A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road

Present Day Roanoke, Virginia to North Carolina State Boundary Line

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Welcome to segment 3 of The Great Wagon series. The photo above shows the Roanoke River lined with the season of autumn as it winds and turns through the landscape. The last article ended at present day Roanoke, Virginia, otherwise known to the traveling pioneers as “Big Lick”. Beginning at Franklin Road, a historic road sign informs present day travelers of the historic importance pertaining to the Great Wagon Road. The settlers would have traveled this section and reached the banks of the Roanoke River. The crossing was known as Tosh’s Ford and after crossing the waterway, the travelers would have seen Evans Mill, which was located approximately 1/4 mile south near Crystal Spring. Franklin Road will allow present day U.S. Highway 220 to join the route and here the pioneers would begin leaving the great valley of Big Lick. 

Historic Road Sign Located At Tosh’s Ford, Virginia

The date referencing the group of Moravians using this crossing is incorrect on the historical road marker. The 15 Moravian men left Pennsylvania on the morning of November 2, 1753. Daniel Evans arrived in the area prior to 1750. He settled at the foot of a mountain, now known as Mill Mountain. He captured the waters of Crystal Spring and operated a grist mill along The Great Wagon Road for years. Mark Evans, Daniel’s father, arrived in the area with his three sons, Daniel, Nathaniel and Peter sometime during the year of 1741. Mark died before the large land tract was properly deeded and his son, Daniel became the owner of the property. This acreage extended from the modern Roanoke Regional Airport to the Franklin County line. The spring was known by several names such as “Big Spring”, “Fountain” and “McClanahan’s Spring”. By 1881, the name changed once more to Crystal Spring. The grist mill was built in 1750 and was located  approximately 400 feet from the spring. Evan’s Mill was declared as the “most important mill on the frontier” according to “Virginia Frontier: The Beginning of the Southwest, The Roanoke of Colonial Days(1740-1783)” by FB Kegley. Due to the importance and popularity of the mill, the mountain where the Evan’s family resided became known as Mill Mountain. 

The settlers traveled 5 miles from the location of Evan’s Mill and reached a natural gateway named Maggoty Gap. This passage made it possible for the heavy wagons and livestock to pass through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Morgan Bryan(1671-1763) cut the path for the first wagon in 1746. He later reported to others that he had to disassemble his wagon and carry it piece by piece up the last slope. Morgan stated that this portion of his trip took 3 months to travel 80 miles from the valley of “Big Lick” to his destination of “Shallow Ford” which is present day Yadkin River near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As you can see, it depended greatly on the timeline in which these early settlers traveled on determining the length of time for the trip.

Cahas Mountain, Franklin County, Virginia

Maggoty Gap Location

Carried it piecemeal up the last slope

Quoted by Morgan Bryan(1671-1763)

The route in present day next reaches U.S. Highway 220 freeway intersection and the original route crosses Maggoty Creek and follows VA 613 or Naff Road. A brick structure stands along Naff Road and was an active inn during the mid to late 18th century. The road passed directly in front of this inn. A map from 1865 gives reference to the location serving the travelers along the road. The actual structure dates to the mid 18th century. Traveling 4 1/2 miles to the end of Naff Road, the route once again joins present day U.S. 220 and Goode Highway. The pioneers traveling late 18th century would have seen the mill of Jacob Boon(1749-1814). The area where the mill was located later developed into a community named Boones Mill. Many genealogists and historians become confused with this family and the famous legend of Daniel Boone and his lineage. However; the families were not related at all. Jacob is shown on early documents as Bohn and was later changed to Boon. According to documents, the mill was constructed just prior to the year of 1786.

Passing over Little Creek along VA 739 and traveling 10 miles, the settlers would have crossed Blackwater River. Today this crossing is a one lane bridge along VA 643. Early documents proclaim this area was terribly known for flooding. Several families would be camped near here to wait out the floods before crossing. The photo below shows the color tint of the waters, thus the reason for it’s name.

