One thing I’ve gleaned from writing The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn and other historical fiction: We take getting around by car for granted. The smooth (mostly – if you ignore potholes and such) surfaces we drive on enable us to drive from one city to another close by in minutes or hours. We don’t often think of it taking days or even weeks to reach the next city or the next state, for that matter. I’m reminded of driving from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Mount Vernon, Virginia in a matter of two-three hours, while contemplating how envious George and Martha Washington would have been of such a speedy trip. For them, in the late 1700s, it could take weeks to make such a journey!
Back when the State of Alabama was the new kid on the block, the roads (dirt for the most part) were often treacherous on a good day and impassable due to heavy rain turning them into a quagmire on a bad one. In fact, most transportation occurred on rivers because it was far more comfortable and less laborious to float down the river than to travel by horseback or stagecoach.
There were roads across Alabama as depicted in the picture of an 1822 map of the state. I’ve included a close-up of the Madison County area which is where my series is set. But most people held the belief that rivers and streams which could be navigated and which were located close to a town, gave that town an advantage over other towns without a river nearby. Thus Huntsville held high hopes of becoming a major city because of the Big Spring near downtown.
Still, the roads need a lot of work! In Alabama: The History of a Deep South State by William Warren Rogers, Robert David Ward, et al. (July 3, 2018, p55) the roads of north Alabama are described as “crude” and that people “literally bushwhacked their way across the mountains, often hopelessly lost and searching for creeks and streams to follow toward rivers and known points.” Further, the area was “the most broken mountainous country” with “the largest rattlesnakes.” In 1818 northern Alabama was a “roadless wilderness.” But that soon changed.
In Madison County, the effort to develop a better network of roads really took off after the second land sales in 1818. By 1828, roads connected all sides of the county with the rest of the state and the neighboring state of Tennessee. Many of the roads were either toll or turnpikes constructed by stock companies that were chartered by the Legislature.
The Federal Post Office Department at that time also would designate certain roads as post roads or mail routes, which then increased that route’s status as a main route between the larger cities. The earliest designation of a post road in Madison County, Alabama, was on July 16, 1822, when R.J. Meigs, Jr., the Postmaster General, ordered the creation of several routes with Huntsville at the center.
Most travel along the roads was accomplished by horseback or stage. The hotels and inns each maintained stage coaches or hacks for the use of their guests and the public. For instance, from the Early History of Huntsville, Ala.: 1804-1870 by Edward Chambers Betts (Brown Printing Co., 1916, p65), the following ad is cited, which apparently typically included a sketch of a stage coach drawn by four moving horses:
“A Four Horse Hack.”
“On reasonable charges rented for any length of time or for any distance. Apply Huntsville Inn. I. Jones.”
Having discovered these types of facts, I’ve included the concept of the Fury Falls Inn having its own coaches and horses as well as mention the difficulty of travel in 1821, the time period of my series. Of course, when those horses are stolen, Flint Hamilton, the fill-in innkeeper, has his hands full trying to satisfy his distrustful employer and the guests! Imagining the hardships of traveling from one town to another across such terrain is difficult for me to fully comprehend. Especially when I think about having to bushwhack a path while fearing becoming disoriented and lost in the wilderness. Nope, traveling back then was not for the weak or faint-hearted!
As a person who loves to drive, I have a feeling I wouldn’t have been traveling very much under such conditions. Which means I’d have been more a homebody than I am now. But at least I have plenty of books to read…and write! Until next time, I hope you’ll find some new books to read and enjoy!
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