06 January 2011

"On the road again - Goin' places that I've never been"

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
January 2011

Willie Nelson can't wait to get on the road again but I am not sure our ancestors enjoyed the road as much as he does.

Our early Eastern Kentucky roads were built and maintained by the county with all able bodied males over 15 required to work on them. There were a few exceptions. Males over fifty were exempt as were ministers of the gospel. The county order books are a roll call for these men to come do their duty.

The first step for a new road was to approach the county court and request an opening or possibly change the path of an existing road. Three gentleman would then be appointed to view and report back the best possible route. Once the road was approved hands in the vicinity were called to do the work.

The better roads would be laid with crushed rock which had to be hauled from a local quarry or even further if one was not close. The rock was crushed by manual labor prior to the invention of awkward rock crushers. They used a method known as Macadam which was simply layered crushed stone. While the process was introduced in 1820 it did not arrive in Kentucky until after 1850 and then only to roads linking larger towns. Rock was not to be over 6 ounces in weight and no larger than what could pass through a two inch ring according to Wikipedia. Labor intensive and grueling work.

In reality most of the local roads of Eastern Kentucky were mud and muck. Kentucky did not have a state highway commission until 1912.

One of my favorite books in my office collection is a reprint of Tour Book The Midland Trail compiled for the National Midland Trail Association in 1916. The Kentucky West-Bound Log begins on page 16. When describing Olive Hill, in Carter County, Kentucky you find the following description:

"From Olive Hill there may be a detour via Soldier which is easier than the road logged via Upper Tygert...the next ten miles is really bad road, altho much better in summer than in spring, ...it is well not to try to drive too fast, for taking it easily the distance may be made in a short time without undue strain on either car or driver."


My father describes the roads of our area in 1950 as:
"...primitive. What there were simply followed the old paths and cow trials...There were only two paved main roads, US 60 toward Lexington and US 23, wandering laboriously south into the real mountain counties. The county roads were graveled, when it was available, and any road off these could at times be impassible. [Never A Ho Hum Day, John G. Martin, page 20]
The following picture from Magoffin County is estimated to have been taken between 1916 and 1925.

John Shouse Martin Collection

The Big Sandy Road was later marked as US #23. The picture below states "3 miles from Catlettsburg". Looking at the picture the family is coming north toward Catlettsburg.

John Shouse Martin Collection, Sandy River Road, 1917

It never ceases to amaze me how our pioneer ancestors migrated from place to place. There seems to be a special need for many of us to be "On the road again..."

1 comment:

  1. I remember seeing those "mud and muck" roads when I was a child. When it rained, that red clay was riddled with ruts that filled up with water. Driving a car on that was impossible, and walking wasn't a whole lot better.

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