The River, Road & Rails

As you read the following lesson plan and complete the study questions and activities, we hope you will be excited to learn more about the people, places, and events that led to the settlement and growth of our community.


As young citizens of Terre Haute and Vigo County, it will one day be up to you to take on the future of our fine city. We believe the more you know about this community, the more you can take pride in where you live.

Settling the Crossroads of America

Before the railroads there was another way of travel besides the river that was making its way to Terre Haute - The National Road. With the coming of the new road a whole new era of growth and prosperity opened for the people of Terre Haute. The National Road was planned to reach all the way from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois.

The National Road was first known as the Cumberland Road, then later became U.S. Highway 40- and it passes right through our city of Terre Haute. When it passes through Terre Haute it is known as Wabash Avenue. Where Wabash Avenue and 7th Street converge is what we call the “Crossroads of America”.

Prior to building the National Road, there were no towns between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. But when the road was completed and people began to travel on it, stations and hotels popped up along the route. Before long, these places became small towns - towns you might recognize today, like Brazil, Seelyville, Putnamville, and Plainfield.

At first the road was very bad and hard to travel. Corduroy Roads – timbers laid across the path closely together – were extremely bumpy. Other sections were so thick with mud, the horses had to take big slow steps to keep from getting stuck. Travel on the National Road was hard, but it didn’t stop people from loading their belongings into a Conestoga wagon and moving out west. This great migration of people moving westward lead to the expansion of other states and eventually the entire country - all thanks to the National Road.

The Wabash River, the National Road, and the Railroads certainly were important to the settlement, growth and prosperity of Terre Haute and Vigo County. The Wabash River brought the first settlers to this area and is the main reason Terre Haute became a city. With the arrival of the National Road, Terre Haute became a major connection to the West and the city began to grow. Then came the Railroads and our city prospered. They all played very important parts in making Vigo County and Terre Haute “The Crossroads of America.”

Questions for Lesson - 3

  1. Prior to the National Road there were no towns between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. Look on a modern day map and see how many towns you can find there today?

  2. Why do you think we say Terre Haute is the “Crossroads of America”?

  3. Using the map of the National Road (link to map), find the six states through which the Cumberland Road (National Road) passes; beginning in Cumberland, Maryland and ending in Vandalia, Illinois.

Lesson - 3

Corduroy Road

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History Center of Vigo County

929 Wabash Avenue     Terre Haute, IN 47807     812-235-9717