A Plank Road for Troupville

In 1852, when all of Berrien County and the site of Ray City, GA, and other surrounding counties were still a part of old Lowndes County, the seat of county government was at Troupville, GA.

Troupville

The people of Troupville aspired to a transportation connection that would link them to the national economy.  Troupville already had a stage road, and a mail route, but the area’s main thoroughfare, the Coffee Road, lay 12 miles to the northwest. Troupville, nestled in the fork of the Withlacoochee River and the Little River, dreamed of a river way connection to float goods down to the Gulf of Mexico.  The folks of this section worked to get a railroad line through the town, but when it did come in 1857 the railroad would miss the mark by four miles.

Before that, in 1852, Troupville awaited the construction of a Plank Road which had been authorized by the State legislature.

Plank Road construction

Plank Road construction

The Act to incorporate the Satilla Plank Road Company, approved January 22, 1850, was a part of the  decade-long Plank Road Boom which began in 1844.

An Act to Incorporate the Satilla Plank Road Company

An Act to Incorporate the Satilla Plank Road Company

The Satilla Plank Road was to run from the Satilla River, through the Okefenokee Swap to Troupville, then on to Thomasville and on to the steamboat docks on the Flint River at Bainbridge, GA.  At Thomasville, it could connect with the Florida and Georgia Plank Road, already under construction, which ran to Monticello, FL then on to Newport, FL  on the St. Marks River.

 

Savannah Daily Morning News
January 20, 1852

A Plank Road through the Okefenokee Swamp

The Committee on Internal Improvements in the House, have reported in favor for a plank road through the Okefenokee Swamp to some point on the Flint River. According to the representations of the report, the enterprise is one of vast importance to Southern and South-western Georgia. The Bill reported proposes to grant the company one half of the unsurveyed portion of the swamp on condition that they build a good and sufficient road through the same. The following are the advantages as enumerated in the report:

         Looking upon the map of Georgia, we see the St. Ilia [Satilla], a bold river stretching from the sea coast inland, in a western direction, and navigable for steamers for forty-five miles. Measuring from thence, we pass in almost a direct line through the Okefenokee swamp, through Clinch county to Troupville, in Lowndes county, from thens to Thomasville, in Thomas county, to Bainbridge on the Flint river. The distance from the St. Illa to Bainbridge is one hundred and sixty miles.
          Diverging to the left from Troupville, we reach Monticello, thence to Tallahassee in Florida. The distance from the St. Illa to Tallahassee is one hundred and forty miles. From Monticello to Newport, (the sea port of the Gulf,) the distance is twenty-seven miles, between which places we are informed, a plank road is now being constructed, and some eighteen or twenty miles of which are already completed.
          From the St. Illa to Monticello, the distance is one hundred and thirteen miles, over which, if a plank road were constructed, would give a plank road connection between the shipping port on the Gulf, with a shipping point on the Atlantic side, the entire distance being one hundred and forty miles.
          We are informed the usual rate of freight on plank roads is one cent per bale of cotton, for each mile.
         The freight, then, from Bainbridge to the St. Illa, would be one dollar and sixty cents per bale, and from Tallahassee to the St. Illa, would be one dollar and forty cents per bale, the respective distance being, as before stated, one hundred and sixty miles, and one hundred and forty miles from Bainbridge and Tallahassee to the St. Illa river.
          From the St. Illa, the run can be made to Savannah by steamboats in ten hours, and a fair average rate of freight on cotton, would be forty cents per bale.
          Thus it will be seen that cotton can be transported through this route from Bainbridge to Savannah, from two dollars to two dollars twenty-five cents per bale, and from Tallahassee (in Florida) to Savannah, at one dollar and eighty cents to two dollars per bale.
          The Okefenokee Swamp, stretching as it does from North to South, forty-five to sixty miles, from Georgia into Florida, intercepts and cuts off the trade from a large and fertile portion of our State, and forces its products for shipment, through the Gulf ports in Florida, where the charges attendant on shipment are peculiarly extravagant.
          There is not a planter in Southern or South Western part of our State, but can bear testimony of the heavy charges, high rates of freight and insurance, and vexatious delays attendant on shipments of their produce from the Gulf ports.
          We have before us evidence from a planter of Thomas county, a member of this House, stating that the cost of sending his cotton to Thomasville, through the Gulf ports, to New York, and selling the same there, averages eight dollars per bale.
          It is apparent, then, to your committee, that by opening a plank road communication through the proposed rout, would cause a saving to the planters of the Southern portion of this State of from four to five dollars per bale, and the result would be that the produce of this State, being shipped through the ports of Florida, would in turn draw the products of Florida to Savannah, our own shipping port.

