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This is the full archive of all Moving North Carolina blog posts from the newest to the oldest.

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Repairing a road with primitive equipment

The Corvée

Under the corvée system, North Carolina constructed and maintained roads by requiring citizens who lived along the route to turn out for work. It was a practice that dated back to the
Roman Empire, and it lived on in the United States until 1913.

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A flat-bottom barge on the Dismal Swamp Canal

The Dismal Swamp Canal – Splash & Ripple

After 63 years of speculation on feasibility of a Dismal Swamp Canal, and after four years of acrimonious debate on government’s role in such an undertaking, actual excavation began. There was no civil engineer engaged. There was no understanding of how many canal locks would be required. There was no estimate of how much the project would cost. And yet…

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A map of the Great Dismal Swamp

The Dismal Swamp Canal – Genesis

With no quality seaports available to them in North Carolina, colonial plantation owners looked longingly at the bustling port of Norfolk as a jumping-off point for external markets. But how could they transport goods north? Hey, why not dig a canal? All that stood in the way was 2,200 square miles of “… a vast Body of mire and Nastiness.”

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A log cabin

The Ordinary

An ordinary (which later would be called a “tavern” or “inn”), was a licensed business providing alcoholic beverages, hot meals, and a place to rest for the night. Ordinaries dotted the roads in colonial North Carolina, and they often served as hub around which a new town would accrete. An ordinary could be upscale, but as one traveler reported, they could also be remarkably crude.

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A drawing of the steamboat Prometheus

The Steamboat Prometheus

The age of steamboats began in North Carolina in 1818, when the vessels Norfolk, Henrietta, and Prometheus began huffing and puffing along our waterways. Prometheus, a little sternwheeler, was built in Swansboro by the naval hero, chartered privateer, and entrepreneur, Otway Burns.

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Drawing of an early stage coach

The Stagecoach

In the western movies many of us watched as kids, stagecoaches would glide across a majestic landscape with passengers jostled just enough to suggest motion. Those who traveled in real stagecoaches described a very different experience.

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The covered bridge at Bynum, NC

Spooky Covered Bridges

Covered bridges have a nostalgic appeal for us today, quaint relics of an idyllic past. But they were obstructive, spooky, and not so popular with the people who actually had to use them.

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Members of the North Carolina Good Roads Movement

The Good Roads Association

At the dawn of what would become the automobile age, not everyone was enthusiastic about the prospect of building modern roads, much less a state-wide highway system. Certainly the legislature did not see any role for state funds in such an undertaking. But the North Carolina Good Roads Association saw it differently, and it took the cause to the people.

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Gilbert S. Waters sits in his Buggymobile

Mr. Waters Builds a Buggymobile

In 1899, Gilbert Waters traveled to Baltimore where he saw the future: self-propelled vehicles motoring down the streets. Back in his New Bern workshop, Waters created the Buggymobile, possibly the first automobile built in the south. Early on, the principal difference between Gilbert Waters and his contemporary Henry Ford was that one secured funding for a new business.

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A drawing of an odd assortment of men riding in an early railroad coach

Democracy on Rails

Early American rail service reflected the segregation by race and gender that was inherent in society at the time. But for foreigners traveling by rail in the American south, it was the cars reserved for white men that flummoxed them. There these travelers witnessed a rampant spirit of democracy that struck many as inappropriate and possibly dangerous.

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Rip Van Winkle

The Rip Van Winkle State

In the 1700s, adventurous North Carolinians treked west over the mountains, lured by the promise of a better life. In the early 1800s, those who followed their footsteps were were not lured; they were propelled by an untenable existence in North Carolina. Any life would be preferable to the economic and cultural stagnation of “The Rip Van Winkle State.”

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The Timelessness of Budget Knavery

When it comes to today’s large-scale infrastructure projects, we are used to advocates painting a rosy picture of fiscal prudence and fabulous benefits. Joseph Caldwell had something to say about this “budget knavery” nearly 200 years ago.

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Hog Drovers on the Buncombe Turnpike

Hogging the Buncombe Turnpike

When the Buncombe Turnpike was completed in 1828, it was one of the best roads in North Carolina. The new toll road energized the local economy and transformed an entire mountain region. But while many smelled economic opportunity, some smelled only swine.

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A boy rents boats on flooded Franklin Street

Boating on Franklin Street

In 1910, a heavy rain could turn North Carolina town and city streets – almost all yet unpaved – into ponds more suited to boats than to wheeled vehicles. Despite high ground and higher education, Franklin Street in Chapel Hill was no exception.

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A bicycle club in Oxford NC circa 1900

Bicycles Led The Way

In the 1920s, when automobile owners in North Carolina finally started to motor down decent roads, they owed a debt of gratitude to ardent bicyclists of the 1880s. Bicycle enthusiasts were early activists for the movement that would eventually make North Carolina the Good Roads State.

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Hay wagon on a plank road

Plank Road Fever

In the mid-1800s, North Carolina burned with an acute case of plank road fever. By lifting travelers above the omnipresent ruts and mires, wooden turnpikes promised to speed travel, to stimulate commerce, and to bring big profits to the companies that built and owned them. How could it fail?

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Train Wreck at Bostian Bridge

Disaster at Bostian Bridge

Early on the morning of August 27, 1891, Richmond & Danville Railroad Passenger Train No. 9 plunged off the Bostian Bridge just west of Statesville. Twenty-three people died. It was “A Great Wreck!” “A Frightful Accident!” It was also a mystery.

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Charles Dickens

Dickens on American Rail

Touring America in 1842, young Charles Dickens captured in his journal the manic exhilaration of traveling on early American railroads: “…on, on, on – tears the mad dragon of an engine with its train of cars…”

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A bateau on the Haw River loaded with cotton bales

Bateaux Ruled Our Rivers

When waterways were our superhighways, bateaux ruled the rivers. These open, shallow-draft boats did the heavy lifting that drove North Carolina’s economy. They transported the bounty of upland farms to markets on the coast, and they returned with manufactured goods, coffee and sugar.

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Coming Down The Road

Moving North Carolina will publish a new blog post every Sunday at noon, beginning August 4, 2019. Upcoming posts will feature bateaux, trains (snorting and plunging), road hogs, plank turnpikes, crusading bicyclists, and spooky bridges.

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