Grayson County Transportation and Roads
“You Cain’t Git Thar Frum Here”
Table of Contents
Roads were of vital importance to the economic survival of the community as well as to communications. Early residents of the Upper New River Valley realized this fact, however, limited means severely curtailed road building. The county courts in North Carolina and Virginia ruled road building. When the Justices of the Peace decided a road was needed from point A to point B, a committee was appointed to “view” the route. When the committee reported back to the court, it was approved, disapproved or modified as appropriate. When the route was settled, the court appointed a road jury to construct the road. Notably, none of the justices were ever found to have served on the road juries, and thus missed the back-breaking work. Those chosen to construct roads were expected to perform the function as a civic duty and were not paid for their efforts, but could be and were fined if they failed to perform assigned duty. There was little redress if any person felt that he was unfairly assigned road duty.
Road crews were expected to maintain the roads already constructed. Responsibility for road maintenance was that of the overseer. Failure to maintain the road resulted in heavy fines for the overseer and possible dismissal from their post.
There were three types of roads in the early days, bridle paths – wide enough to ride a horse comfortably on maintained by use or individual families or communities; roads – maintained by the county, wide enough for a wagon; and turnpikes which were wide enough for wagons to pass each other at almost any point, and were covered by boards for speed. Turnpikes were typically private enterprises, approved by the county courts, but owned by an individual or group of people for profit.
Road construction was not road construction in the modern sense of the term. The road jury in the earliest days simply cleared out the trees and underbrush along a particular route, wide enough for a wagon and horses to travel. As time progressed so did road technology, and the second series of roads were plank roads, which literally employed boards placed across a trail. Typically these plank roads were called turnpikes and were toll roads. Toll rates for these roads seem inexpensive by current standards, however, at the time, the rates were significant enough to make someone think long and hard about using such a road. On the Horton Turnpike in Ashe County, the county court fixed the rates for travel on the road in 1874 as “each four-wheel carriage, 50 cents; each 2-wheel vehicle 20 cents; each passenger on horse, 10 cents; each foot passenger 5 cents; mules and horses 5 cents per head, cattle 2« cents per head, hogs and sheep, 1 cent per head.”
Roads were built along what was considered the best route, which was most beneficial to the wealthiest landowners, who owned the best land. Bottom land was the easiest to build roads through, however, they were subject to flooding and better locations were near the 100 year flood plain lines near the major streams. Note, that the wealthiest land owners who were also often members of the county courts used their positions to assist in their enterprises. In modern terms there was a severe conflict of interest in these actions, but it occurred on a routine basis. Roads converged on central points, mills, iron forges, churches and the county courthouses. Other points of road convergence were the stream fords and ferries. There were few places that the New River and its tributary streams could not be forded, and fords were numerous, ferries in the early days covered by this book were not. Fords mentioned in the early court orders and road orders were: Island Ford, George Jones’ Ford of the New River, Cox’s Ford of the New River, Whitiker’s Ford, Cover Ford, Peter’s Ford of the New River, Weaver’s Ford, and Deep Ford to name a few. Another key factor in laying out roads was the location of mountain gaps, such as Ward’s Gap, Fancy Gap, Flower Gap, Gleave’s Gap, Ward’s Gap, Cleaver’s Gap, Fisher’s Gap, Deep Gap, Low Gap, Phillip’s and Daniel’s Gap to mention a few. What adjacent counties did in the way of roads also played a minor role in roads, but most of the early roads were strictly for internal travel.
