A header with various transportation scenes and the site title, Moving North Carolina

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  1. Beverly Wiggins

    Hello! I sent you a message on messenger a few days ago. I now see that perhaps I should have asked my question here. I am the Facebook administrator for the Chatham Historical Museum page. Several people have asked why old wagon roads were abandoned and new locations selected for later roads. One example asked about is the “Old Raleigh Rd.”, traces of which are still visible in the county in several locations. Can you shed light on this? Or do you have a post that addresses it? (I’ve scanned the titles and don’t see an obvious one.)

    I have linked to a number of your posts on our page and have drafts of several more that I will schedule soon. Thanks for a great blog!

    1. Michael

      Hi, Beverly. Yes, this is a better way to reach me with comments or questions about the Moving North Carolina blog. Although I post the blog to Facebook, I am not an active user, so it may be some time before I see a message left there. As to your question, don’t have a direct answer for you – and certainly not one about specific roads like the Raleigh Road – but here are some thoughts that might be helpful.

      We think of roads as connecting population centers, so that people in early Pittsboro might identify a road heading east as the “Raleigh Road.” But from pre-colonial times through the arrival of steel bridges – in NC, after the Civil War – roads primarily connected river fords. Flowing water was an obstacle to a traveler whether he was on foot, horse or wagon. The network of paths developed by native American peoples in the area connected those places where a river could be crossed, so a settlement-to-settlement road was actually a settlement-to-ford-to-settlement road. And because colonial roads were often superimposed on these ancient paths, they showed the same pattern. After all, colonial travelers had the same problem of crossing flowing water, especially with the arrival of wagons on the scene in the early 1700s. Furthermore, the location of a specific river ford might change, depending on natural shifts in the river bed and on changing modes of travel: a wagon might not be able to cross a river at the place horses had been crossing for decades. A new wagon-friendly ford would have to be found some distance up- or down-river, and a road would have to be cut to it, possibly resulting in the abandonment of the old road. Grist mills – immensely important to colonial society – also caused roads to be built to service them so local farmers had access. Construction of a mill and dam might create its own river crossing point and a social center as well, so they became nodes in the road network. And as new mills were built and old ones faded away, roads would be created or abandoned.

      You may find the posts on River Fords and Gristmills interesting. You can search for them by keyword on the Searchable Archive page. I hope this helps. And thanks for reaching out and for the kind words about the blog. I always enjoy reading the Chatham Historical Museum posts.

  2. John Ross

    Michael,

    I’m in the final throes of a new book for UTenn Press on the natural and cultural history of the French Broad watershed. It’s due out next spring.

    Book begins with formation of Blue Ridge and continues into the future with the final chapter – Planners’ Paradox. I’ve been told that the comprehensive story of the French Broad watershed – from prehistoric Indians through arrival of de Soto, English traders, Cherokee wars and removal, colonial settlement, Civil War, exploitation of natural resources, railroads and evolution of tourist economy, industrialization and intense pollution, conservation via national parks and forests, and environmental resilience – is the story of any of America’s watersheds…just small enough to tell.

    Been thinking that it could make a great documentary accompanied by Cecil Sharp’s ballads – Doug Orr’s book is a great resource. I’m very familiar with other watershed documentaries – Yellowstone, etc. The French Broad, because the watershed includes Great Smokies and WNC, offers a major marketing opportunity.

    If you’re interested, drop me a note and let’s talk.

    Again, thanks for your work on Movingnorthcarolina.

    John Ross

    Stumbled on your great blog while searching for images for the book. The illustration for the Great Wagon Road is ideal. Like to know the source.

    But more important,

    1. Michael

      Hi, John. Many thanks for the feedback and the kind words about the blog. The featured image in the blog on the Great Wagon Road (a settler family and their Conestoga wagon) is from North Carolina Archives & History. It’s identifier is N_53_16_5313-A LR.

      I have a French Broad question for you: Did steamboats ever operate on that river?

      Again, thanks for reaching out. And good luck with the book and documentary.

      Michael

  3. John Ross

    Teriffic Blog!

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