Excerpts from "Buffalo National River Theme Identification Context Studies And Property Evaluations"
Thomason and Associates
Nashville, Tennessee And Hawkins Partners Landscape Architects Nashville, Tennessee
Transportation in the Buffalo River valley has historically developed along three major networks – rivers, roads, and railroads. These networks provided a connection between local villages and settlements and connected them to points outside the region as well. Roads dominated the frontier period of settlement and initial development.
Insight into the difficulties of overland travel near the Buffalo River during the frontier period is found in the example of settler Greenberry Parker’s experience. Parker, a widower, emigrated to the area ca. 1840 from Tennessee with five young children in tow. The story of his journey was related over generations. He described a narrow path through the mountains on which wagons would not pass. He was forced to dismantle his wagons and pack all his family’s belonging into the hills on horseback.
Road maintenance was the responsibility of local citizens, who made repairs as needed. State law required males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to work on public roads up to five days per year, and if they failed to do so they were fined. Most residents voluntarily assisted with road maintenance, as it was necessary for travel. The roads throughout the Buffalo River area, while rugged, fit the transportation methods of the era, which were horses and wagons. While road maintenance improved, travelers still had to contend with the rugged terrain of steep hills, which impeded transportation more so than road surfaces.
Roads remained the primary means of travel throughout the Buffalo River area throughout the nineteenth century. The river was not navigable by vessels other than flatboats or keelboats, and railroads eluded the region until the early twentieth century. Local farmers were reliant upon the region’s coarse roadways to transport their goods to market. As they traveled in large wagon trains the possibility of a wagon rolling off the road and losing one’s load was always a threat. The most accessible market was in Springfield, Missouri, and a round trip to the town took five to eight days. In 1880, when area farmers ventured to try markets in Russellville, Arkansas, the journey took about two weeks.72
Roadways were slow to improve well into the twentieth century in the Buffalo River valley. In 1915, it took J.D. Hickman, who lived south of the river near the Erbie community, two full days to travel to Harrison and back to buy and sell goods. The road to Harrison at this time was wide enough for a wagon, but remained unpaved. The route crossed various creeks as well as the Buffalo River.73 During the early 1920s, Eph Woodward traveled what is now Highway 7 to Russelville with a team of mules and a wagonload of goods. This trip took two days each way due to the steep hills and road conditions. Hairpin turns, which still remain today, and large rocks slowed his pace and he typically spent the night with family friends along the way.74 Good roads remained a concern of citizens and in 1916 the Harrison-Ponca Good Roads Club was formed. Substantial funds of approximately $2,000 were raised for road improvements with the construction of a “satisfactory highway” between the two communities being a priority.
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