In 1847, the North Carolina legislature approved the incorporation of the Caldwell and Ashe Turnpike. The purpose of this thoroughfare was to facilitate trade between western Virginia, Tennessee, and even Kentucky with North Carolina via a route through what is now Watauga and Caldwell counties.This scenic toll road connected Johnson City, TN, with Lenoir, North Carolina, the latter now home to a Google data center. The Caldwell and Ashe Turnpike was completed within a few years and persists today on our State highway map as U.S. Highway 321. What did it look like on the great North Carolina wall maps of the 1850s?
There are very few maps that label a road as the “Caldwell and Ashe Turnpike.” The first was an 1854 revision of the 1833 MacRae-Brazier map. The publisher in 1854, Wellington Williams, correctly shows the Turnpike extending from the Tennessee line to Lenoir, the seat of Caldwell County. Unfortunately, Williams erroneously placed the town of Lenoir at the home of the seat’s namesake, William Lenoir. His homestead, Fort Defiance, was on the Yadkin River, approximately 10 miles NE of the actual location of Lenoir. The latter is situated on Lower Creek, a tributary of the Catawba River. Additionally, Williams continued the turnpike through “Lenoir” in a southeasterly direction. The road was engraved to the edge of one copper plate, and was not continued on the adjacent copper plate. When the sheets were joined to form the whole map, the turnpike can be seen entering southern Wilkes County before abruptly ending near the head of Beaver Cr. (Figure 1).
In approximately 1858, the plates of the original MacRae-Brazier map underwent further revision by an unknown publisher in anticipation of being used for Samuel Pearce. On a publisher’s mock up that included vignettes of many homes in New York State, another Lenoir has been added to Caldwell County, approximately midway between William Lenoir’s home (still mislabeled as a town of Lenoir) and the true location of the town. This map shows no change to the position of the Caldwell and Ashe Turnpike (Figure 2).
Finally, on Pearce’s undated map of c1859/60 (which is also from the original plates of the MacRae-Brazier map), William Lenoir’s home is now correctly labeled as Ft. Defiance, the “midway Lenoir” has been erased, and a single town of Lenoir is shown in a reasonably accurate location. Unfortunately, the Caldwell and Ashe Turnpike’s location was never corrected on this series of maps. On Pearce’s map, instead of being re-routed to the correctly located Lenoir, the Turnpike continues to abruptly terminate in southern Wilkes County. Another mistake on the Pearce map is the addition of Patterson on the Mulberry Creek, a tributary of the Catawba River. This community, through which the Turnpike passed, is on the upper Yadkin River. Notice also on this map the revised position of the Caldwell-Burke county line, with incompletely erased remnants of the former line visible just below the “LENOIR” place name (Figure 3).
Hopefully, travelers paying toll for use of the Caldwell and Ashe Turnpike ended up at the correct location by following the road and not one of these maps.
Other maps of the period, such as the William D. Cooke map of 1857 (of which Samuel Pearce was a partner up to the point of publication), correctly show the route of the Caldwell and Ashe Turnpike, but do not name it as such (Figure 4). Cooke’s map correctly locates Paterson [sic] on the upper Yadkin River.
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The William P. Cumming Map Society bloggers on this site would like to express our sincere appreciation to Diane Schug-O’Neill, a digital conversion specialist in the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress, for making these maps available on line.