Blackwater River Bridge in Virginia

Now the route travels 5 miles following VA 802 otherwise known as “Old Carolina Road”. Traveling 9 miles to present day Ferrum which was established in 1889. The construction of the railroad decided to use the original wagon road in 1892. The rail lines were constructed on top of the road in this area. The pioneers would have traveled 6 miles from this location to reach the boundary of Henry County, Virginia. After crossing Town Fork Creek, a steep incline would have been waiting on the wagons. This incline was filled with trees, debris, rocks and many more dangers. It is estimated that the original climb would have been approximately 4 miles with 1 mile of travel along the ridge line. A steep descent along VA 606 and the crossing of Little Reed Creek would have been made along the bottom. Here the route joins back into U.S. Highway 220 and the area of Philpott Dam. The dam has greatly altered the landscape and the appearance of the area would have appeared completely different to the 18th century travelers. Moravian diary entries reveal that many of the travelers regarded this area as the most beautiful along the route.

Beautiful lowlands with many grapes

Quoted by documents located at the Southern Moravian Archives

The Smith River is the next obstacle for the pioneers. Following present day U.S. Highway 220 through Fieldale by vehicle to the river crossing. Many historians speculate that the actual crossing was near the waters of Blackberry Creek. The 1751 Fry-Jefferson Map shows this possible location. From U.S. Highway 220 to VA 609, the route traveled through an early settlement named Rangely. This community was active as early as 1753 and was located near present day Dillons Fork Road. It was popular with the early travelers because of a man named John Hickey(1728-1784). John operated a store and was known as the last stop along the trail to replenish supplies. John Cornelius Hickey was born in Middlesex, Virginia and settled near the Smith River. It is recorded that John also operated an inn and maintained a farm with various crops. The court of June, 1749 ordered the following: 
The road order reads: “It is ordered that a road be laid off and cleared the best and most convenient way from Staunton River to the Mayo Settlement at the Wart (Bull)mountain, and it is ordered that Joseph Mayes and all the male laboring tithables convenient to said road forthwith mark of and lay the most convenient way from Staunton River to Allen’s Creek, and keep the same in repair according to law. 

The road became known as Hickey’s Road, an extension for the Great Wagon Road. From this point, the road traveled 11 miles to reach present day Horse Pasture, Virginia along U.S. 58. The original Moravians camped in this area on November 11, 1753 as noted in the journal held at the Southern Moravian Archives. From this point, the original route crosses over between Wagon Trail Road and George Taylor Road traveling 4 miles to reach the North Carolina state line boundary.

1751 Fry-Jefferson Map

The Great Wagon Road has now reached the boundaries of the Carolina Frontier. The new settlers are anxious upon reaching their new homes. Anticipation grows with each mile as they gaze upon Carolina for the first time. The pioneers were very aware of the miles they had traveled, but how did they measure the actual mileage? The colonial equation was averaged by tying a piece of linen to one of the wooden spokes on the wagon wheel. The circumference of the wheel multiplied by the revolutions the wheel turned equaled to the amount of mileage traveled for the day. For the most part, the settlers traveled approximately 15 miles a day. This 15 miles did not take into consideration, downed trees, sickness, poor weather or failed equipment.  After researching the trail, I believe that 72 miles separated Roanoke, Virginia to the North Carolina state line. 

The next segment will follow the road through the Carolina wilderness, giving details along the way. The road will eventually end in Augusta, Georgia by the end of this series. Piedmont Trails is currently supporting a group of volunteers who are working together in order for the Great Wagon Road to be named as a national historic trail. If you are interested in volunteering with this project, click here or click on the contact page and submit your request. 

Excitement fills the air as new pages are added to this website. United States Research Links is new which covers all 50 states. This page gives you free links for researching history and genealogy. Arriving soon, Migration Trails Throughout The United States. This page will reference early trails and roads that allowed our ancestors to travel. The arrival of this page will be in late December.

I greatly appreciate your support and hope you enjoy your visits with Piedmont Trails. Our ancestors left many trails to follow and I hope you are enjoying your journey to the past. Wishing you all great discoveries filled with many treasures along the way. 

  1. Virginia Frontier-The Beginning of the Southwest, The Roanoke Of Colonial Days(1740-1783) by FB Kegley
  2. Historical Society of Western Virginia
  3. Southern Moravian Archives

A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road

Winchester, Virginia to Roanoke, Virginia

The wagon wheels are slowly turning as the eyes are focused on the wilderness ahead. The weary are anxious for the trip to be over but the adventurous are eager for the next excitement in the road. The skies are open for all to see as the party succumbs to mother nature and her surroundings. It’s the hope and dreams that thrive within the hearts of so many. The longing of a home; security for the future, prosperity for the hard at work. All of this and more are promised along this road. One step at a time, no matter the obstacle, the road leads onward. The Great Wagon Road, resembling freedom, demanding strength and endurance, while remaining historic for generations of today and all tomorrows.

