Boating on Franklin Street

Boating on Franklin Street

Boats For Rent on Chapel Hill’s Main Thoroughfare

This is the main block of Franklin Street in Chapel Hill in 1910. Travelers on the road had options. They could choose deep mud or shallow pond. Such a quagmire of a road was a typical state of affairs for a small town street anywhere in the state after heavy rain: It was more suitable to boats than to wheeled vehicles or pedestrians. Frankly, the dirt sidewalk in the photo doesn’t look much more passable than the road.

Franklin Street was a convenient poster child for why the state needed the Good Roads Movement.

The enterprising young lad’s sign announcing “Boats for Rent” was likely meant as irony. (Chapel Hill was, after all, a college town even then.) But more to the point may have been his second sign encouraging the passer-by to “vote for good roads.” Public demand for better roads had welled up in the late 1800’s, led by bicycle enthusiasts. Then, as horseless carriages gained popularity in the first years of the 1900’s, motorists took up the cause. But it would be 1921 before the Good Roads Association, under the dynamic leadership of Chapel Hill’s own Harriet Morehead Berry, pressured the state legislature to begin taking responsibility for road construction and maintenance across all fifty counties of the state.

A brief detour away from transportation and into cocaine colas.

The building on the right side of the photograph still stands today, the nearest portion of it having been occupied for many decades by the Carolina Coffee Shop. The sign on the side of the building advertises “delicious and refreshing” Coca-Cola, which, it claims, “relieves fatigue.” This was a throwback to the drink’s origins as a patent medicine, at which time it contained – as did many such concoctions – cocaine.

By 1902, Coca-Cola contained only trace amounts (1/400 of a grain per ounce of syrup), and by 1929 it would be cocaine-free. One reason the company was slow to eliminate all extract of the coca leaf was that the inventors were intent on protecting the brand name. They feared that if cocaine were eliminated from the formula, they would lose the right to call the drink “Coca-Cola”, that name being the company’s most valuable asset.

(There is no end to what you might learn when you read about transportation.)

Photo courtesy of The North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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