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Rail plan splinters into planks

In 1840, Simeon Colton's task was finding money to build the Fayetteville and Western Rail Road. Investors were unconvinced, and the railroad was never built.

Archaeologist Ken Robinson examines the remnants of an old plank road during a 1984 excavation on Hay Street.

Yet, in his report to the state, Colton offered a glimpse of what would follow.

He said a 45-mile segment of the line from Fayetteville to Moore County should be built. He proposed the road be made of 18-foot-long timbers and covered with sand. Rails would be installed atop the timbers.

Nine years later, work began on the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road. It was constructed in the same manner proposed by Colton, but without the rails.

When completed, it ran 129 miles to Salem and is reputed to be the longest plank road in history.

For a 12-year period before the Civil War, Fayetteville served as the hub of North Carolina's plank road network. Of the more than 80 plank roads in the state, six fanned out from Fayetteville like points of a compass - the Fayetteville and Western to the northwest; the Fayetteville and Albemarle to the west; the Fayetteville and Southern to Lumber Bridge; the Fayetteville and Raleigh to the north; the Fayetteville and Northern to Kingsbury and the Fayetteville and Warsaw east to Clinton.

Mile after mile of 8-foot-long planks were installed.

Toll houses were built. Tolls on the Fayetteville and Western were a penny per mile for horseback riders, 1.5 cents for one-horse wagons and 2 cents for two-horse teams.


The roads cut the travel time to Fayetteville and goods streamed into town. The plank roads earned the nickname the "farmers' railroads."

In 1858, Jonathan Worth, superintendent for the Fayetteville and Western, reported, "I feel confident that the present income of the road will be kept up for years, and with full crops and consequent increase of travel, it may pay a dividend.

"No dividend, however, can be paid for some time to come, if the road is kept in reasonable repair."

Worth underestimated the power of the railroads. Farmers soon found it cheaper to take their goods to rail stations than to travel to Fayetteville.

The Wilmington & Weldon Rail Road was completed in 1840. The North Carolina Rail Road connected Goldsboro and Charlotte via Raleigh in 1856.

Rails came to Fayetteville in 1858 when a line was built to bring coal from the mines in Egypt in Chatham County.

Colton proved to be a better educator than salesman. He served as principal of Hay Mount High School and Cumberland Academy.

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