Pennsylvania Transportation

Post date: Apr 24, 2010 8:16:58 PM


The setting sun, the mountain passes, and the topography of mountain and valley, determined the course of the Indian trails -- the only highways known to the savages. The "war-path" was a term full of meaning. Bloody and senseless wars were the chief end in life of the most of them, and the trails from tribe to tribe usually meant "the war-path" -- the thin trails worn in the primeval rocks by the generations of painted braves on their bloody missions. These Indian trails directed the white man to the heart of the wilderness. They were the primitive roads pointing his course in his slow voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The adventurous hunters would discover and first follow up these trails, and then tell the young immigrants of the wonders of the country they had seen. It was a hunter, that had looked upon Falling Springs and the surrounding beautiful land, who told young Chambers about it, and determined him to come here. By following the trail leading from about Harrisburg toward the Potomac, as directed by the hunter, the Chamberses were led to the spot that will ever be a monument to the memory of that illustrious family.


In 1736 the first road was laid out in the Cumberland Valley. It would be most probably termed in these days a bridle road, that is, a road over which the trains of pack-horses could travel and carry, as they did, the articles of commerce of that day. In the year named, the courts of Lancaster appointed COLONEL CHAMBERS and five others, to view roads and survey important lines. In 1735 a road had been ordered to be made from Harris' Ferry toward the Potomac River, and COLONEL CHAMBERS and party surveyed the route and "blazed it out." This first road, strange as it seems now, met with considerable opposition "from a number of inhabitants on the west side of the Susquehanna." It was originally intended to extend only from Harris' Ferry to Letort Springs, (Carlisle).

Military Roads

This road extended from Mc DOWELL?'s MILL, near Chambersburg, "over the mountains to Raystown (Bedford), by the forks of the Youghiagheny, to intersect the Virginia road somewhere on the Monongahela," being supposed indispensable for the supply of BRADDOCK's troops on the route to Fort Du Quesne?, and after their arrival. One of the commissioners to lay out this road was ADAM HOOPS, of Antrim. A route was surveyed from a gap in the mountain near Shippensburg over an old Indian trail to Raystown. The road was from ten to thirty feet wide, according to the work necessary to construct it; it was completed to Raystown in June. BRADDOCK's defeat rendered further work unnecessary, and it was stopped. In 1768 the first public road extending through this county and into Fulton County was ordered by the court of quarter sessions of Cumberland County. It was an extension of the old "Harris' Ferry toward the Potomac" road. When made, it ran through Peters, Antrim and Washington Townships, as they are now formed.

At the April session of the court of Cumberland County, 1761, a petition of the people of Peters Township was presented, asking for a road saying that they have no prospect for a standing market for the produce of the county, only at Baltimore, and having no road leading from their township to said town of Baltimore, and flour being the principal commodity their "township produceth, and having two mills in said township, viz: JOHN Mc DOWELL?'s and WILLIAM SMITH's," they pray the court to appoint men to view and lay out a road from each of said mills to meet at or near the house of WILLIAM MAXWELL, and from thence to run by the nearest and best way toward said town of Baltimore, until it intersects the "temporary line," or the line of York County.

The court appointed HENRY PAWLING, JAMES JACK, JOHN ALLISON, JOSEPH BRADNER, JOHN Mc CLELLAN?, JR., and WILLIAM HOLLIDAY, viewers, any four of them to make a report. No report was made until April, 1768, when the viewers reported in favor of granting the petition of the people of Peters and Hamilton Townships. But the branch roads to the mills were restricted to be bridle roads. They were to unite at or near JAMES IRWIN's mill, in Peters Township; thence crossing to the Conococheague Creek, at the mouth of Muddy Run; thence through Antrim Township to Nicholson's Gap, in the South Mountain, from there to Baltimore. Thus it mainly followed the old trail; the trail being superseded by a bridle road, and this by a wagon road, and the last by a turnpike. This was the regular order of development that has now resulted in the railroads -- the first and main lines of which substantially follow the great Indian trails.

