New Appalachian Moments Blog Post!
By Scott Ballard
Even today, It never fails that when visitors from…off the mountain get here they make some comment about the steep, narrow and winding roads…well, I’ve got news for those folks…the roads up here are the best they’ve ever been!
At the turn of the 20th century, roads mainly followed old game trails or Indian paths…New roads were constructed by following the easiest path around boulders, streams and any obstacles that required a lot of grading and these roads…only had to be 8 feet wide.
If you don’t believe that these early roads followed the path of least resistance, take a drive down NC highway 194 from Banner Elk to Valle Crucis…road architect Shepherd Duggar created some…S-turns so sharp and twisty…that you can see the back end of your own car.
As simple as these early roads were, they were not cheap to build…in fact the Yhonalassee Road from Linville to Blowing Rock was built in 1890 at a cost of one thousand dollars per mile. Most of the area roads were built mainly by hand. These roads were dirt covered and became literally impassable during wet or snowy weather. Some were topped with river sand and a few with rock that was crushed by hand using sledgehammers.
In 1911 when Avery County was formed there was NOT ONE inch of paved road anywhere in the County. There existed a few toll roads that were…but they were little more than wagon trails going through someone’s pasture. There were no culverts, bridges or ditches. And when you come to a place called a ford, it wasn’t referring to the make of a car, it’s where you had to ford or cross the stream.
Sometime after 1920 all men from age 18 to 45 were required by law to report to work on their county roads several days per year. They had to bring their own wheelbarrows, mattocks, and shovels. Any man who was not able to work on the roads could be excused only by a local doctor who deemed him unable to perform such work. Any man without such excuse who did not report for duty was arrested by the sheriff. Able bodied men worked AND had something to show for it…
So the next time you’re looking off the side of a steep mountain road, think about the manpower-literally-that went into building it! If you’d like to listen to the audio version, click below, and, as always, we would love to hear your stories about mountain roads, past and present, in the comments section!