The National Road was the first major improved highway in the United States built by the federal government. Built between 1811 and 1837, the 620-mile roadway connected the Potomac and Ohio rivers, and was a main transport path for thousands of settlers traveling to the west.
Today U.S. Route 40 follows much of the original National Road. Recently, Brenda and I traveled the historic highway for over a hundred miles through Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, and across some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States.
Our first stop was an old railroad town – Cumberland, Maryland. The town was home to a railroad museum, and we saw an Amtrak passenger train creeping along as a CSX locomotive blocked the main crossing.
Several miles up the road we crossed into Pennsylvania to the small mountain town of Farmington. We visited Fort Necessity, a remote outpost built by General George Washington during the French and Indian War.
An hour or so later we saw the Ohio River on the horizon. We crossed into the Buckeye State and continued on Route 40.
We passed a large black barn that had the once familiar slogan “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on the side as the National Road entered the county seat of Guernsey County, Cambridge, Ohio.
As we topped the hill on Wheeling Avenue, Brenda and I suddenly smiled at each other. Trailing up the street was the sweet smell of fresh baked goods from the Kennedy Bakery.
We bought two pecan rolls and orange juice as we talked to the pleasant lady behind the counter.
“Do you like cowboys?” she asked me.
“I sure do,” I answered. “I grew up watching Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy on our black and white TV.”
“You are in for a surprise. Walk east up a slight hill on Wheeling Avenue until you come to Highland Avenue. You’ll see a green space and a black granite marker,” the lady in the white apron said.
“Whose marker is it?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” was all the lady baker revealed.
Within a minute or two Brenda and I saw a shiny, black triangle marker with white lettering. In the middle of the marker was a picture of Cowboy star Hopalong Cassidy, with the simple message below:
“Loved and remembered by faithful fans as America’s favorite cowboy. William Lawrence Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) 1895-1972. He was an outstanding scholar while attending Eastside School. He gained national recognition as a silent film actor and international prominence as Hopalong Cassidy. He loved children,” the marker read.
An older gentleman was sitting on a bench near the statue. He watched as Brenda and I took pictures of the monument, and then shyly started a conversation.
“I didn’t know Hoppy, but I knew his wife, Grace. She died about seven years ago at the age of 97,” the man said. “We used to have a festival until a couple of years ago. We had some old cowboy stars show up and sign autographs. We have a mural of Hoppy and his horse, Topper, downtown.”
“Most people don’t know this, but Bill Boyd was a famous silent movie star. He made $100,000.00 a year when that meant something,” he said. “When he was given the role of Hopalong Cassidy, he became Hopalong Cassidy. He never cussed, and wouldn’t smoke a cigarette in front of the kids. I know my kids loved the cowboy dressed in all black, riding on Topper.”
It was said that William Boyd gave generously to children’s charities and it wasn’t unusual to see him, resplendent on his Hoppy regalia, unexpectedly appear in a children’s hospital, making his way through the wards.
“I would send you over to Hoppy’s museum, but it burned down last September,” the man continued, as he shifted on the iron bench. “It got so hot the fire chief called his firemen out of the building, but do you know what happened? A bunch of them went back into the fire to get Hoppy’s statue, carved figures, and a Hopalong bicycle, don’t you know.”
As Brenda and I prepared to leave, the man handed me a small card as he said, “Here, take this.”
It was Hopalong Cassidy’s Creed for American Boys and Girls:
1. The highest badge of honor a person can wear is honesty. Be truthful at all times.
2. Your parents are the best friends you have. Listen to them and obey their instructions.
3. If you want to be respected, you must respect others. Show good manners in every way.
4. Only through hard work and study can you succeed. Don’t be lazy.
5. Your good deeds always come to light. So don’t boast or be a show-off.
For better or worse, I believed the words in Hoppy’s code.
I still do today, as do many friends my age. And that is a good thing.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.