The museum’s namesake is a branch of the Great Wagon Road, which descends from the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border through southern Pennsylvania, cutting through Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. The Wilderness Road joined the Great Road at present-day Roanoke, VA, which was then called Big Lick. From there the Wilderness Road led travelers west, rather than south, through the apex of the West Virginia-Virginia-Tennessee borders. Here, the Wilderness Road forks again, with one section sprawling throughout West Virginia and the other continuing through Tennessee. In 1775, frontiersman Daniel Boone opened the wagon trail that runs through Cumberland Gap from western Virginia into Kentucky. Some of the many notable people who passed along the Wilderness Road includes Henry Clay and the forefathers of Abraham Lincoln.
From 1607 until the railroads were established, these wagon roads allowed for expansion beyond the Appalachian Mountains during the early days of America’s western settlement. The Mountains served as a barrier to many travelers, but roaming buffalo and Indians wore down a path that provided a road for the many thousands of new settlers, Indian traders, soldiers, and missionaries. Because the travelers were subject to Indian attacks, most migrants traveled in groups for greater security. Several towns, including Newbern, prospered due to businesses that made life easier for these travelers, such as inns for overnight rest and ferries that provided river transport at some locations of the Road’s locations. These wagon roads also assisted in the fighting during the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution, during which many of American history’s great heroes traveled through the trails.