Road Trips

Historic National Road: This Autumn, Journey Through Our Nation's History

Filed Under: Maryland
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'Casselman Bridge'

Maryland's stretch of the 170-mile Historic National Road -- originally built to foster settlement into the West by aiding the movement of people and goods -- takes road-trippers on a journey through 300 years of history. The lush region and towns surrounding the highway have become a mid-Atlantic hot spot for fall foliage viewing and offer plenty of historic interest to travelers.

When to Go
The foliage viewing season peaks in mid-to-late October in westernmost Garrett County, with the colors turning their most vibrant at this time.

Where to Drive
Although the Historic National Road technically begins in Baltimore and works its way west, autumn road-trippers should begin their journey in Garrett County, Maryland's westernmost county, eventually heading east into Allegheny and Washington counties. Drivers should plan to travel eastward on the route and watch as fall colors are unmasked, providing an awe-inspiring fall display.

What to See and Do
Once the leaves begin to reveal their fall colors, start off your fall adventure by catching the Autumn Glory Festival in Oakland, MD, the largest town and county seat of Garrett County. This cozy town of 2,000 residents comes complete with antiques shops, boutiques and even an old-fashioned soda fountain. The festival has been held each year since 1968, timed to coincide with the peak of the fall-foliage season in the Allegheny Mountains. The festivities include farmers markets, arts and crafts sales, the Maryland State Banjo and Fiddle Championships and an Oktoberfest.

The coming of fall is not all there is to celebrate on the Historic National Road. This route is steeped in history. Along the route, drivers will inevitably come across the still-intact Tomlinson Inn, in Little Meadows, MD. Built circa 1816 by Revolutionary War veteran Jesse Tomlinson, this stone tavern once served as a stop for travelers to rest their weary heads; it is said to have hosted the likes of Presidents-elect James K. Polk and William Henry Harrison and possibly even Meriwether Lewis.

Also, check out the La Vale Toll House in La Vale, MD, the last remaining toll house in the state. La Vale was the first of several toll houses built as a result of a long debate over whether the federal government should subsidize road improvements. When the ownership of the National Road was given to the individual states through which it ran, Maryland established toll rates and built its toll houses.

As you approach the eastern section of Maryland, you will descend upon the town of Frederick, Maryland's second-largest city and home to one of the most famous historic districts in the country. The city was opened to east-west trade in the early 1800s, after the construction of the National Road, and later grew thanks to its rail and canal connections.

Farther down the road is New Market, Maryland's antiques hub, which, like Frederick, is also proud of its history. During the height of the National Road's popularity, many travelers stopped here to obtain food, lodging and other services. Toward the end of the route in Ellicott City, visitors will find historic landmarks -- including the oldest railroad station in the United States -- antique and specialty shops, and the town's biggest attraction: its trolley stop.

Finally, finish the drive at Hollins Market in Baltimore. Once a large, bustling market with hundreds of stalls selling farm produce, baked goods, meats and homemade appliances, the market is much smaller today. However, it's still possible to purchase high-quality goods here.

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