Roads-Trails-Paths Finding Model

Finding old routes is remarkably simple. Finding remnants of the old routes is somewhat more demanding.

Arbitrary Definitions:

  • roads carry wheeled vehicles,
  • trails are routes used by quadruped/critter carriers, and
  • paths are the routes of bipedal/human cargo carriers.

Commercial transportation is a very rational and predictable activity governed by economics and physics. A column of burdened porters moved under the same imperatives as does an eighteen-wheeled truck. They and all other carriers seek the most efficient, fastest route from "A" to "B." Efficiency issues of importance to the operator of the carrier included:
  • security and
  • fuel costs, and
  • fuel/energy expenditure.
Questions drivers of men, animals, wagons, or trucks need to answer about route selection include: "Are there secure places at which to stop and repair gear along the way?", "Is there sufficient and cost effective game/fodder/diesel along our route to fuel the vehicle?" In these ways a porter column's route was influenced by fuel and security costs just as is the modern truck route, and probably varied from season to season, just like modern truck routes responding to variations in fuel taxes, seasonal impediments, and so forth. The important point to recall is that commercial travel routes have always been and will probably always be determined by energy intake and expenditure and cargo security.

One major difference between pre-modern carriage and modern carriage is that in pre-modern times, before mechanically powered carriage, movement ended at the end of the day; there was little or no night travel. The principle quality of a good camp site was fresh water. So, one result is that in the southeast the oldest towns are one day apart in terms of pre-modern travel and cluster around springs along ridge trails. So, knowing the location of one old site and knowing the location of the routes that came to that site, one can reverse engineer the location of other sites.

We know that in the epoch of muscle powered transportation virtually all terrestrial vehicles moved at the same speed over long distances; roughly 2.5 mph or, in the southeastern Piedmont, about fifteen miles. Along our oldest routes our oldest towns, in the Piedmont, are about fifteen miles apart. In the mountains the daily travel range was more like five to eight miles per day, and in the coastal plain a day's travel was about ten miles.

Knowing that the first Anglican parish in what became North Carolina was seated, I believe, in Williamsboro (Vance County), lay out a straight line (shortest distance to the Trading Ford on the Yadkin River. Be prepared to move the straight line to accommodate stream crossings and other choke points along the way. Make a mark every fifteen miles along your line and you will find the marks are never more than three miles from an old, old town located amongst branch heads. Your itinerary will take you to camps near: Kinton Fork or Berea, Mount Tirzah, (make a turn at Mt. Tirzah to access more fords on the Haw River than the straight line allows, and follow Highway 57 to), Hillsborough, Saxapahaw, Liberty, Randleman, Painted Springs (on the Davidson-Randolph County line near Pleasant Grove Church), and then Trading Ford.

For a variety of good reasons, commercial paths and trails, and roads stayed on or near ridge tops whenever possible. That is usually where one finds springs in the Piedmont, but it is also where travel is easiest as wind and gravity clean the ridges. So, when plotting the route from one old hamlet, village or town to another, find the barrier streams between them and the ridges that will carry your conveyance. Lay your course in to intersect the barrier streams at fording points that can be safely accessed from the ridge line carrying your route. The greatest challenges to laying out your route, in order of difficulty, will be:
  1. finding a fording point that won't degrade your conveyance or your cargo;
  2. getting on and off of your ridge; and
  3. getting in and out of your barrier streams.
To get in and out of barrier streams porters and pack horses use natural ramps, smooth and gentle slopes that allow stepping into the barrier creek without stepping off of a bank. These, though are exceedingly rare. On at least one side and quite frequently both sides of the barrier stream feeder creeks will serve as ramps to get in and out of your ford. Streams entering your barrier watercourse from opposite banks will each have dumped gravel at their mouths and that gravel will pave the ford. So, to find horse and human crossings look for opposing confluences. Wagons use man-made entrance ramps to get into and out of barrier streams. Having found the fords between you and your destination you can now lay in ridge courses to reach the fords.

An old Irish toast upon one's departure was, "May you find an easy way to the ridge." Having found the ridges that will take you most directly to your destination, plot how to get from the ridges to the streams and back on to the ridges. Bear in mind that people are more agile than horses, and horses are more agile than wagons. Each change in transportation technology required changes in climbing on and off of ridges and in and out of streams. In some really good fords you will be able to see all three conveyance channels separate from one another.

In the following map snippet you will see a modern road doing something really silly not once but twice. It makes ninety degree turns in the middle of nowhere. The road shown is on a ridge in a set of mountains. And at each of the ninety degree turns the wagon road that became the modern paved road had been laid down atop a packhorse road, and when the ridge petered out the wagoners had to find alternative ways to get off the ridge and down to the fords.

Following these basic insights into pre-modern travel will allow you to surmise a logical course of travel from any one place to another. To prove your hypothesis, "ground-truth" your route. Which is to say, go out and find remnants of roads, trails, or paths along the logical line of travel. If you find none, revisit your assumptions as this method has proven remarkably reliable in fact. Look for the earliest roads and trails and paths on the "military crest." The military crest is usually around ten feet lower in elevation than the physical crest of a ridge. Using the military crest insures only half the world can see you and then with difficulty as you are not silhouetted on the ridge line.

Now, if you find your route don't forget to tell us about it.



Popular posts from this blog

"Thigpen's Trace"