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When rivers were our superhighways, open, shallow draft boats called bateaux 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.
In the mid-1800s, North Carolina was gripped by 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.
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.