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Crude highways existed before the dawn of history

Bob Cox • Mar 8, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this column used a derogatory term that has since been removed. The Johnson City Press does not condone the use of such language. In this case, it was inadvertently published.

Highways probably existed before the dawn of history, but the first ones, of which anything is known about, are trade routes of Asia Minor, which connected the East and the west about 2,000 B.C.

When the food supply of the early peoples changed from herds to crops, cities were made possible, overland routes were made possible, and overland routes were laid out for the purpose of trade. The manufacturing products of the towns were exchanged for the agricultural products of the county through the medium of the caravans.

The aborigines of North America also had their highways or trails which traversed the wilderness and afforded means of travel for trade and for war between the tribes. The Indians laid out their trails from hilltop to hilltop because the high places were quick to shed rainfall. The high land also offered better opportunities for observation, the importance of which the Indian never overlooked.

An Indian trail in the abstract was a narrow runway through the forest. The Indians always traveled in single file and most of the trails would permit passage in no other manner. The forest with its underbrush crowded close on both sides often made travel difficult even for the agile people.

It was quite common for the bed of the trail to lay one or two feet below the surface of the ground on either side, especially when the trail was traveled frequently by Indians mounted on ponies.


The first American colonists naturally settled around the bays and the mouths of navigable rivers along the Atlantic Coast. A century after the first settlements were established, it was evident that the future of the country depending upon overcoming the barrier of the Appalachian Mountains and the great forests which clothed them.

New colonists pushed inland along the rivers and later struck into the mighty forests from the head of navigation. They followed the Indian trails, which they found and these trails came into general use.

Thus Nemacolin's Path, which George Washington followed on his mission to the French (1754) was the forerunner of Braddock's Trail (1755) and the National Road.

The Kittanning Path up the Juniata to the Allegheny furnished the route of Forbes’ Trail (1758). The Warrior Path from Shenandoah Valley through the Cumberland Gap to the falls of the Ohio became Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road (1769) over which Kentucky was settled and the Iroquois Trail from Albany to Lake Erie developed into the Great Genesee Road.


The highways that the present day tourist travels were in striking contrast to the highways of the past. Modern methods produced roads that stretched their smooth hard surfaces across hundreds and thousands of miles.

In wet weather or dry weather, summer or winter, they afforded safe, quick and certain routes. There are still many bad roads in the United States, some utterly unimproved, but good roads are increasing rapidly and now paved, graveled, or at least graded roads can be found in most every section of the country.

Plain, legible markers of distinctive design appear at intervals on the poles beside the road. Once the route had been selected and the style of its markers was firmly fixed in mind, the tourist could drive with maximum comfort and speed, his eyes free to enjoy the scenic wonders of his trip.

It is now possible to tour with assurance that you are on the right road, know where it leads and how far each town is from the next. The painted poles unmistakable point the way while the road itself permits easy, comfortable passage to the desired destination.

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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