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.
Laying track across the state from Goldsboro to Charlotte in the 1850s was grueling physical work, but when the task was completed, it gave North Carolina a much-needed reason to celebrate. That's not to say the process of building the North Carolina Railroad was always pretty. It featured unrealistic budget projections; cost overruns; compromises in the quality of work over the objections of the man charged with oversight. The story reads like something on the front page of today's newspaper.
In 1849, legislation created The North Carolina Railroad – at least on paper. But before tracks could actually be laid, someone had to decide exactly where the line would run. Some of those decisions were driven by engineering considerations. Some decisions were shaped by demographics. And some decisions – we should not be surprised – were influenced by the voices of those with money and power.
From today's perspective, nothing in the history of transportation seems more benign than the horse trolley, a phenomenon that flourished only briefly in the last decades of the 1800s. But these crude people-movers were the vanguard of a transportation revolution that would fundamentally change our concept of the city.
Railroad track gauge is the distance between the two rails. In the United States today, the standard is set at 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches. That measurement was also almost exactly the standard distance between the wheels of Roman chariots. The similarity has led some to conclude that the current standard was passed down from Roman times. The story is actually much more interesting than that simple telling.
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.