In 1768 the court appointed EDWARD CRAWFORD, JONAH COOK, GEORGE BROWN, WILLIAM Mc BIER?, WILLIAM HOLLIDAY and WILLIAM Mc DOWELL?, viewers, to locate a road from JAMES CAMPBELL's, near Loudon, through Chambersburg, to the county line in Black's Gap. This is now substantially the route of the present turnpike road. When Chambersburg was laid out as a town, the road toward Shippensburg crossed the spring at the present fording on King Street, and following its course through the Indian burial place and the yard of the Presbyterian Church, finally joined the present road in front of the church, and pursued its eastward course several rods distant from the present turnpike, but nearly parallel with it. The only place where the Conococheague could be crossed near the southern limit of the town was at the lower fording, at LEMON's factory, where the bridge now is. At this ancient fording COLONEL CHAMBERS once kept a flat-boat for carrying foot passengers. Two roads ran westward from the ford, one of which, now Franklin Street, wound over the hill to Market Street, and then proceeded directly west. The other ran through Wolfstown and formed a junction with the former at Western Point, about a mile from town.

Of the roads in early times in the county, DR. W. C. LANE, in Public Opinion, June 26, 1877, says: "In the infancy of the settlement the facilities which merchants now enjoy for bringing their goods from the eastern cities were unknown. Then we were not within a few hours' ride of Philadelphia, and could not order goods one day and receive them the next. Turnpikes were yet among the things of the future, and goods from the East were slowly drawn over the rough roads, in small and lumbering wagons, and many days were required for the journey. Commercial intercourse with the West was carried on exclusively by means of pack-horses, and the process of sending goods to, or bringing them from, this remote part of the State, was both slow and expensive; as a necessary consequence, merchandise of all varieties then commanded a much higher price than it does now. This mode of transporting goods on pack-horses from Chambersburg ran into the beginning of the present century.

The roads from Chambersburg to the West were then narrow and rough, and wagons could hardly be drawn over them, and pack-horses were, necessarily, almost exclusively used as a means of transportation. Long strings of these horses, with small bells suspended from their necks, and laden with salt, iron and goods of various kinds, were accustomed to start from the town on their weary march to their distant destination. A wooden pack-saddle was fastened on the back of the horse, and over this was placed bent bars of iron, on the curved and projecting ends of which sacks of salt, iron bars and cast iron utensils of various kinds were strapped. Each horse carried about 200 pounds, and many weary days were spent in traversing the country over which they passed. It will not be forgotten that at this early date, the western counties of the State were sparsely settled, and that the manufacture of iron, salt and different other commodities, was yet undeveloped. Hence, the people of these sections were entirely dependent upon the East for these indispensable articles of daily use. We may incidentally remark that, about the year 1790, MR. JOHN GILMORE, of Strasburg, sold salt at his store in that town, for transportation to Washington County, on pack-horses, at $8 per bushel. Other articles of trade brought correspondingly high prices.

In the few following years the roads over the mountains were widened and otherwise improved, and wagons then took the place of pack-horses. The usual time required for a loaded wagon to make the trip from Chambersburg to Pittsburg, and return, was three weeks. the average price of freight between these places was $10 per hundred. BRIDGES The first consideration to the settlers, in order to live at all, was roads. They had to have salt and iron. These they could, after a fashion, carry over the rough and narrow roads they made. The growth of their wants soon compelled the making of wagon ways, and then it was some time before they felt compelled to put bridges across the streams. They contented themselves with "fords" -- shallow places -- where, by a little work in digging the banks, it was possible to cross on the wagons with light loads, but here, as in many places in the mountain passes, they would "double teams," and in mud and water, and in sore trials and labor, after spending the most of a day at a bad crossing, they would pass over. Then selecting places of narrow and steep banks they would make rude bridges. These were very imperfect affairs -- often washed away by the freshets that went raging down the mountain streams, and many were the freighters and travelers who had to go into camp and patiently wait the subsidence of the waters. When the water had gone down, the people would replace the washed-away first bridge with one better constructed, but still their inexperience often deceived them as to what the stream could do the next effort it made, and sometimes the second and third bridges would follow down the stream like the first one.


