Transportation was Major Concern in Early Days

As published by the Murfreesboro Post, Sunday, September 27, 2009

By Mike West, Managing Editor

In Rutherford County’s early days, getting from one point to another was a major concern.

This Civil War-era map shows that many of the downtown Murfreesboro's main streets remain the same 145 years later.  But many of the roadways leading into town charged a toll for access.  (From the Library of Congress)

This Civil War-era map shows that many of the downtown Murfreesboro’s main streets remain the same 145 years later. But many of the roadways leading into town charged a toll for access. (From the Library of Congress)

Yep, we are talking about roads, which in the early days, weren’t much more than paths created by landowners and not government. A quote from the Jan. 4, 1804 Rutherford County Court’s minutes shows how pioneer Thomas Bedford did his part:

“It is ordered by the Court that Thomas Bedford oversee the clearing out and keeping of lawful repair the part of the road leading thro the folks of Stone’s river to Nashville from the place where said road now crosses the west folk of said river downward to the county line.”

Similarly other landowners did their part, working and maintaining the county’s roads, which were scarcely more than paths leading to the county seat of Jefferson or to important grain mills located on the river.

Local government did little more than order roadwork. State government scarcely did better such as approving $1,000 for construction of a crude dirt road over the Cumberland Plateau.

It wasn’t until the 1830s and 1840s that real roads began to pop up in Rutherford County. Many of them were related to Murfreesboro serving as state capital from 1818 until 1826. Most, if not all, of them were dirt and not gravel or hard-surfaced.

Murfreesboro’s first major road was from Nashville to Murfreesboro. A toll was charged for access.

The charter for the hard-surfaced road was granted in 1824. It was to run from Nashville to Murfreesboro and onto Shelbyville.

No real work was done on the road until 1831 and it was not completed until 1842, long after Nashville was named state capital.

The Tennessee General Assembly established rates of travel and tolls were paid at toll gates established at five-mile distances along the route. Here are some of the toll charges:

20 head of sheep – 20 cents
20 head of hogs – 20 cents
20 horned or beef cattle – 50 cents
Four-wheeled pleasure carriage – 25 cents
A loaded wagon – 25 cents
An empty wagon – 12½ cents
Man and a horse – 6¼ cents
Cart – 12½ cents
Hogshead of tobacco – 12½ cents

The next toll road out of Murfreesboro traveled to Manchester and Winchester. This road was chartered in 1837.

By the time of the Civil War, Murfreesboro had turnpikes headed in just about every direction to Shelbyville, Manchester, Bradyville, Woodbury, Liberty, “Las Casas,” Lebanon and the Wilkinson Turnpike. Other non-toll roads were present as well, for example the one connecting Murfreesboro with Franklin.

By 1886, Goodspeed Publishing Co.’s “History of Tennessee” bragged about Rutherford County’s roadways.

“It is doubtful if any county in the State can boast of as many and good pikes or more efficient and accommodating officials.”

Good roads were necessary for Rutherford County because Stones River was just too shallow for major traffic.

In the county’s early days, Jefferson functioned as a port for flat boats with the state authorizing warehouses for corn meal, cotton, hemp, tobacco and other agricultural crops.

But in 1824, Constant Hardeman built a 100-ton steamboat at Jefferson. After construction, the boat was floated downstream to Nashville where the boiler and other operating equipment were installed. Much to Hardeman’s horror it was soon discovered that Stones River was too shallow for his heavy, new steamboat.

However, it was only a few years later when railroad fever struck Tennessee. Initial plans called for construction of a railroad line from Mississippi to East Tennessee through Middle Tennessee. A meeting on the project was held at Columbia in 1834 with David Graham of Murfreesboro presiding.

Ultimately, after much discussion, the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad was commissioned by the state. Vernon King Stevenson was president and chief fund-raiser for the project.

The railroad was completed from Nashville to Murfreesboro in 1851 with the first passenger coach arriving in town on July 4, 1851.

Mike West can be reached at 615-869-0803 or [email protected].

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