The county court records usually note the road juries and the routes of these early trails. Some of the earliest road orders are:
|1793||Ordered that a wagon road be opened up from Blair and Dickey Furnace to the county line and that William Austin, Lazarus Denny, Charles Denny, and Thomas Kenweather do view the ground proposed for the said road from the furnace to the ground where the courthouse is to be erected from thence to the forge, from thence to William Jennings’, Joseph Hill, Nathaniel Pope, James Cock and William Williams, wagoner, do view said ground from Jennings to the county line, where said road crosses Greasy Creek… That Aaron Collins, Andrew Cock, Reubin Dalton and John Robinson being first sworn, or any three of them, do view the grounds proposed and make report of the conveniences and inconveniences that will result from opening of the same as well to individuals, as to the publick and make report of the same to the next court… (This road was largely in what is not Carroll County).|
|1793||…Ordered that Dennis Fielder, Lewis Hale, Rebin Cornett, and William Long be appointed to view the grounds, and after being sworn to view the grounds proposed from the Blue Springs Gap to Richard Wright, Jr.’s and make report to the next court whether the same can be made a wagon road.|
|1793||A road viewed out from Flower Gap to John Stender’s. William Jones, surveyor from John Stender’s to the ford of New River at George Jones’s, thence to William Bourn’s, Surveyor William Byrd. From William Bourn’s to lower end of Dennis Fielder’s meadow. George Jones lived down the river from Flower Swift (Eli Delp place). [This road must have passed via present Providence Church through Spring Valley.]|
|1793||…And that Stephen Ghost be appointed to survey the road from Furnace Road to Delp’s Mill Creek and from there to the top of the mountain.|
|1793||Ordered that Sibius Coffin survey the road from Flower Gap to the Widdow Carrs to Meadow Creek. Jessee Rector to survey it from Meadow Creek to Little River.|
|1793||William Austin survey the road from the mouth of Elk Creek to the Furnace; Captain Osborne, William Wyatt from thence to the County line.|
|1793||Minitree Jones survey the road from the mouth of Elk Creek to the river at the dividing line between Nuckolls and Jones; William Blevins from thence to the top of the ridge beyond Mae’s Branch; Abraham Hardwick from thence to the Carolina line.|
|July 6, 1793||Jonathan Ward survey the road from Little River to Cox’s Ford and hence to James Howell’s and George Reeves’s thence to Wells Ward’s. A road from Jeremiah Stone’s to Hale’s Meeting House, then to Widdow Roarch’s cabin, from thence to Richard Wright, Sr’s and Richard Wright Jr.’s. A road from Dickey’s Forge to Pilot Ridge to North Carolina line.|
|August 20, 1793||Road from Grassy Creek to Well’s Ward’s. Thomas Johnson, road overseer, discharged. Ordered that Major Jones and Matthew Dickey, Gents., divide the hands between the three surveyors that keep the road in repair from the top of Iron Mountain to its junction with the Furnace Road. Ordered that a road be viewed from Elk Creek to Fisher’s Gap (Fairview) by way of Jones’ Ford and by way of Jones’s Ford to the new courthouse to Fisher’s Gap. Ordered that William Austin and Charles Denny divide the hands between the above overseers. Charles Mayberry be appointed surveyor of the road from the county line to half the distance that William Dalton is to keep in repair. John Paxton appointed surveyor of the road from Green’s Creek to county line. On the petition of James Cock a wagon road may be had from the Good Spur to the Old Elk Spur path where it joins the Flower Gap road. Ordered that James Prichett be appointed surveyor in the place of George Reeves. Ordered that John Mitchell Baker be appointed surveyor of the road from the furnace to the river. Andrew Hampton from thence to the Widow Parker’s and Flower Swift from thence to the junction of said road to the Fisher’s Gap Road. Ordered that William Austin and Charles Denny divided the hands between the above overseers. Agreeable to a previous order of the court, William Austin, Charles Denny and Thomas Kenworthy hath viewed the grounds from the Furnace to Dickey’s Forge and find the same to convenient as the situation of the county will admit, by way of the new courthouse to said forge. The above surveyors will — as far as shall seem convenient to them — follow the blazed trees. Committee to view road from Little River to Brush Creek to make report.|
|December 17, 1793||Ordered that George Byrd be appointed surveyor of the road from the Wythe County line to Mouth of Elk Creek, and with the hands that shall be allotted by Minitree Jones, Gent. and William Drope keep road in repair. Peter Whitticker appointed surveyor of the road from the North Carolina line at Witticker Ford to the furnace. Absalom Burton from John Stodies to the Flower Gap.|
