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Historic National Road Interpretive Panel Dedicated on Campus

June 17, 2013

Dedication Photo

Celebrating History: Rose-Hulman President James C. Conwell thanks Trish and Bill Eccles for their contributions in preserving the history of the National Road, now U.S. 40, which brings thousands of travelers past campus every day. Bill Eccles recently retired as a professor at the institute, while Trish was active in several community preservation causes. (Photo by Dale Long)

Rose-Hulman celebrated its place along the first federally funded interstate highway by helping the Indiana National Road Association (INRA) dedicate Vigo County’s first National Road interpretive panel. The site is located near a restored historic gasoline station cottage that helps welcome visitors to the institute’s baseball, softball, and soccer fields.

 “We’re proud to be associated with the road that helped build the nation,” stated Rose-Hulman President James C. Conwell. He was joined at the dedication ceremony by INRA Executive Director Joe Frost, and Terre Haute residents Bill and Trish Eccles, who were instrumental in the INRA’s creation and preservation of the gasoline station cottage.

INRA has installed 15 interpretive panels from Richmond to Terre Haute along U.S. 40, the designated Historic National Road, to inform tourists and residents about the history and significance of the nation’s first federally funded interstate highway. Each interpretative panel highlights a significant location along the road.

The cottage was built in 1931 as a Texaco gasoline station at 2900 Wabash Avenue, along the National Road, and served as a Coffee Cottage and several other purposes during the next 50 years. In 1999, Bill and Trish Eccles saved the building from destruction and had it moved to Rose-Hulman, where Bill served as professor of electrical and computer engineering until his retirement at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

Coffee Cottage

Preserving The Past: Opened as a gasoline station, the building was used as a Coffee Cottage later in its existence along the National Road. The historic landmark was moved to campus and is currently used as a concession stand for several home athletic events. (Photo by Jim Grey)

The cottage’s exterior was restored to its original appearance as a 1931 filling station, and now serves as a concession stand and restroom facility for Rose-Hulman’s athletic fields.

President Thomas Jefferson approved the funding for the National Road in 1806, and construction started in 1811 in Cumberland, Maryland westward to Vandalia, Illinois. Indiana’s section of the road was completed by 1834 and thousands of settlers used the road to move west. By the 1850s, the traffic included families in covered wagons, stagecoaches and farmers moving their livestock to market.

 “The National Road carried everything from vintage travelers to modern-day automobiles, and played a historic role in Indiana’s development,” stated Frost.

In 1994, INRA, an affiliate of Indiana Landmarks, was created to assist in designating the National Road as a National Scenic Byway, which was obtained in 1998. Designation as an All-American Road followed in 2002, further featuring the roadway’s great national significance.