Exploring the Oldest Road in The USA – The King’s Highway

King's Highway

As it turns out,  I’m not the only one that enjoys historical exploration.  Some folks in Pennsylvania have been exploring the oldest road in America and have produced  a documentary.  They may not call it historical exploration, but they started with the history of the Kings Highway and went exploring before producing their documentary video.

The King’s Highway

Kings Highway RouteThe 1,300-mile (2,100 km) long King’s Highway was built from to 1650 to 1735 and connected Charleston, South Carolina to Boston, Massachusetts.  It played a critical role in the ultimate independence of the United States from England even though it was ordered to be built by Charles II of England.

In 1735, it was  basically a trail. By 1750 the entire road was in place.  Wagons and stagecoaches used it, but it was difficult going with few bridges and many river crossings.  Sections were often impassable.

Today, highways and modern roads cover most of the original route.

In many places key historic elements have been preserved. For example,The King’s Highway Historic District in New Jersey covers U.S. Route 206 and New Jersey Route 27 that connect Lawrenceville with Kingston through Princeton. There are five National Historic Landmarks, just on that piece of road: Lawrenceville SchoolMorven Museum and GardenMaclean HouseNassau Hall, and the Joseph Henry House. In addition there are numerous associated historic stuctures on the National Register of Historic Places and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.

There are hundreds of historic places along the 1,300 mile highway, but today lets look at what’s happening in northeast Philadelphia.

The King’s Highway in Philadelphia

Right now a team of local residents including government officials and historians are working with a film production team led by Jason Sherman to create a definitive documentary about The King’s Highway that is now Frankford Avenue (U.S. Route 13) in northeast Philadelphia.  While the King’s Highway in this part Philadelphia is a small part of the historical picture it is a surprisingly rich part.

Legend has it that in 1777 one northeast Philadelphia resident named Lydia Darragh was forced to allow the British that were occupying Philadelphia to use part of her house for meetings.  One night she listened to officers making plans to attack the Continental Army.  The next day she obtained permission to cross the British line to acquire flour.  While getting the flour, she got word to General Washington’s troops about the impending attack.  The Continental Army was ready for the British and the attack failed.

Frankford Avenue Bridge

Frankford Avenue Bridge
Northeast Philadelphia – 1697

The Frankford Avenue Bridge (or Pennypack Creek Bridge) was erected in 1697 in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philadelphia at the request of William Penn. Penn originally asked for the bridge to connect his mansion with the city of Philadelphia, but it became an important link on the King’s Highway.  It is now the oldest, continuously-used roadway bridge in the United States. The three-span, 73-foot-long (22 m) twin stone arch bridge carries Frankford Avenue over Pennypack Creek in Pennypack Park at an old Lenape Indian trail crossing.  In 1789, George Washington crossed the bridge on his way to his first presidential inauguration in New York.

There are many other historical sites in the area and along the King’s Highway.

Exploring The King’s Highway

Whether you are in Philadelphia or anywhere else along the King’s Highway,  you can use the highway as the object of your historical explorations.  The research is now easier for the northeast Philadelphia area as the film team has completed the documentary.  It is available free on Amazon if you have Amazon Prime and is available on IndieFlix if you are a subscriber.  If you would like to support marketing of the documentary, you can buy things at the film’s website.  Then, get out and explore!

Video Trailer

More Information

U.S. Colonial Roads

Philadelphia 1687

First Map of Philadelphia – 1687
(Click for a larger version)

Please Share

19 Responses to “Exploring the Oldest Road in The USA – The King’s Highway”

  1. William Krum says:

    Very exciting that so much history is so close to us.

  2. Joe Maleno says:

    So glad you are takimg up this cause. I have known about the bridge for years and have made several visits. Saw a newly added historical marker (how long ago). Great work.

  3. Herminio Ramirez says:

    Where can I get a map of king high way.

  4. Lorraine Truitt says:

    How can I rent or purchase the video on Route 13, Frankford Avenue? We liked seeing it on PBS but want to share it with family. Thank you.
    Lorie Truitt

  5. C Earle Millerr says:

    My family lived in Pennypack when I was born (Deer Lane). I remember walking to Thomas Holmes school daily, walking up to Franklin Ave where a friends home was Just across Franklin Ave (now long gone replaced by shops). We rode sleds behind Deer Lane into the creek, walked the railroad tracks where my little 4-year-old legs couldn’t get me off the Tressel fast enough so I slipped between the ties and watched it pass over. Scared the H.. out of my brothers.) It was special, it was home, it was where America was born but I wasn’t aware of the history we shared. Life took our family to southern Maryland, attending school with Dr. Mudd’s descendants, along the route John Wilks Booth rode out of Washington. Grown-up loving history and this is a welcome addition to my history. Thank You. I’ll share it with my two remaining brothers.

  6. Sara Crabill says:

    My house (in maryland) sits on the part of the old Kings Highway. My house was built in 1740. I’m a huge history buff, and enjoyed this article and the documentary!

    • Kristen says:

      Hi Sara! Wow, that’s amazing! I loved this documentary and also am a huge history buff, especially American history! I am trying to put a driving trip together of the Kings Highway…wonder if you could help me at all… I see Jerry has some bits in here but I still feel lost in mapping it out.

      • Hi Kristen,

        I found a map that has a bit more detail and added it to the story. If you can get a current highway map, you should be able to find a road from city to city that closely matches the route of King’s Highway. The map also shows some other roads from the colonial era if you want to make an even bigger historical adventure. Most of the cities listed should have a museum that can add context to your adventure.

        Have fun!


  7. mike smith says:

    So interesting !! Listed as one of the oldest places in America

  8. Ella says:

    Hi, Just watched the documentary on Kings highway. Very interesting, trying to find a driving map of kings highway in NJ. Vague descriptions but I would like to explore this more.

    • Hi Ella,
      I’ve been looking for a good map of the entire highway – or at least as close as one can get these days. No luck so far. New Jersey does have the King’s Highway Historic District. It follows US-206 and NJ-27 between Lawrenceville and Kingston. The route passes through eight historic districts and past five National Historic Landmarks (Lawrenceville School, Morven, Nassau Hall, Joseph Henry House, and Maclean House). Here’s a map of the section:

      Map of king's Highway Historic District in New Jersey.

      [Djkeddie / CC BY-SA]


    • Kristen says:

      Ella, I’m hoping to plan a trip to see as much of this as I can. The documentary was so great! Any luck for you finding driving directions for this?

  9. Mark Philbrick says:

    I am also interested in making this trip. I as of yet cannot find a complete map of the highway.

  10. Sherise Hilbun says:

    Does anyone have any old photographs or drawings of Old Kings Highway before it became Philadelphia Pike in New Castle DE before it parts became Wilmington? I am looking for anything…or anything showing the structures and houses when it was the Brandywine 100?

  11. Monica says:

    Where Kings Highway passes through Moorestown, NJ (local to me) the Thomas Cowperthwaite home still stands. It was built in 1742. I admire it often when I pass by. More info can be found by googling.

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