Sunday, March 1, 2015

More about roads

By 1807, the need for improved roads was significant in the Whitewater Valley.

The original paths that had followed the old Indian trails had worked in helping settlers find their land, but they didn't exactly connect to the places where they were needed. The main reason was that communities often sprung up as the result of someone taking a DIFFERENT Indian path and ending up in a slightly more advantageous place.

Location, location, location.

The county courts were essentially in charge of mandating road construction and levying the means to pay for it. A law in 1807 required all able-bodied men to work several days a year to help build roads.

The result was that newer roads were to include mileposts. Presumably the zero point was the county courthouse.

The width of an established road was usually 30 feet, up to 66 feet in places.

The law also mandated that, at the fork of each highway, the road supervisor was required to erect and keep a signpost "directing the way and mentioning the most remarkable places on each road."

Ten dollars was forfeit to the supervisor, for the use of the roads, from any one defacing or altering this inscription so as to destroy its utility.

Then came the topic of tolls. The 1807 act and an updated act in 1818, provided for private "cartways."

These might be closed by means of gates, but the public was to be allowed to use them. They were to be not over 18 feet in width and maintained by those petitioning for their establishment.

Roads were financed in part by a land tax, which affected farmers to a large degree. In some cases, these farmers chose to work on the roads in exchange for payment of the land tax. The 1818 law allowed for that. That usually amounted to about 75 cents a day.

Bridges were often financed by toll gates.

An act of the Legislature, approved Jan. 1, 1819, authorized John Barricklow and Gideon Cummings to build a toll bridge over Laughery Creek, in Dearborn County, at the town of Hanover. The statute required it to be at least 16 feet wide in the clear, with a good railing on the sides, "for whatever might pass that way"; it was not to be allowed to obstruct the navigation of the creek; the mail and troops were to pass the bridge free; the commissioners of the county were to fix the rates of toll; these rates were to be posted on the bridge in large print, in the English language; after 30 years the county might buy the bridge at a price fixed by five men — two chosen by the county, two by the owners of the bridge, and a fifth chosen by these four; the county was not to open another bridge nor a ferry within a mile of this bridge while it was kept in repair as a toll bridge.

Nearly all larger bridges in those early days were built of wood, with stone pillars rather common.

The Indiana History magazine describes the process for bridging smaller streams:

"Small streams were bridged by throwing trunks of trees across the stream for "sleepers," then on these a floor of heavy poles or of logs split in halves was laid. The smaller bridges were not roofed, but larger ones frequently, if not usually, were. This protected the wooden pins from decay — for the timbers were mortised and pinned together; iron bolts for such purposes were not yet in use."

One would assume that the East Fork of the Whitewater and its feeder creeks would have been relatively well-laced with temporary bridges, structures that probably only endured after the spring high water season. But such a bridge could be constructed easily with an abundant amount of available timber.

What vehicles traversed Indiana's roads in those days?

Carts were in use very early in Indiana and were used by farmers to haul wood to market and to bring grain in from the fields or to take it to the mill. Sleds were employed for the same purposes, more often in winter. A cart could be pulled by a single horse.

Wagons, while functional on the farm, were somewhat clumsy on the roads and were usually too heavy to maneuver. They were also unreliable and were prone to broken wheels or axles after extended use. Blacksmiths had plenty of work to do in supplying the demand for vehicles and tools.

Carriages were not plentiful. Some of the more well-to-do in the towns had them. Occasionally, too, some European traveler on a scientific tour or a trip to invest in western lands drove through in his chaise or carriage. A stagecoach into Indiana would have been an uncommon sight, though not rare.

I am still searching to learn what the tolls were on private roads and bridges. A toll gate existed on the south side of Fairfield as late as the 1880s.

As well, apparently the use of gravel for Indiana roads wasn't common until the 1850s, and there's no real good explanation for that though it would have been quite a bit of work. The best explanation was that the road builders just didn't know where the gravel pits were located, Once gravel arrived, Indiana was in the fast lane.

The illustration was gleaned from an internet search that yielded this information.


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