The Plank Road Comes to Salem
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 faster, more 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.
Though Moravian church officials and residents of Salem supported the company and were eager to use the highway, they had reservations regarding how its traffic, noise, and maintenance would affect their community. At their insistence, no planks were laid along Main Street. In Salem from the bridge at Salem Creek north to the Winston town limits. Instead, this section was macadamized (see photo at right and sidebar).
Once completed in 1854, the roadway passed through Salem and continued north through Winston to its terminus at Bethania. Despite the concerns of Moravian officials, local businessman Francis Fries, a member of the Fayetteville and Western's
While the road was initially a boon to local economies, its success was short-lived. Though the company reported annual profits of more than $27,000 in 1855, it was in significant debt just two years later. The directors had seriously underestimated the costs of repairs and were unable to enforce the payment of tolls. The road lost business as railroads spread across the state (coming to Winston in 1873), offering a more efficient form of transportation and altering traditional trade routes. By 1862, these factors along with the physical and economic burdens of the Civil War spelled disaster for the company. The 26 miles of the road from High Point to Bethania, which had cost over $90,000 to build eight years earlier, was sold to John Stafford, a local mail contractor, for just $725; however, high maintenance costs drove him away from the venture and the road was soon abandoned.
To learn about the Fayetteville and Western Plan Road, follow its historic route south along Main Street to the correspondingdisplay near the Heritage Bridge at the corner of Race and Main streets.
Moravian officials did not allow the plank road to be laid along Main Street through the town of Salem, as shown above looking north from Academy Street. However Francis Fries did plank modern-day Brookstown Avenue, seen in the top image.
John McAdam (1756-1836) was a Scottish-born engineer who contributed to the science of road-building in the late 18th century. McAdam's ideas differed considerably from those of his contemporaries. While others advocated the use of a heavy, stone roadbed as the foundation for improved highways, McAdam argued that multiple layers of rock were unnecessary and laid his road on a graded dirt surface. The key element in a McAdam road was the use of small, angular stones. These provided the greatest possible traction against passing wheels and were less likely to be displaced than rounded stones. As travelers passed over the angular rocks, they would be packed down into a solid, protected surface. With the advent of automobiles in the early 20th century, McAdam's technique was improved upon with the addition of tar to bind the stones together, creating the substance known as Tarmac.
Erected by Old Salem
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & Commerce • Roads & Vehicles. A significant historical year for this entry is 1854.
Location. 36° 5.457′ N, 80° 14.571′ W. Marker is in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in Forsyth County. Marker is at the intersection of South Main Street and Old Salem Road, on the left when traveling north on South Main Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 400 S Main St, Winston Salem NC 27101, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Mickey Coffee Pot (a few steps from this marker); Schmidt Blacksmith Shop (1768) (within shouting distance of this marker); Salem Concert Hall (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Builders' House (about 300 feet away); Boulders' House Lighting Project (about 300 feet away); Pottery Kilns on Lot 38 (about 400 feet away); Salem Town Hall (about 500 feet away); Salem Moravian Graveyard (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Winston-Salem.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 28, 2021. It was originally submitted on April 28, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 37 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on April 28, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.