Roads and Trailways to Western North Carolina


The road through the Cumberland Gap was not officially named “the Wilderness Road” until 1796 when it was widened enough to allow Conestoga Wagons to travel on it. However, by the time Kentucky had become a state (1792), estimates are that 70,000 settlers had poured into the area through the Cumberland Gap, following this route. The Cumberland Gap was first called Cave Gap by the man who discovered it in 1750–Dr. Thomas Walker. Daniel Boone, whose name is always associated with the Gap, reached it in 1769, passing through it into the Blue Grass region, a hunting ground of Indian tribes. He returned in 1775 with about 30 woodsmen with rifles and axes to mark out a road through the Cumberland Gap, hired for the job by the Transylvania Company. Boone’s men completed the blazing of this first trail through the Cumberland Mountains that same year, and established Boonesborough on the Kentucky River. The Wilderness Road connected to the Great Valley Road which came through the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania. Some suggest the origin of the Wilderness Road was at Fort Chiswell (Ft. Chissel) on the Great Valley Road where roads converged from Philadelphia and Richmond. Others claimed the beginning of the road to be at Sapling Grove (today’s Bristol, VA) which lay at the extreme southern end of the Great Valley Road since it was at that point that the road narrowed, forcing travelers to abandon their wagons.


Hordes of early German and Scotch-Irish settlers used what became known as the Great Wagon Road to move from Pennsylvania southward through the Shenandoah Valley through Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, a distance of about 800 miles. Beginning first as a buffalo trail, a great Indian Road (the Great Warrior Path) ran north and south through the Shenandoah Valley, extending from New York to the Carolinas. The mountain ranges to the West of the Valley are the Alleghenies, and the ones to the east constitute the Blue Ridge chain. The Second Treaty of Albany (1722) guaranteed use of the valley trail to the Indians. At Salisbury, North Carolina, the Great Warrior Path was joined by the Indian’s “Great Trading Path.” By the early 1740s, a road beginning in Philadelphia (sometimes referred to as the Lancaster Pike) connected the Pennsylvania communities of Lancaster, York, and Gettysburg. The road then continued on to Chambersburg and Greencastle and southward to Winchester. In 1744, the Indians agreed to relinquish the Valley route. Both German and Scotch-Irish immigrants had already been following the route into Virginia and on to South Carolina, and Georgia. After 1750 the Piedmont areas of North Carolina and Georgia attracted new settlers. From Winchester to Roanoke the Great Wagon Road and the Great Valley Road were the same road, but at Roanoke, the Wagon Road went through the Staunton Gap and on south to North Carolina and beyond whereas the Valley Pike continued southwest to the Long Island of the Holston, now Kingsport. The Boone Trail from the Shallow Ford of the Yadkin joined the road at the Long Island of the Holston.

Permanent link to this article: