Worthless land?

The early 1830s spawned a flurry of interest in building railroads in North Carolina. Many more companies were formed and railroads proposed than were actually constructed. That would be an outstanding topic to cover but, for now, this brief post is limited to an annotation on an 1832 manuscript map drawn to illustrate a potential route of what eventually became the North Carolina Railroad.

Map Shewing the Routes of the Central and Cape Fear and Yadkin Railroads was drawn by W. Schlater. The survey for a potential route of the Central railroad west of Raleigh pretty much followed a direct line from Raleigh to Salisbury, along the current path of US Hwy 64.  South of the current location of Siler City, in SW Chatham County, one sees a contemporary pencil annotation, “Worthless.”

Detail from a map in the North Carolina State Archives, showing worthless land.

When the North Carolina Railroad was constructed over 20 years later, it followed a more northerly arc, leading to the development of towns such as Burlington and High Point, and bypassing “Worthless” southwest Chatham County. Beautiful farm land or an arc of outlet shops and strip centers… I suppose “worthless land” means different things to different people.


5 thoughts on “Worthless land?”

  1. My great uncle was once an Ag teacher at Apex High… I’m not sure when, but a long time ago. He told me once that at the time he was teaching, Chatham Co. was just considered worn out farmland and essentially “worthless.”

  2. “Worthless” is the area now known as the Bennett Flatwoods, where ancient volcanic ash deposits create water-impermeable soils unsuitable for agriculture, and promoted the growth of longleaf pine and scrubby oak trees. It contains the Devils Tramping Ground, and a small peak known as Paul Beck Hill which was the site of an enormous paleo-Indian Rhyolite quarry and numerous camps. The area has been heavily timbered since this timber railroad was built in the mid-1800’s, but its open glade-like environment still harbors many rare and locally unusual plant species, and to improve conditions it’s now the subject of a longleaf pine restoration project on 3000 acres.

    Pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24801612@N00/sets/72157632278868267/

    I love your site and have been following it to learn more about the state of North Carolina nature in previous centuries.

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thank you so much for your edifying comments. I’ve spent a few hours now looking at topo maps of the region and various other related topics. Thanks also for the link to all those beautiful photos. That land doesn’t look worthless at all!

  3. You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing so much great information on your site.

    Writings from the early 1700’s suggest that huge swaths of the Piedmont were once much more open and prairie-like due to fire, both natural and the result of Indian land management. The natural features here suggest this was a prime area. Notice the nearby feature names like Buffalo Creek. Elk and Buffalo did roam here back then, along with many cougars and the occasional jaguar!

    I’d be very interested in any findings from pre-Civil War era maps indicating the presence of prairie, savannah, and large pine forests (particularly longleaf pine) in the North Carolina piedmont, foothills and mountains. The 1718 map http://www.accessgenealogy.com/america/historical-maps-of-southeast-united-states.htm shows “Grande Savane” but the scale is insufficient to guide ecological scavenger hunting.

    If the theory is correct, then in late 1700’s the forests began changing quite dramatically due to lack of fire, such that by the time of the first photographs nothing was recorded resembling the original conditions, and the longleaf pines are long since gone from the Piedmont, never surviving the clearcuts that were done in the turpentine industry.

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