Decline of the National Road
By the early 1850's technology was changing the way people traveled. The steam locomotive was being perfected and soon railroads would cross the Allegheny Mountains. The people of Southwestern Pennsylvania fought strongly to keep the railroad out of the area, knowing the impact it would have on the National Road. In 1852, the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed to Pittsburgh and shortly after, the B & O Railroad reached Wheeling. This spelled doom for the National Road. As the traffic quickly declined, many taverns went out of business.
An article in Harper's Magazine in November 1879 declared, "The national turnpike that led over the Alleghenies from the East to the West is a glory departed...Octogenarians who participated in the traffic will tell an enquirer that never before were there such landlords, such taverns, such dinners, such whiskey...or such an endless calvacades of coaches and wagons." A poet lamented "We hear no more the clanging hoof and the stagecoach rattling by, for the steam king rules the traveled world, and the Old Pike is left to die."
Did You Know?
When James Sampey, the tavern keeper at the Mount Washington Tavern, died he had eight children ranging from an infant to a 24 year old. His wife, Rebecca, took over the operation of the tavern. Thomas Searight noted that “in many instances widows kept the best taverns along” the National Road.