Along I-15 I encountered the road sign oddity that is Zzyzx Road about eight miles south of Baker.   Zzyzx Road is a four mile road that used to go to the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa.   The spa was founded in the 1940s and the owner made up the name "Zzyzx" to claim it was the last word in the English Language.  The spa has been shut down since the 1970s and is now part of a Desert Studies Center for California State University.






    The southern terminus of CA 127 in Baker is located at I-15 exit 246.  CA 127 is a 91 mile north/south highway which runs to the Nevada State Line in Inyo County.  CA 127 is called Death Valley Road from I-15 northward.  South of CA 127 the road continues as Kelbaker Road which c…