Harrowing Road Trips Then and Now

Christopher C. Baldwin was en route to Zanesville, Ohio, on business for the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass., when he became Ohio’s first traffic fatality.

On August 20, 1835, Baldwin was riding out front with the stagecoach driver, and, while passing a drove of hogs on the roads, the horses became unmanageable and the stage rolled over on a decline. Baldwin was crushed under the stagecoach.

Though the National Road was a marvel of engineering for its time, the roads could be treacherous, especially through the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Henry Rogers recorded his first impression of the foothills in eastern Ohio in his journal on August 29, 1838:

 This afternoon’s travel caps the climax, of all hills that we have traveled since leaving home, and a road a crooked as a black snake.

 The most fearsome and terrific rocks rising to the height of from 40 or 50 ft. perpendicular on the right, while on the left there appeared a gulch that if a carriage would run off must hurry the rider to destruction in a twinkling. There were some places that appeared to be near 1000 ft. deep. This was on the west side of Wheeling Creek in Ohio. The road went down hill for better than a mile at an angle of something like 4 or 5 degrees. Then after we got down this hill and crossed the creek we had a tolerable level road until we got into Wheeling.

On September 2, 1838, they passed into Maryland, and Henry wrote:

This afternoon has furnished us with a great many curiosities. Within 3 miles of Cumberland we came in sight of two mountains which is ad captandum, or the match not to be found. These mountains are not of rocks but of one rock rising to the height of 5 or 600 ft. above the level of the road, it running right at the foot of the rock rising almost perpendicular above. There is a creek running in between these two monsters called the Wills Creek that empties into the Potomoc at Cumberland. In short it seems as thought nature had exhausted all her resources in forming these gigantic walls in the most deformed manner possible. The passenger is lost in admiration, surprise and wonder.

 After leaving this place of rocks, we came to a most splendid bridge made across Wills Creek of very superior limestone with 2 arches and iron railing. Then we took the Baltimore Road and began to climb the hills and passed through some handsome groves of yellow pine of all sizes from 20 inches and under. We saw directly after going over the first mountain large clouds of smoke which on enquiring found out to be a fire in the mountain. We called at a public house for entertainment and they had no horse feed. Then another and ditto. Then on about 2 miles further we found a place and put up for the night at the tavern about 8 o’clock. This place is rather savage. We got supper and went to bed.

When Keri and I drove the National Road 165 years after Henry’s trip, I found the mountain roads scary. Keri said if she would rather walk than ride down those hills in a horse and wagon. Neither one of us really enjoyed the mountainous part of the trip.

But the Allegehenies were very tame compared to what we experienced last June, when our family journeyed to the Republic of Georgia and, as part of the trip, took a three-day mountain trek into the South Caucuses.

The drive in and out of the mountains was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced.  Now, I wonder if Henry’s family felt as vulnerable as I did as we were driving the roads on the way to Tusheti.

The BBC series World’s Most Dangerous Roads featured the road to Tusheti in one of its episodes. Keri forwarded it to me, and when I watched it, my hands got clammy and I wanted to cry, because it was just exactly like I remembered it. And I don’t think I overreacted…

 

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4 Comments
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