Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike

Reports of the Principal Engineer, in Twenty-third Annual Report of the Board of Public Works to the General Assembly of Virginia with accompanying documents, January 31, 1839. Richmond: Shepherd & Colin, 1839.


The law having fixed the Dry branch gap as a point, the free road between Staunton and Buffaloe gap, 9 miles 67.47 chains long, will necessarily form part of the turnpike. This section will require some improvement to bring it under the provisions of the act as regards grade and width: this may be done gradually in the way of repairs, by the superintendent after there is a full section of 20 miles opened and put under tolls.

From the Dry branch gap, the most direct course appeared to be by Hodge's draft in the Shenandoah mountain, Stuart's gap in the Bull pasture mountain, and Dinwiddie's gap in Jackson's mountain. I therefore directed Mr. J. R. Anderson, who had charge of this location, to make it by these passes; but, owing chiefly to the elevation and steepness of the Shenandoah mountain, the actual location to the Bull pasture river, was found as long that way as that formerly made by Ramsay's draft; the travelling more laborious, and the estimate cost much greater, besides the necessity of encountering, farther on, the rugged and high gap of the Jackson's mountain and some additional difficulty in the Alleghany.

These considerations united, determined me to change the whole of this location, and to carry it over the same ground, where in 1826, we had located the road: that is by Ramsay's draft in the Shenandoah mountain, and Dove's gap in the Bull pasture mountain. Besides the advantages above enumerated, resulting from the comparison of two actual locations, I was confirmed in my decision by the additional and important consideration, that thus we should cover the track of the old road made chiefly at state expense, and which, if left open, would evidently have detracted much from the revenue of the new road.

The location has been perfected from the Buffaloe gap to the foot of the Bull pasture mountain, a dislance of 20 3/4 miles, a little over three quarters of a mile of which is already made, being part of the Warm springs and Harrisonburg turnpike. The balance, very nearly 20 miles, has been put under contract for $1100 a mile.

Beyond the Bull pasture mountain, the location has been extended to Greenbrier; but, owing to the want of funds, no work has been done or contracted for on it. For the same reason, Mr. Anderson having been withdrawn from this duty, it was not deemed of importance to continue the location farther at that time.

The location will pursue as far as Tygart's valley, pretty nearly the same track as in 1826: The reasons which determined the choice of points remaining unchanged.

Beyond Tygart's valley river, Mr. D. B. Gretter, with great diligence, explored the country as far as Parkersburg. The routes surveyed are all reckoned from Adam See's on Tygart's valley.

The 1st, strikes across the wilderness to the head of the Little Kanawha, which it pursues to Parkersburg. Length of this survey, 149 miles 61 chains.

The 2d, leaves the valley of the Kanawha at the mouth of Hughes's river, which it follows to Webb's mill; then it falls on the Kanawha again at Third run - length, 137 miles 39 chains.

The 3d, leaves the Kanawha at Haymond's salt works, (Bull town) and taking the old track, measures in length 133 miles 30 chains.

This route, though shorter by survey than the preceding, is so hilly, that the grading might make it as much as the preceding, and the quantity of bridging would be much greater.

The 4th route takes its course by Weston and unites with the Northwestern turnpike at three forks of Goose creek, 23 miles from Parkersburg; length, 127 1/4 miles.

The 5th, passes likewise by Weston and joins the Northwestern turnpike, west of Middle Island creek, about 50 miles from Parkersburg; length of this route about 128 miles: a section of 33 miles of this distance is only computed.

The two first routes would probably be shortened from 6 to 10 miles by an actual location, and the two last lengthened a few miles.

Thus, in point of distance, there is no decisive difference between them.

The claims of the 4th and 5th, rest chiefly on the saving of expense, the latter route including a section of 48 miles of the Northwestern turnpike, leaving only 80 to be made.

The two first present an advantage of importance, which may perhaps outweigh the consideration of cost; it is that it would open and develope the resources of a vast extent of country; bring it into cultivation and increase its capacity to contribute to the support of the commonwealth.

To decide between these two considerations, the one of expediency, the other of economy, I find truly perplexing: it depends on the object in view about which I have not been fully instructed.

If the intention of the improvement be to effect the most economical connexion with Parkersburg, I would then unhesitatingly unite the new road with the Northwestern turnpike near Middle Island creek.

But if the consideration of expediency prevail, and the benefits to be conferred to the fine but unsettled district of country lying about the Little Kanawha in the counties of Randolph, Nicholas, Braxton, Lewis and Wood, I should think it proper, on the contrary, to depart as far as possible, without too much increase of distance, from the Northwestern turnpike; and even, perhaps, to effect a connection near the West Fork of the Little Kanawha, with the Huntersville and Parkersburg road. As an offset against the greater expense of this direction, I might mention its probably superseding, for the present at least, the necessity of improving the Little Kanawha.

Having thus stated my views of the location in either case, and the decision involving a. considerable difference of expenditure, which I do not feel authorized to encounter, I would respectfully beg for more explicit instructions on the subject. There is such a diversity of opinions and interests concerning the route, that very extensive surveys through this unexplored country, must necessarily precede the locations, and much expense, time and controversy will be saved by a legislative decision.

The same reasons which determined me to open the unfinished portion of the Northwestern turnpike at first 10 feet wide, will recommend the same measure with additional propriety in this case: an attempt to make it of full width at once under several contractors, while labour continues so high and scarce, would not only delay its benefits, but increase its cost considerably by the difficulty of obtaining hands and provisions, and the usual competition this difficulty produces among contractors; an evil which has been felt to a considerable extent on the Northwestern turnpike.

The law requires the grades not to exceed 4°. Although I have ever advocated the lowering of the maximum grade formerly fixed by law, still, in this instance, I would wish to be allowed some latitude beyond 4°. We have met with some few cases where this grade increased greatly the difficulties of locating and cost of making the road, and a small addition of between a quarter and a half would have been better adapted to the peculiar formation of the ridges: indeed, on the Shenandoah mountain, I found it impracticable to grade at 4° without cutting 15 feet deep, at great expense, through its rocky top.

There are besides some considerable sections of the old road which were formerly made at 4 1/2°, and might be retained; whereas 4° would require a thorough change of location and a new road.

Owing to its low grades and greater width, the turnpike itself will cost somewhat more than those previously made through the mountains of Virginia; but, on the other hand, it will have the advantage of requiring but few bridges, and those of a cheap order.

The distance from Staunton to Parkersburg will be probably between 220 and 230 miles.

Extract from 1839 Public Works Report