Once, there was a Federal highway that had its beginnings in the great industrial city of Cleveland. The highway wound south through the hills of Ohio, traversed the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and Virginia, and continued on through North Carolina until it reached its southern terminus at an island off the coast of South Carolina.

This road was US Highway 21, one of the original Federal routes commissioned by the Joint Board on Interstate Highways in 1926. For many years (until the early 1960s), it was a major north-south route, and this was reflected in the number it was given (major through US routes end in a 0 or 1). As with many well-known highways of the era, US 21 also carried a name, and was known as the Great Lakes to Atlantic Highway.

Most of US 21’s original routing remains intact and drivable. A trip down the road provides the traveler with a grand tour through the industrial North and the old South, and the change between the regions becomes apparent as one leaves Ohio and enters into the Virginias. On the way, the road passes near Akron, Ohio, and runs through Cambridge, Ohio, where it intersects the old National Highway (today’s US Highway 40).

From there, the terrain starts to change as the highway crosses into West Virginia, heading toward the fine old Southern city of Charleston. Near Bluefield, US 21 enters the western tip of Virginia, taking just a little more than an hour and a half to pass through the state and reach the border with North Carolina.

Once in North Carolina, US 21 bypasses the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area on its way to Charlotte, once a major railroad hub of the old Confederacy and today the second-largest banking center in the United States (after New York). Moving on, the highway enters South Carolina and proceeds through its capital, Columbia. Another couple of hours’ driving, and US 21 reaches its end at Hunting Island, site of Hunting Island State Park.

US 21 was a well-traveled road in its day. As with so many other US highways, it was a victim of its own success. As traffic loads increased, starting in the 1940s parts of the highway were replaced with new four-lane pavement, particularly in the greater Cleveland area. When the Interstate system came along in the 1950s, these new additions were incorporated into what later became Interstate 77. The new Interstate highway replaced US 21’s routing in Ohio, West Virginia, and part of the Virginia route. The rest of 21, from Wytheville, Virginia to Hunting Island, is unchanged.


SOURCES

Droz, Robert V., "Sequential List of US Highways", US Highways From US 1 to US 830. July 2003. <http://www.us-highways.com/us1830.htm> (July 2004)
Fannin, Marc and Guylas, Sandor, "Old US 21 in Ohio", Former US 21 Page. 2002-2004. <http://www.roadfan.com/oldus21.html> (July 2004)

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