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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
This is a first posting on the Moving North Carolina blog. It welcomes you to the blog, tells you a little about the project’s origins, and looks down the road to what you can expect to see in future posts.