An important Gap in the Piedmont

The Other Choke-Points in the Piedmont

Though it is true that stream fords are the most common and generally governing geopolitical choke-points in the piedmont of the southeast, saddle gaps and water gaps too attract and capture routes. A good example is the saddle gap south of Occaneechi Mountain, where I-85 passes, near Hills
borough, NC.
[In the image to the right, highest land is represented as white.]

The Occaneechi Mountains border the Eno River south of Hillsborough, NC. In fact the river, flowing generally north to south west of Hillsborough hits the west end of these volcanic remnants and turns over 90 degrees and heads east of northeast for about seven miles. It then cuts through a soft spot in the Occaneechi hills and heads east and then south to pass behind the Occaneechi chain for a ways before turning once again east. Porters, pack horsemen, wagoners and highway engineers all have had to cope with this peculiar geology.

Coming at the Eno east of the Occaneechi range required that travelers either recross the river to get to the upper fords over the Eno, or parallel the south bank of the Eno and avoid another crossing. This course required traffic to pass south of Occaneechi Mountain. There is easy passage until one approaches the main cluster of three peaks south of Hillsborough, and it is at this difficult point that we find Occaneechi Gap.

Just south of the main three peaks there is a saddle (shown in the image atop this article) that allows travelers to avoid the main obstacles, the hills and the Eno. The pass saves an assent and descent of over 100 feet in elevation, a considerable energy expenditure. Today that gap carries Interstate 85, and one hundred years ago it carried what came to be called Highway 10, and before that it eased the way for any number of paths, trails and roads trafficing between the upper fords of the Neuse and the middle fords over the Haw River between the town of Haw River and Saxapahaw, NC.

[Here are some of our members hiking on an old roadbed near where it intersects the interstate]

In the gap itself can be seen, today, old roadbeds squirting out from under the interstate on both sides of its right of way. There is a nearly continuous ten foot wide track running from the south edge of the interstate to a crossing over Seven Mile Creek and beyond to where it slides under a paved section of a road called "Old Ten."

It is remarkable to observe and amusing to consider the constancy of this old mark on the land, this chokepoint.


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