Salem and the "Farmer's Railroad"
Old Salem Museums & Gardens
— 1766 —
Between 1854 and 1862, the economic and communication needs of Salem were met by the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road. Stretching 129 miles from Fayetteville, the head of navigation on the Cape Fear River, to the Moravian village of Bethania, the toll road provided a fast, efficient method of transportation for goods, people, and news in the Piedmont. What had once been a three-day trip for a horse and rider could be completed in just eighteen hours.
In the 1840s, entrepreneurs across North Carolina tried to find ways to stimulate the state's economy and improve the means of transportation for both people and goods. While railroads were gaining popularity across the country, geography, and other issues often limited their construction, leaving many communities like Salem excluded from these networks of commerce and communication. In an effort to cater to these areas, some in the state government began advocating for the construction of plank roads to meet North Carolina's needs. Deemed "farmer's railroads," investors hoped these highways would be the answer to the state's financial woes.
Plank roads were
The Fayetteville and Western Plank Road was formally charted on January 27, 1849, but construction did not begin in Fayetteville until the following October. Building the road was a long, laborious process, taking over four years to reach Salem. To learn more about the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road, follow it historic route north along Main Street to corresponding display near the Coffee Pot.
Building a Plank Road
Plank roads provided a transportation alternatives that was more efficient than dirt roads and less expensive—at least initially—than paved roads or railways. Construction began by grading a dirt roadbed and laying down long wooden beams called "stringers" (also "sills" or "sleepers") in shallow trenches in the bed. Next the planks themselves measuring 8 feet across, 8 inches in width, and 4 inches deep, were laid atop the stringers. They were left unfastened since their own weight kept them in place when bearing loads. Finally, an inch of sand was placed on the wood which, when mixed with droppings and packed down by passing travelers, formed a protective coating. Next to the 8-feet lane of planks was a dirt right-of-way, ranging in width from 8 to 90 feet depending on the location. This allowed empty wagons to pull off the road, making room for those laden with goods. Staggering the planks 3 to 4 inches on each side made it easier to return to the road and prevented the formation of ruts. Drainage ditches were also dug along both edges of the road to prevent bogging in inclement weather.
Erected by Old Salem Museums & Gardens.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Agriculture • Industry & Commerce • Roads & Vehicles. A significant historical date for this entry is January 27, 1849.
Location. 36° 5.008′ N, 80° 14.479′ W. Marker is in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in Forsyth County. Marker is at the intersection of South Main Street and Race Street, on the left when traveling south on
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Reich-Hege Lot (1830) (within shouting distance of this marker); Lewis Hege (1840-1918) (within shouting distance of this marker); Reich-Hege House Site (1830-1922) (within shouting distance of this marker); Squire's Grave (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Washington's Southern Tour (about 400 feet away); Last Burials in the Parish Graveyard (about 400 feet away); The African American Graveyard (about 400 feet away); The Landscape South of St. Philips (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Winston-Salem.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 27, 2021. It was originally submitted on April 27, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 23 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on April 27, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.