Our oldest wagon roads frequently lay atop Native American trails.

'Tis the Season to be out in the woods; visibility good and bugs attenuated.

The solstice is over, we are on the way to garden flowers erupting in the middle of nowhere season.  Owing to climate change, that season creeps further up into what we used to call "winter".  We'll start looking for daffodils in January this year.  Last year it was in February\, and the year before that April. We remember when it was an April-May event.

Recent finds:

Just a week of so ago a friend of the Trading Path Association called to say he thought he'd seen some old, old bridge abutments near his home.  We went for a walk in the woods and, sure enough, he'd found a bridge abutment and it was very old.  [A bit more on dating hypotheses below]  Then we followed the old road course over a little hogback, and down at the bottom of the hogback, on another little creek was another very old bridge.

Near by the old roadbed we spotted what appeared to be a "trail tree", a tree intentionally distorted by being tied down while young.  They frequently have a limb growing out of their upper curve which, so it is said, point the direction of a turn in the trail.  When I became agitated about the tree my host said, "Oh, hey, I have two more of them on my land."

It was a very good day, indeed.

Bridge design and location: 

The bridges were located in an odd place, along the edge of bottom land formed by a larger creek.  This is a rare circumstance at any time as the soils tend to be boggy and the young streams meander all over the place.  From this I deduce that this was a first generation road.  Road builders are generally lazy folks who minimized their enforced labor.  If a route already existed they would, unless directed to do otherwise, incorporate it in their route.

We have seen enough old horse trails overlain with wagon roads to know that this process probably started with beaten paths suitable for hiking but challenging even for a horse.  When  horses replaced native porters carrying cargo into and out of the "backcountry" old footpaths were widened, had brush along their way cut out of the way, like modern off-road horse paths.  So it requires no great stretch to surmise that this old wagon road laid down atop an existing pack horse road, and (given the presence of the trail marker pointing the line) it seems likely that pack horsemen simply took over a native path.  

Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your perspective the route was utterly unsuited for cargo wagon traffic, a prerequisite to becoming a 'public road', a road built and maintained by the county court.  Along the line chosen for this road the bridges would always be at risk of washout and, no matter how well built a causeway may be, they were expensive and avoided whenever possible.  Each of the two bridges observed had causeways approaching their river-left, facing a simple stacked stone wall/abutment on river-right.  By the looks of the bottoms around each bridge it seemed the wooden portions would be subject to floating away with some regularity.

Very old bridge abutment !a Orange County, NC, Stoney/
Stones Creek viewed  from East, river-left bank

East (river-left)bank causeway abutment 1b viewed from west bank
The long and the short of it is that we believe this to be a first generation public road that was abandoned as soon as taxing authorities realized they were wasting valuable taxes on a bad road.

Very old bridge abutment 2 and causeway viewed from east, along causeway.
Another attempt to capture causeway at bridge 2

These bridges inspire a degree of envy.  The jack-leg bridge builders have a monument speaking to us more than 250 years later.  Show me a structure in your neighborhood with that potential and I'll honor the forethought.

We will return to these gems in the next month to more accurately record them.  More later.

Trail marker trees/Trail threes

Along the course of the old road marked by bridges we saw a trail tree.  The creators of the trail tree that we found speak to us across a time-span even greater than did the bridge builders.  There is no record known to say when trail trees ceased to be used as blazing.  There is not enough known about them to even know what information they contained for the informed who, unlike us, had a vested interest in gleaning as much information as possible from each structure and therefore undoubtedly saw more than we can know.  Suffice that the study of these artifacts is yet to begin.

Trail marker tree 3 (?) so it seems. It was found within 20 yards of the wagon road associated with the bridges

There are a few regional organizations laboring to find and record their trail trees (in Texas, around the Great Lakes and elsewhere) and there is one national database.  So as to promote the widest possible inclusion and because the full parameter set for a trail tree is yet to be defined, some mud got into the stream of time (the database(s) contain some sketchy trees).  But it is not fatal, scholars will sort it out in time.

Meanwhile we will register the first two or three trail trees east of the mountains in NC.  It is likely that the NC State Archaeologist will have on hand plenty of environmental impact research reports some of which will undoubtedly note trail trees.  Some bright, young grad student might enjoy harvesting those artifacts on the land.

I bet that if enough of us stormed into the woods after killing season and before tick season we can find twenty-five more trail markers this year.



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