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Plank Road Boom

The Plank Road Boom was an economic boom that happened in the United States. Largely in the Eastern United States and New York, the boom lasted from 1844 to the mid 1850s. In about 10 years, over 3,500 miles of plank road were built in New York alone- enough road to go from Manhattan to California, and more than 10,000 miles of plank road were built countrywide.

The Plank Road Boom swept across Georgia, as it did the rest of the nation. At least 16 Plank Road Companies were incorporated in Georgia. By 1847, plank streets were being constructed in Savannah, connecting warehouses and wharves with the railroad. Over the next several years plank roads were planned all over Georgia. In 1849, North Carolina undertook the construction of a plank road connecting Fayetteville, NC to Savannah, GA. In Georgia, a plank road was proposed to run from Griffin to West Point. Another plank road was proposed from Barnesville, GA to the Montgomery Road at Macon.  A plank road was proposed from Washington to Elberton. In 1850, a bill was introduced “to incorporate the Dahlonega and Marietta Turnpike and Plank Road Company; and also to incorporate the Cumming and Atlanta Turnpike and Plank Road Company.” Also, “to incorporate the Cobb county and Alabama Turnpike or Plank Road Company; also, authorizing the construction of a Plank Road from Washington, in Wilkes county, to some point on the Georgia Rail Road.” A plank road was proposed from Albany to Oglethorpe. Among others planned were the Macon, Perry and Albany Plank Road, the Ogeechee Plank Road, the Columbus and Greenville Plank Road, the Atlanta and Sweetwater Plank Road, the Henderson and Marthasville Plank Road, and the Columbus and Lannahassee Plank Road.

          Proponents of plank roads stated that plank roads would make it much easier to carry goods and travel in general. They were stated to be 1/3 the cost of gravel roads. Plank roads were said to give a return on investment of 20% They also claimed that the roads will last for at least eight years, and if they don’t, that will be because of more people travelling on the road, which would thus result in more tolls collected. Much of the plank road building occurred in places where lumber was comparatively affordable due to thriving timber industries, as wood was usually over sixty percent of a plank road’s cost.
           National newspapers helped spread the plank road craze. In 1847, Hunts Merchants Magazine published an article titled “Plank Roads-New Improvement.” In 1849, Niles’ Weekly Register said plank roads were “growing into universal favor.” in the 1850s, the New York Tribune praised their ease of construction and said that the roads added a great amount to the transportation abilities of the New York. In March 1850, Scientific American said they viewed plank roads as a means of “completely reforming the interior or rural transit trade of our country.”  In 1852, Hunts Merchants Magazine published an article titled “The First Plank Road Movement,” it extolled plank roads.

In the list of great improvements which have given to this age the character which it will bear in history above all others-the age of happiness to the people-the plank road will have a prominent place, and it deserves it…the plank road is of the class of canals and railways. They are the three great inscriptions graven on the earth by the hand of modern science…

— Hunts Merchants’ Magazine

They also published an editorial saying “every section of the country should be lined with these roads.” Other written items include “Observations on Plank Roads” by George Geddes, “History, Structure and Statistics of Plank Roads in the United States and Canada,” by William Kingsford, and “A Manual of the Principles and Practice of Road-Making” by William M. Gillespie.

 It does not appear that the Satilla Plank Road was ever constructed.
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