News From Terre Haute, Indiana


September 29, 2013

Historical Perspective: Cumberland Road Convention in Terre Haute (Part III)

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana Gov. David Wallace “cheerfully” submitted his copy of the Cumberland Road Convention proceedings published by John and Thomas Dowling to Congress.

A select committee of the House of Representatives, to whom his message was referred, reported that it considered the Cumberland Road “a national work” and that Congress was obligated “to carry it through to its final completion.”

From that point on, the national work was rejected by the organ which created it.

If the Cumberland Road Convention of 1839 was unable to convince Congress to renew appropriations to continue construction of the highway in Indiana and Illinois, it did make an impact on at least two fronts.

First, the memorial produced by the convention was the single most important document promoting the “National Road” as the preferable term of record for the highway.

Next, Terre Haute — then a town of about 2,500 residents — proved to be an extraordinary host. Several delegates lauded the community in national periodicals.

John Hogan of Madison, Ill., a native of Ireland credited with giving the convention’s “most sensational speech” and later elected to Congress in 1865 after moving to St. Louis, praised the town in a letter to the Alton Telegraph:

“As one of the delegates from this place to the National Road Convention recently held in Terre-Haute, I cannot fail to express the gratification which we experienced from our visit to this truly delightful place.

“Terre-Haute is situated upon the East bank of the Wabash river on a high, dry and beautifully rolling prairie, and enjoys one of the handsomest sites for a town that has ever met my view. . .

“On the Eastern edge of the town is the Prairie House, a fine large hotel, built of brick, which in the neatness of its structure, the convenience of its arrangement, the cleanliness and handsome furniture of the rooms and the quietness and good order that pervade every part is unsurpassed by any House I have seen in this Western country.

“Our acquaintances with its citizens fully justified the favorable impressions of them, which the appearance of the place had given us. We found them . . . gentlemen of quiet manners, courteous deportment, and hospitable dispositions . . .

“On the evening of the close of the Convention, the delegates assembled there were invited to the garden of Mr. (John) Britton, just out of town, where a very handsome entertainment was given them by the citizens of Terre-Haute.

“I regretted much that the lateness of the hour at which I attended prevented me from having a clear view of the garden, as I was informed by those who had been in it during the day that it was laid out and arranged with a great deal of good taste, furnished with a great variety of plantings, shrubbery and ornamental trees, which rendered it a very pleasant resort. . . .

“We received an invitation for the next evening . . . which the necessity of our early return precluded us the pleasure of accepting. We regretted it the more inasmuch as we lost the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the ladies of Terre-Haute, to whose softening influence the place undoubtedly owes much of its beauty and attraction. “. . . [W]e are anxiously looking forward to the time when the completion of the Rail Road between our two towns shall enable us to renew the pleasant intercourse that has been commenced and place us in a close position of neighbors and friends.”

Meanwhile, in compliance with a resolution passed by the U.S. Senate on Jan. 30, 1839 and at Col. Joseph G. Totten’s request, Capt. George Dutton and Maj. Cornelius A. Ogden of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were busily preparing cost estimates to finish the Cumberland Road through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

Their detailed reports were published.

Capt. Dutton, who maintained offices in Springfield, Ohio, reported that “the road is now complete” to the 43rd mile west of Columbus, O., leaving 533⁄4 miles to be finished to reach the Indiana state line. Only 14 miles of clearing and grubbing were still necessary at a total cost of $7,471. Both men submitted mile-by-mile cost estimates.

To finish other work — grading ($195,854.87), masonry of bridges and culverts ($79,349.20), bridge superstructure ($32,795) and macadamizing ($310,326) —would require $625,796.07. Labor was computed at $1 A DAY or less.

Maj. Ogden, who submitted his report on Dec. 28, 1839, also used One Dollar a day labor costs. He pointed out in a cover letter that, since he had prepared his estimates, Indiana had reduced its labor cost “about one third” and labor in eastern Illinois had been reduced “about one fourth.” His total estimates included a 10 percent contingency.

In 1838, Maj. Ogden was paying 62 cents a day to laborers east of the Wabash River and 70 cents a day to workers west of the river.

Ogden estimated the total cost to complete the Cumberland Road from the Ohio state line to Indianapolis to be $1,232,195. Of that sum, $197,097 was allocated for grading, $156,751 for culvert and bridge masonry and $856,330 for macadamizing.

Miles 69 and 70 were totally finished and Mile 63 through Mile 68 were complete except for macadamizing.

The cost of completing the highway from Indianapolis through Vigo County to the Illinois state line, according to Ogden’s estimate, was $1,912,955. Clearing, grubbing and grading amounted to $245,717. Bridge masonry and superstructure construction totaled $634,718. Culvert masonry was $48,424 and macadamization was $809,373.

Only the first three miles west of Indianapolis were “finished.”

Ogden’s estimate to complete the 90-mile stretch of the Cumberland Road from the Illinois-Indiana border to Vandalia, Ill. was $1,432,139. The total was reduced since, surprisingly, 31 miles of that expanse were complete except for macadamization.

The total needed to clear, grub and grade the remaining 59 miles was $178,254 while $928,633 was allocated to macadamize the entire 90 miles. Bridgework and culvert masonry totaled $195,056.

Congress appropriated and spent a total of $2,812,034 on the Cumberland Road in the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, $2,077,631 in Ohio, $1,128,289 in Indiana and $724,445 in Illinois. Indiana received its funds annually from March 1829 through May 1838

States and privately-owned plank road companies finished the road many years later.

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