Welcome to Segment 2, A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road. When the settlers reached present day Winchester, Virginia, they were able to rest before arriving to the wilderness of colonial Virginia. Winchester was then known as Frederick Town and this area was thriving with activity. The three main roads leading from Pennsylvania to Virginia all met at this point. A tavern and several inns were located in the area. Depending on the timeline of your ancestor, the traffic along the road was quickly multiplying as the travelers reached this community. US Highway 11 resides closely to the route our ancestors had taken many years ago. 14 miles from Frederick Town was the crossing of Cedar Creek located at the Shenandoah County line. A bridge is now located near the original ford crossing. Trees blocking the road were a constant battle facing the travelers. This area was deeply wooded with little to no civilians located nearby. This of course depends on the time range in which your ancestor traveled the road. For instance, in 1740, this area was a complete wilderness with nearly zero inhabitants. By 1765, several pioneers had settled along the road, but the area was still considered very much a frontier. The trees were time consuming to remove and created one of many dangerous atmospheres that the settlers were constantly facing.

cedar creek November blog

Cedar Creek, Virginia Postcard

Once the pioneers crossed Cedar Creek, they traveled 3 miles to Strasburg. This community was established in 1761 but was considered a small village as early as 1749. The Great Wagon Road is still basically following US Highway 11 as several small streams and creeks are forded. 24 miles from Strasburg, Stoney Creek is crossed and the elevation during this area is 804 ft. The trail is rugged and filled with huge rocks and steep hillsides. 8 long miles allows the travelers to reach the Shenandoah River. Along the banks of the river, the Great Lakes Indian tribes would use this very route as a southern trading trail. Shenandoah named for the daughter of the stars. John Fontaine recorded in his diary after reaching the river dated 9/5/1716, “We had a good dinner and after it we got the men together and loaded all of their arms and we drank the King’s health.” By 1785, John Fontaine would not have recognized the area as mills were located all along the river and several families were settled within the valley.

Many settlers decided to stay in this particular region and they began settlements along the Shenandoah River. Christian Konrad, John Miller and John Ziegler organized the building of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church as early as 1733. John Stover, a Swiss land agent, sold land to George Boone in 1735. George, the uncle of Daniel Boone, lived near St. Peter’s Church and Bear Lithia Springs.  Surnames of Price, Gibbons, Smith, Meadows, Blakemore and Bear were living near Chainey Hollow as early as 1740.

The next 58 miles took the travelers through present day Rockingham County and Augusta County, Virginia. The mountain laurel, chestnut and red oak trees would overwhelm the landscape. Thick forests would line the hill sides with ash, maple and basswood. During the summer months, blackberries, huckleberries and raspberries ripen along the river banks. Wild game would have been plentiful through the valley such as deer, bear, fox and much more.

Shenandoah River Valley Map

Shenandoah River Valley date 1890

The travelers adjust to their surroundings as they make camp each night and make any repairs needed on their gear. They are traveling in parties numbering as low as 5 wagons up to 25 or more. Many have paid guides with them leading the way. It was important to maintain a continuous trend daily, but if a family member became sick or hurt, this could halt the travelers and many would separate from their original party.

Augusta County, Virginia is reached after traveling 58 miles from the crossing of the Shenandoah River. This area was first settled as early as 1732 by John Lewis. Other early surnames are Beverley, Coalter, Rommel, Bingham and Sheppard. The settlement was named Augusta after the county name and later changed to Staunton. From this point, the road is currently residing present day US Highway 11 and turns on State Highway 613 for 14 miles. The pioneers would then cross Folly Mills Creek and South River which brings present day road back to US Highway 11 in Greenville. 6 miles lies the Rockbridge County line as the road continues to stay within the valley basin as the settlers peer upwards to the steep mountain sides of Shenandoah National Park. The county, established in 1777, is marked by the boundary of Marl Creek, a bridge today.

