Ride along the “Paths, Plank Roads, and Planes” trail and track the story of development and progress as written through the necessity of transportation. Beginning with early settlements to present day troop movements and deployments, transportation is a vital part of our daily lives. As you travel around, listen for the sounds of automobile traffic where horses once clopped and wagons creaked. Listen for the trains that pass through our city daily. Listen for the aircraft, both military and civilian, as they fly overhead in a sky where once only birds flew.
Situated at the head of navigation on the Cape Fear River, two colonial settlements, Cross Creek and Campbellton, merged to form Fayetteville. Settlers improved and widened the paths created by native peoples. These paths became the roads by which settlers traveled between villages and towns, conducting business, and tending to legal matters. Horses, wagons and carriages eased the burden of traveling by foot. In March 1770, C. J. Sauthier, a French cartographer, surveyed and drew a “Plan of the Town of Cross Creek,” showing several major roads including a “Road to the Court House” in the nearby village of Campbellton.
The Cape Fear River remained, however, the major thoroughfare of its day: ships bringing in a variety of cargo, consumable goods, household items, and the settlers themselves. Rivers were important for locating specific landmarks and making main designations. For example, at the confluence of the Lower Little River and the Cape Fear River, Cumberland County established its first county seat. When the State Assembly combined Cross Creek and Campbellton, it pressed town officials to lay out new streets in a “regular and convenient manner.” When Fayetteville became incorporated in 1783, a new town plan, with grid-patterned streets, was laid out with three town squares: James Square, became the site of a new courthouse, Market Square, became the site of the State House (where the Market House currently stands), and St. John’s Square, became the site of Union Lodge (present day Phoenix Masonic Lodge #8).
In 1818, steamboats began plying the Cape Fear River between Fayetteville and the coastal port of Wilmington. The Henrietta, a side-wheel steamer built north of town, took six days on her maiden voyage to go between the two cities. Eventually, she could make the trip in 10 hours. The first bridge in the area was built in 1819. In 1822, a horse-drawn railway transported cargo from the river up to Market Square. Because the Cape Fear River is the only river in North Carolina that flows directly to the Atlantic Ocean, shipping linked Fayetteville to the rest of the world. While river transportation is credited for the area’s growth and development, the lack of railroads hindered the area’s growth. As long as waterways provided the main method of transportation, Fayetteville thrived. However, once railroads surpassed water transportation as the preferred method of shipping, a major shift began to take place. Around 1830, North Carolina began to build railroads, but unfortunately, Fayetteville was bypassed. Interestingly, plank roads were introduced into the area and nicknamed the “Farmer’s Railroad” because of the ease it afforded farmers for transporting their crops, and other sellable goods, to market.
All of the state’s major plank roads converged on Fayetteville because of its importance as a marketplace, maintaining its economic viability. Plank roads consisted of various constructions, based on topography (landscape) and resources. In part, these roads were built by slaves who had been hired out by local slave owners. The Fayetteville and Western Plank Road, completed in 1855, became the longest plank road in history (at that time)—129 miles long. Unfortunately, due to the costliness of upkeep, plank roads eventually became obsolete. Meanwhile, attempts had been made to connect Fayetteville by rail through companies such as the Fayetteville and Yadkin Railroad, which never succeeded. In 1852, the Western Railroad managed to build a short line from Fayetteville to Egypt Coal Mine (near present-day Sanford) a distance of 43 miles. In 1879, Western Railroad became a part of the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad. This provided long-awaited connections to various other railroads in North Carolina Fayetteville’s link to the rest of the world now included rail traffic.
In 1902, Fayetteville witnessed its first automobile. In 1913, the county’s first “graded” road linked Fayetteville with Hope Mills. Enough automobiles could be found around town by 1920 to include traffic police in the city’s budget. In one month the Fayetteville Police Department issued 126 warrants for motor vehicle violations. A trolley line, built in 1906, ran from the Haymount Hill residential neighborhood through downtown, past the Market House, and down Gillespie Street ending at the fairgrounds. Automobile traffic helped the area’s economy rebound from the years of no railroad. Fayetteville became known as a half-way point for travelers along the major north/south route between Florida and the northeastern states. In the early 1930s, the proliferation of airline travel put Fayetteville on the map with the construction of an airport on Ramsey Street. Amelia Earhart landed her plane here during one of her many record breaking adventures. Today, the Fayetteville Regional Airport, located off NC Highway 301/Interstate 95 Business, provides a hub for American and Delta Airlines.
“Paths, Plank Roads, and Planes” reveals how transportation is the common thread that connects you to every time period of the past, helping us to understand and appreciate our present. Enjoy your trek!
Trail Mileage: 100 miles
Time to Complete 2 hours, 30 min (half day trail)
Sites of interest on this trail may be classified in one of three ways: Open to the Public - The site is open to the public for a visit during their operating hours. By Appointment Only - The site is available to visitors anytime by viewing it from the exterior or by calling ahead and making an appointment with its administrators for the site to be opened during your visit. Exterior View Only - The site may only be viewed from the exterior for a visit. Visitors may receive written or audible information about trail sites at the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau through our Customize IT! system.