Great Wagon Road Project

Early Waterway Crossings & Fords-The Great Wagon Road Project

The project moves forward as the members research the North Carolina route of the Great Wagon Road. Maps, survey plats, land deeds and much more slowly allow the road to emerge from the past. Today, I will share with you several ways that members of the project research early waterway crossings and fords along the road. As the members continue researching a road older than 270 years, we continuously find new data filled with shortcuts, new routes, new waterway crossings and more. It’s intriguing to learn how this amazing road transformed into the first national major highway.

The first waterway in North Carolina along the road is speculated to be Buffalo Creek located in Stokes County. The location is thought to be near the Sandy Ridge area and very close to Dillard Road. I say this because the next suggested creek in line with the road is Blackie’s Branch which is located on Dillard Road. These two small branches of water have not been proven to be the original route of the Great Wagon Road and the project members continue with their research in hopes of uncovering the proof. The question is what proof is needed to claim a ford along the Great Wagon Road? I’ll begin answering this with the next waterway along the road.

While traveling in this area of Stokes County, one must take in consideration the mountainous terrain that is present all throughout the county. Sauratown and Hanging Rock mountains may be small in comparison to Mt. Mitchell or Grandfather Mountain in western North Carolina but to the early travelers these were considered as major obstacles. If you’ve traveled the roads into Danbury, the county seat, you will quickly notice the great inclines and curvy roads that wander through this area. If present day roads are curvy and steep, imagine what the Great Wagon Road would have been through this particular area. Nevertheless, several have suggested that the next waterway crossing, the Dan River, lies near the community of Meadows, a suburb of Danbury. We are given several clues to the location by way of a Moravian diary written during November of 1753. The diary, given as source 1 at the end of this article, provides an important factor by way of mileage from the state line to the Dan River crossing. A distance of twenty-five miles is recorded on November 13th.

The distance between the Mayo River and the Dan River within the Danbury location is approximately 11 to 12 miles. This is half of the twenty-five miles in accordance to the diary. But how did the early travelers measure mileage? The first odometer was not invented until the year of 1775 by Benjamin Franklin. The first wagon odometer was not used until one hundred years later along the Oregon Trail. But, measuring mileage was nothing new as the Romans used various methods to determine mileage as early as 60 A.D. In order to measure the mileage in 1753, a cloth, rag or other small items were tied to the wooden spoke of a wagon wheel. A person would then need to count the number of revolutions and multiply that by the wheel’s circumference. The result would be the mileage traveled for the day. Another way would be using a surveyor’s chains and measuring the distance in accordance to the length of the chains.

By learning the history of how these travelers were able to acquire the mileage and taking into consideration the current mileage from the North Carolina state line and the Dan River located at Danbury, it stands to reason that the original crossing could not have been in this particular area. Therefore, it is estimated that the waterway crossing was located in the vicinity of Town Fork Settlement near present day Walnut Cove. The terrain has changed greatly in this area due to agriculture over the years and old maps and surveys provide additional clues.

More information revealed from maps dating to 1766, state that a road was not present to withstand wagons in the Danbury area but a road was identified near the Town Fork Settlement that could accommodate wagon travel. That is not to say that families were not living in the Danbury area during 1766, I believe they were and the project has come across several land deeds supporting this. By 1770, Limestone Road is clearly marked on several maps by Reuter, a surveyor associated with the Moravian Settlements, and using the ford suggested along the Dan River at Meadows, Stokes County. The map along with various other documents provide the proof needed to determine the original Dan River crossing at the Town Fork Settlement.

As you can see, a great deal of work goes into a single waterway crossing and determining the original route of a road that dates more than 270 years ago, The Great Wagon Road.

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