The building of the first turnpike road was an era in the history of the development of the county. The people heard of its promised advantages, and the probabilities of its ever being really made, with some incredulity. The national and State governments willingly lent their aid to the construction of these important improvements. Better ways for commercial intercourse among the distant communities were imperative. The great Mississippi Valley was being rapidly taken up by settlers, and the stupendous national project was conceived of a great highway from Baltimore to the Mississippi River, through the States of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The work upon this enterprise was carried on for nearly a generation. It was never completed to the Mississippi River, but was built to Vandalia, the then capital of Illinois. It was the wants, the foresight and energy of the people of Franklin that caused the commencement of this national road. The turnpike road from Chambersburg to Baltimore was made in 1809, and the first broad-wheeled wagon which passed over it was made by MR. PHILIP BERLIN, of Chambersburg, in that year. The Pittsburgh turnpike was made about 1820. The first stage coach from Chambersburg to Pittsburgh "passed over a rough and narrow mountain road in the year 1804." The construction of the Western turnpike gave an active impulse to trade, and goods were shipped over it in great broad-wheeled wagons in large quantities.

The business activity of Chambersburg and the surrounding country then greatly increased. Several lines of stages started daily for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, besides other lines, which reached less distant places. The town then was a great thoroughfare for travel, and at all seasons the town's hotels were filled with travelers. The public highways were soon lined with blacksmith and wagon-makers' shops, stage and hack stands, and trading places. The tavern yards were crowded with wagons, and merchants were busily engaged receiving and shipping goods. Large numbers of men were thus employed. the road from Chambersburg to Pittsburgh was often lined with long files of broad-wheeled wagons, with their high bows covered with heavy canvas, and drawn by those teams of powerful draugh horses, for which Pennsylvania was once famous, many of whose necks were mounted with bearskin housings and tinkling bells.

The first turnpike company in the State was incorporated in April, 1792; but it was not built till about 1814, when many similar companies were chartered, and the public mind became deeply interested in their building. The State was a liberal subscriber to such enterprises. Every State in the Union subscribed largely to its enterprises of internal improvements. During these times three important turnpike roads were constructed into Franklin County, and to each of these the State contributed liberally. The three roads were: The Carlisle and Chambersburg road (this received from the State $100,000); the Chambersburg and Bedford road ($175,000); and the Waynesboro, Greencastle and Mercersburg road ($25,000).

Inns or Taverns

Inns or taverns were numerous in those days. It is said that nearly every tenth house along the turnpike was a hostelry, whose yards were nightly filled with wagons, and whose tap-rooms were thronged with noisy and hilarious teamsters. A violin was then considered an indispensible adjunct to a country tavern; and, moved by its inspiring notes, the jolly crowd often stamped and thundered through the "stag dance," the Virginia reel, and the "hoe down." The fun was fast and furious, especially when the throng was maddened by their frequent and generous potations of the "worm of the still;" then a brawl and promiscuous fight was not unfrequent, and bloody noses and blackened eyes were the proud badges of the royal fun they had had. Certainly these were wild times -- but they were jolly.

The good old drivers, who were the heroes par excellence, whether mounted upon their box, the "ribbons" guiding the prancing horses, the long whip, and the winding horns blowing defiance and triumph in the face of a gaping world, like the heralds of the plumed knights of old; or in the bar-room, the center of an admiring crowd, to which they gave their condescending and oracular "Yes; with a little sugar, please." They were the country taverns' truly great men. The flattering "treats" of the men, the gracious smiles of the blooming barmaid, were theirs exclusively. What a picture of rural life and happy content your recollection conjurs up! Now all is gone. The shrill whistle of the flying engine has blown out of this world even those great heroes, the stage-drivers. Your memory lingers now like a fading tradition -- ye have passed away, like a dissolving view -- a silent tear to your shades.