Early Transportation in Davidson
On January 20, 1857, Charlotte’s Western Democrat published an advertisement offering the Charlotte and Taylorsville Plank road for sale. According to ad, “The Road extends from Charlotte via Davidson College to Mt. Mourne, Iredell County, a distance of 24 miles. The Toll Houses with four acres of land near the Town line will be included in the sale. The Road is at present in good condition, and by a recent act of the legislature it can be converted into a Turnpike when the planks wear out and Toll charged on it as such.” Among the directors at the time were A. Springs, G.F. Davidson, and J.P. Henderson. The new turnpike would presumably be paved not with planks, but with the newer McAdam surface, which had recently been introduced.
Before there were many railroads in North Carolina, plank roads were a fairly common phenomenon. Without them, those travelling from town to town would have to rely on the often-muddy roads, something especially hard on teamsters hauling goods across the state. Towns like Davidson, and consequently Davidson College, were, thus, difficult to reach by personal or commercial vehicles. The first plank roads in North Carolina were chartered in 1849, and they were in use throughout the 1850s and the first half of the 1860s. The effects of the Civil War, the expansion of the railroads, and the cost of upkeep had doomed most of them by 1865. Eighty-four plank road companies were chartered in North Carolina during this time, but only a fraction of the roads were actually built, as procuring the necessary right-of-way and the construction process were both difficult, as was maintenance once the road was built. In the end, there were about 500 miles of such roads in North Carolina, the longest being from Fayetteville to Salem.
To build such a road, it was first necessary to grade the roadbed, and then the center of the bed had to be elevated to allow water to drain off. Then wooden sills, at least eight feet and at most sixty feet wide, were laid across the roadbed. Eight-foot wide planks were then laid along the sills. These roads collected tolls to help defray costs, with the tolls ranging from around half a cent a mile for a horse and rider to four cents a mile for a teamster with six horses.
The Charlotte and Taylorsville Plank Road, to extend sixty-two miles from Charlotte northwest to Taylorsville, was chartered by the state on January 28, 1851. It was apparently still in existence in 1857, when this advertisement was placed, but by this time it had only reached Mt. Mourne. But the road was already under threat. The Atlantic, Tennessee and Ohio Railroad (AT&O) was chartered 1855, and the intention was to connect Charlotte and Statesville by rail. The tracks reached Davidson in 1861, and were eventually extended to Statesville, where connections could be made to other parts of the state.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.