“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was an essential tool for the black motorist in the first half of the 20th century. In the American South, the early decades of motoring overlapped with the region’s most virulently racist “Jim Crow” era. Black motorists were confronted by challenges largely unknown to white travelers, and a slight misreading of the local racial norms could turn the most commonplace activity into one that brought down on them humiliation, brutality, or death. Many black motorists would not take to the roads without their copy of The Green Book; it was their bible for discovering safe places.
Category: Roads & Highways
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The roundabout – a type of traffic intersection where multiple roads converge, like the spokes on a wheel, onto a central hub – has been used around the world for centuries. But it is relatively new to North Carolina’s roads, and the roundabouts that are proliferating around our state seem to trigger acute anxiety in many drivers as they approach one. But with anxiety comes heightened awareness, and that is part of the secret behind roundabouts saving lives.
In the very early years of the 20th century, automobiles were just beginning to appear on streets around the country. The Glidden Tour, a long-distance “reliability and endurance tour,” would give many a small town – including in North Carolina – its first sighting of an automobile. And the yearly event would go a long way toward convincing a wary public that the auto age was here to stay.
The toll turnpike has a lineage that goes back to ancient times, even taking its name from a Medieval weapon. Privately constructed, for-profit turnpikes proliferated in 1800s North Carolina as – it was hoped – a remedy for the state’s deplorable roads. And of course wherever you find a turnpike, you are likely to find a shunpike.
An old gristmill sits beside a placid millpond, its water wheel rotating at a stately pace. It’s an iconic image of simplicity and serenity. But in their day, mills were complex, high-tech, noisy machines. And although the mill itself was stationary, gristmills were responsible not only for traffic, but for the very roads down which that traffic traveled – then and now. Colonial mills created many of the roads we still drive on today.
When it came time to transport colonial North Carolina’s tobacco crop to market, wagons groaned under the weight of the half-ton hogsheads, and wagon wheels sank into the sandy soil of the coastal plain. Farmers overcame the problem by turning the hogsheads into rolling containers. By doing so, they created “rolling roads,” many of which became the roads we drive today.
As the population of colonial North Carolina increased, new settlements, mills, river fords, churches, and taverns, and other social nodes cropped up across the countryside. What was lacking was roads to connect them all. It was up to citizens to petition their county court for a road to be hacked through the seemingly endless forest. But they had better mind their language.
In the 1700s, The Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to North Carolina was the conduit for one of the great migrations in United States history. German and Scotch-Irish colonists flooded south in search of land to homestead. The legacy of those immigrants from so long ago is is very much a part of who we are as a state today.
In the mid-1700s, German and Scotch-Irish colonists flooded south from Pennsylvania down The Great Wagon Road to North Carolina and beyond. It was a decades-long migration of epic proportions, and it marked a social upheaval that reconfigured the demographics of the colonies in ways that still reverberate today.
For most of North Carolina History, bridges were not common, and travelers confronted by one of our state’s many, many streams simply had to find a place where they could cross over. Those coveted spots – river fords – often dictated where we live today.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?