|January 26, 1794||Committee to view a road beginning at a road that leads to the mouth of Elk Creek to the Furnace Road at Sexton’s Branch, the nearest and best way to where William Sexton’s path comes into said road… Ordered that Peter Kittering be appointed surveyor of the road where William Bournee’s path that leads from his house to the furnace crossing goes into the Elk Creek Road to where it joins into the furnace road, and thence with John Poole’s sch. John Poole, Jr., Thomas Austin and Henry Hiltain clear out and keep in repair. Ordered that a bridle way be established from William Bourn’s to the top of the ridge which divides the waters of Cripple Creek and Brush Creek where the path crosses the same near William Gleason’s. That William Bourn be overseer and allot the hands.|
|April 23, 1794||View road from James Howell’s to the Iron Mountain, at the head of Fox Creek, where the road crosses said mountain. George Byrd discharged as overseer of road; Jesse Vaughan to take his place. A road from the furnace to the mouth of Peach Bottom Creek, from thence to the Carolina line by way of Fisher’s Gap… A road from Fisher’s Gap to the Carolina line. Ordered that a bridle road be opened up from the mouth of Elk Creek to the new courthouse and that Minitree Jones be appointed surveyor. (Present highway 58).|
|June 24, 1794||A wagon road to be opened from Benjamin Sexton’s Branch to the top of the ridge leading to the Mouth of Elk Creek, by marked trees. A wagon road from the top of the hill on this side of the river to George Martin’s by the way of the courthouse. A road from Bellspur into the Flower Gap road by way of William Ross’s… A road from Goodspur into the Flower Gap road at the Old Elkspur path.|
|August 27, 1794||A wagon road from the courthouse across New River to George Martin’s and that Jonathan Collins open the same. A wagon road from the courthouse to Fisher’s Gap. A wagon road from the courthouse crossing the river at Colonel Swift’s to the Mouth of Elk Creek. View road that leads from the road that leads to William Jennings to Tobias Phillips’ at the Montgomery line. A wagon road to be opened from the furnace to the Carolina line toward Fisher’s Gap, going through an old field of George Reeves’s – twenty-five or thirty poles. James Summer, surveyor for the road from Peach Bottom Creek to the junction of said road to where it joins the Island Ford road, proceed thence to the line.|
|August 20, 1806||William Evans went to court to stop the building of a road through his property, and the court issues an order that the further proceedings be suspended till further order of the court.|
|August 27, 1806||Ordered that Jacob Spraker be appointed surveyor of the road in the place of Abraham Wright resigned; and that he, with the usual hands keep the same in repair accordingly. Moses Halsey to be overseer of the road in the place of the one removed. Persons appointed to view the grounds for a wagon road from Nathan Ward’s to the new Ashe road, reported that there may be a road beneficial to the people from Nathan Ward’s to Fox Creek Meeting House to the mouth of Fox Creek, to the mouth of Wilson, to Robert Parson’s, Esq. thence to Patrick Kelly’s and from thence to the new Ashe road. It is therefore ordered that the same be cleared out and that William Stamper and William Howell jointly be appointed surveyors of the same, and that they, with the hands of Isaac Spencer, Nathan Cox, Jerad Perkins, Moses Halsey, Jonathan Anderson and Richard Hall clear out the same. Ordered that Philip Gaines, Greenberry McKenzie, George Jones, and Andrew Bowers be appointed to view the nearest and best way for a wagon road from the forks of the road in Blair’s old coaling ground to the Brush Creek road near George Jones’s and make report thereof to court. Ordered that Greenberry McKenzie, Andrew Bowers, Jacob Linberry and Jeremiah Coulson be appointed to view the road from Crooked Creek by the Cover ford on Chestnut Creek to Grayson courthouse and make report. Ordered that Joshua Hanks and Thomas Johnson allot the hands to work on the road of which Levi Burcham and Samuel Johnson are surveyors. Ordered that Richard Davis, William Bonham, Joseph Young and William Howell be appointed to view the nearest and best way for a wagon road from the mouth of Fox Creek to the North Carolina line, and make report thereof to court. Road reported out of repair leading from Elk Creek Settlement to Grayson Courthouse, being our of repair from the fork that leads to the furnace, opposite to Poole’s at this time – by Francis Hale and Lewis Brewer. The damages to one landowner for opening a road through his property was assessed at fifteen dollars, Being weighed and considered, it was decided not to open the road.|
|1806||John Poole surveyor of roads. Roads planned from schoolhouse on Crooked Creek. Ordered that Matthew Dickey, John Robinson, William Bourn, and John Isom be appointed to view the road leading from Bourn’s Furnace to the fork of the road near John Robinsons’ and make report thereof to court.|
