7th and Wabash in Terre Haute is known as the Crossroads of America because it is where two historically important roadways, U.S. Highway 41 and U.S. Highway 40, intersect. Highway 40 is the Old National Road, built in the 1800s to provide fast and reliable transportation between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Construction of the Old National Road was first proposed by President Thomas Jefferson and funded by the federal government. Today, U.S. 41 is the main route through Terre Haute.
The alignment of the National Road now follows U.S. 40, extending westward all the way to Utah. In 2002 it became known as the Historic National Road. Our country’s first federally funded interstate highway, National Road/ Hwy 40 was an important path for early settler colonists on their journey west.
Some might say Chauncey Rose had a sense of premonition when it came to business planning. His idea to build a grand hotel on the far east side of the Terre Haute village proved to be just such an example. The Prairie House, built in 1838, was a popular destination for all who traveled along the Old National Road. Located at 7th and Wabash Avenue, the hotel offered rest and recreation to many guests including members of the Army Corp of Engineers, until 1841. Because of a funding deficit caused by the Financial Panic of 1837, the National Road’s construction stopped. Overseers of the road’s construction packed up and left Terre Haute. This resulted in the first closing of the Prairie House. For a number of years the hotel was not receiving guests, but was used as a boarding house.
Construction of the Wabash and Erie Canal reached Terre Haute in 1849 and once again Chauncey Rose saw a prosperous opportunity for his enterprise. The hotel reopened in 1855 as the “Terre Haute House.” Though it would live to see several changes in ownership, a complete demolition and rebuild in 1928, the Terre Haute House made the city a destination “hot spot” for over one hundred years.
The downtown district of Terre Haute hasn’t quite come full circle, but through various civic groups and redevelopment efforts, a slow-turning wheel of progress brings new life to this historic passage. Museums, small businesses, and the use of community spaces bring a quality of life and place.