The route currently named US Hwy 31W was first proposed in 1825 by Kentucky Governor Joseph Desha. Approval of charters and allocation of funds was slow to come, typical of turnpike projects at the time, which represented very large endeavors. A portion was first approved in 1829 but was not started before the 3-year limit expired. Sections of the turnpike were approved in five separate Kentucky legislature bills, passed from 1833 to 1849.
Work began in 1837 and by 1849 about 106 miles (171 km) were completed. The surface was macadamized, with toll booths about every 5 miles (8.0 km). Travel from Louisville to Nashville by stagecoach took about 3 days. Traffic was at its peak in the 1850s, but saw a decline in popularity when the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was completed in 1859.
During the latter half of the 19th century the turnpike fell into disrepair, and portions were gradually purchased by the counties through which they ran. By 1927, portions had become US 31, later US 31W, which is in turn a portion of the Dixie Highway.
A portion of the turnpike which ran through what is now Fort Knox has been preserved in its original form and is known as Bridges to the Past, and in use as a hiking trail. A section of the other Louisville and Nashville Turnpike as been preserved in Bardstown, Kentucky as the Cobblestone Path, which can be seen at the end of Flaget Street in the downtown area.