|1807||Jacob Coulson overseer of the road from his old place to Ward’s Gap. Abner Jones, William Carrico, Daniel Keith and Allan Barber be appointed to view the nearest way for a wagon road from the county line near Peter’s Ford on New River to the county line toward David Pierce’s Iron and Copperworks and make report thereof to court. Ordered that John Hall and William Kenny allot the hands to work on the roads of which Aquilla Blakey is surveyor. Find a road from Isaac Collin’s Mill to Ward’s Gap. Ordered that William Williams be appointed overseer of the road from the injunction of Henry Edward’s mill creek and Little Reed Island Creek to where John Stephens formerly lived; and John Gettens overseer of the orad from thence to the Patrick County line. Road under James Cox is extended from the county line to the road leading from Point Hope Furnace to Island Ford. Out of repair p the old road leading from Flower Gap to Poplar Camp Furnace. To view out a road from Jacob Stealy’s to top of Iron Mountain near Cleavers Gap to intersect with a road to be opened up on the north side of mountain in Wythe County and make report to court.|
|1808||The party had viewed the road from Jacob Stealy’s meadow, thence by William Byrd’s and from there to the top of the mountain and marked it, and that they found it to be a good ground for a wagon road and believe it to be of great advantage to the public. And it is therefore ordered that the same be opened and that Samuel Byrd be appointed surveyor of the same. And that the hands of Daniel Fielder, William Byrd, Isaac Moore, James Adkins and Timothy Rowark assist in clearing out the same.|
|March 24, 1808||The order made yesterday for a public road from Jacob Stealy’s to the top of Iron Mountain at Gleave’s Gap recended and the court being of the opinion that the road applied for will be convenient, proceeded to ordered summonses to be issued to Jacob Stealy, Martin Dickenson, William Byrd, and Jesse Vaughan, proprietors of land through which the same is to be constructed, to appear here at next court to show cause why said road shall not be opened. The other proprietors of land through which the said road shall not be opened. The other proprietors of land through which the said road is proposed to be conducted, do not reside in the county, nor have they any agent therein.|
|March 25, 1808||Ordered that Robert Hill, Daniel Keith, John Patton, and Captain Robert Nuckolls view the ground proposed for a wagon road from Grayson Courthouse to low gap in Iron Mountain. Ordered that Solomon Landreth be appointed overseer of the road from Point Hope Furnace to the road leading from Cox’s Ford to Fox Creek Gap.|
|October 27, 1808||Stephen South presented for failing to work on the public road. Fined 7s 6p. Joseph South, charged for the same offense, but was acquitted.|
|December 27, 1808||A party appointed to review the road from John Welche’s to Point Hope Furnace. William Long, Sr. and Daniel Jones, Sr. overseers of the road from Martin Dickenson’s to Daniel Jones, Jr.’s out of repair. This was reported by Stephen Stone and Stephen Hale.|
|June 28, 1809||Ordered that Flower Swift, Thomas Davis, Sr., Enoch Cox and William Ward view out a wagon road from the Flower Gap road near John Pickerell’s to the top of the mountain near the blazed spur.|
|August 26, 1809||Ordered that a road be viewed from Timothy Rowark, Jr.’s from thence to Turkey Fork and with the same to the Wythe line. Isaac Green, Sr. in court for fencing off the road and obstructing it, leading from Grayson Courthouse to Dugspur.|
|October 29, 1809||John Poole overseers of the road from the mouth of Elk Creek to the Lead Mines as far as Robert Nuckolls’ for being out of repair.|
|November 28, 1809||Ordered to view out the nearest way for a wagon road from John Robinson’s to Point Hope Furnace. Ordered that William Hale, James Sage, Jacob Hackler, Rowark view out a road from Richard Cole’s to the Wythe line.|
|May 24, 1810||View out the best way for a wagon road from Point Hope Furnace to the forks of the road near John Robinson’s.|
|August 29, 1810||Isaac Green found guilty of obstructing the road by fencing it. Fined ten shillings..|
|December 25, 1810||A road to be viewed out from New River Ford near Enoch Osborne’s up the river to Island Ford thence to the North Carolina line. Road from Island Ford on New River to the ford on Chestnut Creek towards the Flower Gap. Ordered to view out a road from Gap to the Patrick County line toward Patrick Courthouse.|
