Chapter XXIII - Old Roads and Ferries

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 2 County History
CHAPTER XXIII - OLD ROADS AND FERRIES
BY HU MAXWELL.
Pages 280-286

That travel was general throughout Hampshire county a century ago is shown by the number of ferries. At that time bridges were few, and those who would cross the larger streams must do so by boat. A list of public ferries in the county, in the year 1790, so far as it is now possible to compile it, shows that there were eight, as follows:

Over the South branch, where R. Parker lived at that time.

Over the South branch at the residence of Isaac Parsons.

Over the South branch from the land of John Pancake to that of Jacob Earsom.

Over the South branch at the residence of Conrad Glaze.

Over the Capon from James Chenowith's to James Largent's.

Over the Capon at the residence of Elias Poston.

Over the north fork of Capon at the residence of Rees Prichards.

Over the Potomac at the residence of Luther Martin, below the confluence of the North and South branches.

The rate of toll established by law for all of these ferries was six cents for a man, and six cents for a horse, except the ferry at R. Parker's and that at John Pancake's, and the rate for these was live cents for a man and five for a horse. There was a schedule of tolls for vehicles of all kinds, and for sheep, hogs and cattle. The rate was established by law, and there was a severe penalty for an overcharge on the part of the ferryman, who must refund to the injured party the amount of toll demanded and also pay a fine of two dollars. These ferries were public, that is, they were established and regulated by tile state, but whether the keepers received salaries for their services, or whether they retained a percentage of their collections, is not clear from the reading of the law on the subject, passed by the Virginia assembly in 1792. But the inference is that they retained a percentage, otherwise there would have been little temptation to overcharge, and no need of so severe a law against it. The probability that the ferrymen received a percentage is likewise strengthened by the study of an act of the Virginia assembly passed the same year for the purpose of breaking up private ferries. It can be seen that the state was in the ferry business strictly for the money there was in it. The law provided that no one should run a private ferry for profit where it would take patronage from a public one. The penalty for so doing seems unnecessarily severe. The person who undertook to turn a few dimes into his own pocket by carrying travelers across a river, where those travelers might go by public ferry, was fined twenty dollars for each offense, and half of it to go to the nearest public ferryman and the other half to the person who gave the information; and in case the public ferryman gave the information, the entire fine went into his pocket. It will readily be surmised that the public ferryman maintained a sharp lookout for private boats Which should be so presumptuous as to dare enter into competition for a portion of the carrying trade, and it is equally probable that competition with public service soon became unpopular, when a man might receive five cents for carrying a traveler across a river, and to be fined twenty dollars for it.

Messengers and other persons on business for the state were not required to pay toll, and they must be carried across immediately, at any hour of the day or night. But, as a precaution against being imposed upon by persons falsely claiming to be in the service of the state, the ferryman was authorized to demand proof, which the applicant was obliged to furnish. This proof consisted of a letter, on the back of which must be written "public service," and must be signed by some officer, either in the civil or military service of the state. Inasmuch as the punishment for forgery at that time was death, it is improbable that any person would present forged documents to the ferryman in order to save a few cents toll. The men who kept the ferries enjoyed some immunities and privileges denied to the masses. They were exempt from work on the public roads. They were not required to pay county taxes, but whether this privilege was extended only to poll tax, or whether it applied also to personal property and real estate, is not clear from the reading of the regulations governing the business. They were exempt from military service due the state, and they were excused from holding the office of constable.

The roads of Hampshire county compare favorably with those of any other county in the state. In the rugged and thinly settled mountain districts the highways are often not all the people desire, but this is offset b} T the fine pikes which follow the principal streams. History does not record the beginning of road-building in Hampshire. Their growth has been an evolution from the trails and paths followed, first by Indians, and afterwards by the early settlers. One by one these paths were widened for wagons, but the earliest wagon road in the county cannot now be named. It may be that none were made prior to the military road constructed by Braddock during the campaign of 1755, unless a portion of a road made the preceding year for military purposes may be classed as a wagon road. The Braddock road was not built as a temporary measure. It was not the purpose of the British government and the American colonies that it should be used only as a military road and then abandoned. But it was to be a great highway between the east and the boundless and almost unexplored west. Civilization was to march toward the setting sun upon that thoroughfare. The land beyond the mountains was to be reached along the highway built by Braddock and his army as they marched against the French. Wagons and teams to the value of a quarter of a million dollars went west with the army. They never returned, but were abandoned on the Monongahela after the terrible defeat of July 9, 1755. That was the largest train of wagons that ever passed through Hampshire county, except, perhaps, that of General Forbes in 1753; and it is remarkable that it should have been the first, and that the first should have had so melancholy ending. There is no evidence that the Braddock road was ever extensively used by the people. Portions of it were early abandoned.

A number of the roads now in the county are on excellent grades, so far as the topography of the country will permit; but others were never properly surveyed, and many grades are steeper than necessary, while in numerous instances hills and mountains are crossed when the roads could have been constructed as easily around them. The men who laid them out forgot that a potbail is as long standing up as laying down.