The Natural Bridge is now 14 miles away. The area was viewed upon with awe by the travelers. Everyone would know of the bridge that stands 215 feet from the waters of Cedar Creek and spans a total of 90 feet in length. Many would camp along the creek and hold church services. The early Monacan Indians worshipped the area they called, “Bridge of God” and were inspired by it’s natural beauty.

The James River crossing is located 14 miles from the Natural Bridge. A ferry was available to the travelers by owner, Robert Looney. The Looney family lived in Cherry Tree Bottom near present day Buchanan. The family owned and operated a mill and an inn for travelers. The biggest obstacle for the travelers would be getting the horses to load the ferry for the crossing. Also, during the winter months, the river would freeze over preventing the ferry to cross. The ice would not be thick enough for the settlers to cross safely due to the weight of the wagons. The local inhabitants regarded the road as “The Great Valley Road” and many businesses would be established along the James River and Buchanan, Virginia. Surnames during 1740, Buchanan, Boyd, Anderson, Looney and Smith.

james river at buchanan

James River Bridge in Buchanan, Virginia

 

Traveling from Looney’s Ferry, the trails follows rough and rugged terrain. During rainstorms, the road would be almost impassable, causing the pioneers to stop and wait until the storms passed. Wagons were loaded with supplies and personal items which allowed the vessels to be extremely heavy. The muddy road would often absorb the wheels waist deep which could damage the wheel or axle and prevent the family from traveling further until repaired. During the hot dry summer season, dust was a constant battle. The dust would cover everything in sight. It was difficult to keep food supplies covered and free from the elements.  Approximately 14 miles from Looney’s ferry lies a small community named Amsterdam. During the early 19th century, this community was a normal stop during the stagecoach line. But, during the mid 18th century, a few settlers would have been located in this region. Joseph McDonald is found on records as early as 1769. McDonald is living in a log cabin and visited by the Moravians passing through the area in October of 1753. The original log home can be seen fully restored in Trinity, Virginia.

The travelers are now 4 miles from present day Roanoke County and the famous stone house. This stone structure once stood at present day Read Mountain Road. It was mentioned in several diaries by pioneers who traveled the Great Wagon Road. However, by the early 19th century, the structure is no longer standing and was not regarded as a landmark for travelers within the region. Remnants of the old Black Horse Tavern can be seen along Old Mountain Road which is the actual route of the Great Wagon Road through this area. To read more about the tavern and the Buford family, click here. The road leading into present day Roanoke, which has turned from Old Mountain Road to US Highway 11, was very difficult for the pioneers. Elevation along the road provided very steep hillsides. Diaries noted that several wagons unloaded half of their contents and took the wagons down hill or up hill. Once the hill was accomplished, these contents were unloaded and the empty wagon returned to load the half left behind. Numerous large rocks and deep holes filled the road space and travel at times were slowed to crawl.

Buffalo

Roanoke was first known as Old Buffalo Salt Lick. The road was a hunting trail of the Indians and this area was a gathering place for the animals, namely buffalo. Huge herds of buffalo would arrive at the salt marshes before the onset of the 18th century and this was considered as prime land for the Indians up to 1722. The Moravians describe several sightings of buffalo through Virginia and into North Carolina. But as of date, no documentation has been located that describes the huge herds that once migrated this area. Click here to learn more about Big Lick Junction. Early surnames in this area are Campbell, Newman, Preston, Osborn, Fulkerson, Carter and Rainey.

The settlers would have enjoyed a rest in this area while anticipation grew from thoughts of crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains into the frontier of Carolina. Segment 3 will cover the road as it winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Virginia. The road is continuously changing through the seasons and as the travelers move southward, the road becomes more narrow. At times, the road is noted to be only a few feet wide.

October great wagon road 2

Thank You all so much for your support and your interest in history and genealogy. If you missed previous articles pertaining to the Great Wagon Road, you can find each one listed below.

The Great Wagon Road

From Pennsylvania To New Lands

Wagon Road To North Carolina

Remembering The Great Wagon Road

Wagons, Horses & Stagecoaches

A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road

Our ancestors left an amazing trail to follow. Documents and records allow us to visit the past and share their adventures. As we all search through the paper trail, the journeys of long ago become intertwined with the journeys of today. Wishing you all great discoveries and treasures along your own personal journey.