|September 21, 1811||Ordered that alterations be made in the road from near John Robinson’s to Point Hope Furnace – keeping old road to the river, and going on the Island by a sycamore tree below the old ford, and with the old road to John Welch’s field, and leaving the old road to the right to James Sexton’s old house, and then with the old road to Mrs. Karer’s along the side of her apple orchard and down a branch and near the mouth, and crossing a creek where it has formerly been cut out for wagons to cross, and with said tract to the lower corner of William Bourn’s meadow… and by a cleft of rocks and with said road around his meadow to the old road again.|
|January 28, 1812||Ordered to find the best way for a wagon from Richard Cole’s to the Wythe line toward Speedwell Iron Works. Agreed following the main Elk Creek road to Timothy Rowark, Jr.’s and through a field.|
|November 26, 1833||A way for a new road viewed by John Hale and John Busic and William Long from the old Furnace Road by Barnibus Carrico’s, thence up Peach Bottom Creek by William Long’s to intersect the Blue Spring road the nearest and best way. [Not built until about 1860, then as the Grayson-Raleigh Turnpike].|
|January 27, 1834||Ordered that John H. Phelps be appointed overseer of the road from Ben’s Branch to the Island Ford from road near Welch’s old field. Ordered that Andrew Hampton, Jr. be appointed overseer of the road from the forks of the new road at Welch’s old field leading down the river to Elk Creek road at what is called Keith’s old place. A road viewed from the forks of Cabin Creek by way of the Haw Orchard Mountain to the settlement on Grassy Creek.|
|June 6, 1834||Ordered a road from Wythe County following the meanders of New River from Wythe County to Sulphur Springs, thence up the river to the mouth of Brush Creek.|
The Upper New River Valley, a natural cul-de-sac, was difficult to reach from the days of earliest settlement. By the mid-ante-bellum period the situation was little better. State governments in Virginia and North Carolina were anxious to connect the regions with the remainder of their states. This problem was easier to overcome in Virginia with the construction of the Grayson-Raleigh Turnpike. The Raleigh-Grayson Turnpike followed roughly the late 20th century route of U.S. Highway 21 from Wytheville, through the Elk Creek Valley to Independence to the North Carolina line. The Grayson County portion was approximately 20 miles in length and cost, at the time, the incredible sum of $425 per mile, or nearly $9,000. The specifications for this road were 16 feet in width, Macdamized ditches along each side, and to have all trees, rocks and stumps removed from the road path, a revolution in Mountain road-building. The Raleigh-Grayson turnpike was not, however, paved, and during the rainy, snowy winters and springs of Appalchia, the road became nearly impassible due to mud. Sharp, narrow wagon tires wore deep ruts in the road, and constant repair was requisite to keep the investment from being lost. Despite its faults, the Raleigh-Grayson Turnpike became the key route in and out of the New River Valley in the late ante-bellum period. This road was the route that Grayson County’s soldier marched off to war through. This was the road that Upper New River products were shipped out on and the way that news of the outside world came in on. There was no telegraph office anywhere in the Upper New River Valley until well after the Civil War was over.
The Raleigh-Grayson Turnpike intersected with the Virginia-Tennessee Railway near Wytheville and became the main thorough-fare in and out of the Upper New River Valley. In North Carolina there were several proposals to advance transportation into the Northwest section of the Old North State. The most promising project was a proposed railway from Salisbury through Deep Gap in Watauga County and through that section, down the Watauga River and to connect with the Virginia- Tennessee Railway in East Tennessee. This project had a rival, and a more southern route through Swannanoa Gap. The Southern route, though longer, had fewer engineering difficulties and was the chosen route. This railway was the key reason for the growth of Asheville in Buncombe County in Southwest North Carolina. Many have speculated that a more northerly railway would have spurred the same to similar growth in Northwest North Carolina.
Wagon and horse transportation remained problematic in the Lost Provinces of North Carolina. Winter snows and spring rains tended to destroy the summer’s construction of roads up the Blue Ridge from Wilkes County. After several attempts the effort was virtually abandoned and transportation tended to follow the natural land contours, which led through Virginia, along the New River. This situation was not changed to any appreciable degree until the 1930’s.
During the latter part of the 19th century some North Carolinians from Fayetteville realized the mineral wealth of the Upper New River Valley and proposed construction of transportation spurs into the region. The financing for the proposal never materialized and the idea was dropped and the region continued to be connected to the outside world primarily via the Grayson-Raleigh turnpike.