In 1750 the Appalachian Mountains, passable only by foot or horseback, were both a border and formidable barrier between the English on the east and the French in the west. In 1751 a private Virginia company saw an opportunity in Ohio and pioneered a road from Maryland to Ohio; they were ready to challenge the French and Native Americans for the Ohio country. Several wars over the next few decades stalled the road, which didn't start in earnest until after Ohio became a state in 1803. Breaking the mountain barrier now seemed critical to ensure the new nation would remain united, not divided, by the mountains. The stone-paved Cumberland Road from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, Virginia was complete by 1818 and saw its heyday over the next thirty years, plied by Conestoga wagons and stagecoaches. Technology was changing rapidly; the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first general purpose railroad in the world, started in Baltimore in the 1820s and reached Wheeling by 1852. The Appalachian barrier had been broken by both road and rail, ensuring the east and west of the new nation would remain united. Hundreds of people labored over a century to open the west to settlement.
John Hrastar retired from NASA after almost 40 years in engineering and management; he is now an independent aerospace consultant. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.