No highway in America has a more historic background or played a
more important part in the opening of the Western Territory than
the old National Road. The Boston Post Road, Boones Trace, The Natchez
Trace, The Oregon Road and The Santa Fe Trail, all have their places
in American history. They have an important part in the development
of our country but the National Road has a story all its own.
The National Road was authorized by the federal government in 1806,
in response to the need to connect East and West by a national transportation
system. The section which crossed Pennsylvania began in Cumberland,
Maryland - thus earning the title of the "Cumberland Road" and ended
in Wheeling, in what was then Virginia.
This project is unique in our nation's history for it was and remains
the only road system wholly constructed by the Federal Government.
Construction of the road through mountain and forest wilderness
was both costly and tedious. It took five years to complete this
first section, and it was estimated that the road between Uniontown
and Washington, Pennsylvania, alone cost $6,400 a mile. Construction
on the road to the west, through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois continued
after travel on the Pennsylvania section began. In time, the cost
and difficulty in maintaining the road made the federal government
anxious to hand the responsibility for it to the states which it
crossed. In 1835 Pennsylvania agreed to administer her part of the
road, and authorized the erection of six Tollhouses, approximately
fifteen miles apart, to aid in the collection of the necessary revenue.
Searights Tollhouse recieved its name from its location near the
village of Searights, named for its most prominent citizen, William
Searight. Searight owned a prosperous tavern on the National Road
, the ruins of which may still be seen today. He had been a contractor
for the road, and was later appointed commissioner of the Pennsylvania
section, but he seems to have had no connection with the tollhouse
itself. The years immediately following the construction of the
Tollhouses saw a never ending stream of traffic, both east and west.
Wagoners, drovers, stage drivers, and mail expresses left their
colorful imprints on the road's history. With the coming of the
railroads to Western Pennsylvania in the 1850's, traffic over the
road declined, and after the Civil War it was used chiefly for local
trips. Tolls were collected until 1905. The advent of the automobile
in the early twentieth century rescued the road from disrepair,
and by the 1920's the National Road was reincarnated as U.S. 40.
The Searights Tollhouse is one of two remaining of the original
six commissioned Tollhouses in Pennsylvania.