Great Wagon Road Project

Race To The Dan River

Years ago, I would go fishing with my Grandpa along the banks of the Dan River. Little did I know that one day I would be researching the historic early fords along this majestic waterway. The Great Wagon Road Project is moving forward by identifying the road to the Dan River by using various maps, land deeds, county records and much more. The Dan River was a major landmark in the area just like the Mayo River located at the state border of North Carolina and Virginia. The early settlers knew exactly where they were when their eyes gazed upon the waters. The actual road would vary from season to season and year to year but the main route was consistent traveling southwest from the state border into the piedmont region. Today, the project is reviewing numerous maps, many of these are listed below. There is a process of elimination that goes with the proving of the original old road bed. This process does not entirely rest on old maps. It also includes county and state records, land deeds, military records and personal correspondence such as letters, journals and diaries.

Fry Map of 1755 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The Jefferson-Fry map shown above is one of the few maps that actually name the road. In this case, the surveyors identified it as “The Great Road From The Yadkin River Through Virginia to Philadelphia a Distance of 435 miles”.

Mitchell Map of 1755 (Courtesy of Library of Congress)
Collet Map of 1770 (Courtesy of Library of Congress)
Harrison Map of 1794 (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

As you can see, many new roads were established from 1755 to 1794 absorbing the traffic of families arriving daily to this region. New roads also connected to growing communities and new county seats. The one constant identification factor in all of this is the Dan River. With it’s waters flowing, it greeted the first travelers in much the same way it greets us today. Some of the old ford crossings can be still be seen with visible ruts dug into rock formations along it’s banks. The race to the Dan River could very well be the first of many families migrating to a new life. By crossing the Dan River, the one constant landmark, they knew they had finally arrived in their new homeland.

Dan River, NC

If you have information about the Great Wagon Road and/or if you would like to join the Great Wagon Road Project, please contact Piedmont Trails.


3 replies »

  1. Hi, Carol … do any of the maps you have run across show how this Dan River trail might connect with Wythe County (in New River country) in Virginia? That is in the upper Shenandoah Valley area and from what I have seen that is where the Great Wagon Road intersects with the Wilderness Road with the latter heading almost due West to go through the Cumberland Gap and then onto Kentucky, and the Northwest Territory.

    I have some 18th century German immigrant relatives buried (it is coming to seem) under what is now I-81 as it passes through the Draper Valley.

    Liked by 2 people

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