The Virginia road law, several parts of which were in operation before the beginning of the nineteenth century, provided amply for roads. All men over sixteen years of age must work on the highways. Slaves must work the same as free people. The owner of two slaves who performed their required labor on the highways was exempt. The law required that every road must be kept in repair, and thirty feet wide. This provision was seldom complied with. Finger-boards to direct travelers must be kept at all intersecting roads, and the overseer was authorized by law to take timber and stone from adjoining lands to be used for finger-boards, but such material must be paid for. This law was passed in 1785. Bridges were required to be at least twelve feet wide. When a road or bridge was in need of repairs the overseer could impress teams and teamsters and seize material for that purpose. But, though material might be taken from county property, the law forbade going upon town property for that purpose. When such material had been seized, its value was determined by two householders acting as a board of arbitration. Bridges across streams which were the dividing lines of two counties must be maintained by both counties in proportion to their respective assessments. The punishment prescribed for cutting a tree across a public road, or in a stream above a public bridge, and not removing it within forty-eight hours, was a fine of fifty dollars. A road leading across a milldam was required to be kept in repair, twelve feet wide, by the owner of the dam. In case the dam washed away the owner was not held responsible for the repair of the road until one month after he had repaired the dam and had ground one bushel of grain.

The early law of Virginia was strict on viewers of proposed roads, lest they should take bribes of such persons as were interested in having the highway located in certain places. The law passed in 1786 provided that the viewers appointed to locate the road should meet at a certain point on the proposed road, and begin work. From that time until their work was completed they were forbidden to accept any present from any person, "neither meat nor drink," on penalty of immediate imprisonments The law of 1785 provided that no road could be opened through a lot in town without the owner's consent. The land could not be condemned.

Road overseers were not highly paid. In 1830 they received fifty cents a day, and there were thirty of them in Hampshire county. It may be of interest to know who they were at that time, and their names are given: Caleb Evans, Abbott Carder, John Horn, James Summerville, Absalom Doll, George Rudolph, Jacob Pugh, Moses Thomas, John Berry, Benoni Cassady, Michael Pugh, John Crawfish, John Leatherman, Thomas Sloan, William Torrence, Mathew Hare, John Largent, Jesse Bane, Jacob Vandever, Arthur Spencer, Jacob Lambert, Henry Powelson, Frederick Spaid, Clark D. Powell, Peter Evans, Thomas Dean, Joseph Smith, Peter Leatherman.

The building of the Northwestern pike from Winchester to Parkersburg, through Romney, was a great event. This splendid highway was surveyed by one of the military engineers who served under Napoleon Bonapart in the Russian campaign. On the downfall of the emperor, it became necessary for the engineer to leave France, and he came to the state of Virginia, and was employed in road surveys. The construction of the pike was commenced at Winchester and was completed as far as Romney in 1837. The road was required to be twenty-one feet wide, and no grade more than five degrees, which is about two hundred and eighty-five feet to the mile. It was fortunate for Hampshire that nature cut gaps through Mill creek mountain in four places, by which roads may pass without climbing over that high and steep range. These gaps are, at the mouth of Mill creek, at upper Hanging Rocks, at lower Hanging Rocks, and at the Potomac just above the mouth of the South branch, The Northwestern pike passes through Mill creek gap, by a grade of about one degree, and along a route of great beauty. Every stream on this road was bridged. During the war nearly all the bridges were destroyed. The most of them have been rebuilt.

The Jersey mountain road was surveyed and improved in 1846. An older road had followed nearly the same route for many years, but at the above date it was widened and straightened. The Capon and North branch turnpike was made about 1842. It passes from Cumberland to Capon bridge, by way of Frankfort, Springfield, Higginsville, Slanesville and North river mills. It was built by subscription, two-fifths of the stock subscribed by the state of Virginia, and the other by private parties, The pike from Greenspring to Moorefield was built by a stock company about 1850, the state taking two-fifths of the stock. This was called the Moorefield and North branch turnpike. In 1852 a turnpike was built from a point near Charles Taylor's, on the Capon and North branch turnpike, to a point near French's store, on the Potomac, near the mouth of the South branch.

The first stage line in Hampshire county, so far as any record exists, was established in 1830, between Winchester and Cumberland. In 1845 the stage lines from Greenspring to Romney and from Romney to Parkersburg and Marietta, Ohio, were owned by Nathaniel Kuykendall and Jesse Hildebrand. This was the main thoroughfare between the east and west, through what is now the northern part of West Virginia. The National road, from Cumberland to Wheeling was a rival in importance. The stages from Romney to the Ohio river made remarkably good time, reaching Clarksburg in one day and Parkersburg in two. Stages left Greenspring for the Ohio river on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, "upon the arrival of the cars from Baltimore," as stated in an advertisement of that date. It would appear that only three passenger trains a week arrived from the east at that time. The distance from Greenspring to Parkersburg was two hundred and ten miles, and the fare by stage was ten dollars. The railroad fare from Baltimore to Greenspring was four dollars, or from Baltimore to Parkersburg, fourteen dollars. The time required for the journey from Baltimore to the Ohio river was fifty-seven hours; and from Baltimore to Greenspring nine hours. Stages from Winchester and from Moorefield connected at Romney with the stages for the Ohio river.

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