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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 brought 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.