I received a request from Mr. Bo Bourne of the Preserve River Road group down in Lawrence County to spread the word about an online petition they’d like interested MissPresers to sign. This petition will be presented to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as part of a request to designate the road as a Mississippi Landmark.
According to the Preserve River Road website:
River Road is the original pioneer highway between LeFleur’s Bluff, Monticello and Columbia. River Road was the primary corridor for over land travelers between the three port cities on the Pearl Road during the Mississippi territory days. Mississippi was admitted to the Union on December 10th 1817 as the 20th state. As Mississippi was seeking a capital city for the state, Columbia served briefly as the Capital in 1821 and Monticello, according to local folklore, served as the State Capital for a day. During these formative years of the State, River Road was a highway for legislators, statesmen, frontiersmen and settlers.
The nominating committee’s hope is to add River Road along side White Sand Creek Bridge to Mississippi’s list of historic places.
White Sand Creek Bridge was placed on the listing by a group of concerned citizens, the Lawrence County Historical Society and MDAH in 1989.
With a Mississippi Department of Archives and History Landmark designation we hope to preserve and protect the historic and scenic nature of the landscape, road and bridge, so generations to come can experience what the pioneer traveler experienced in the deep south of Mississippi in the yesteryears. These views into our past are rapidly disappearing from our landscape and history.
Lawrence County has a rich and very old history as one of the early counties in the state (formed while Mississippi was still a territory in 1814), and its historical society has been actively involved in preserving their early history since the 1970s and early 1980s. In fact, I count about 30 buildings listed on the National Register or designated as Mississippi Landmarks, which is a really high number for a lightly populated county like Lawrence. It’s interesting now to see the desire to preserve larger landscapes such as River Road.
The nominating committee has set up a very nice website to tell the story of River Road and Lawrence County’s place in Mississippi’s history. Check it out at http://preserveriverroad.com and while there, click over to the petition and add your name if you so choose. Even better, take a drive down to Lawrence County and experience River Road for yourself.
Categories: Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation, Mississippi Landmarks
It seems that for various reasons presentations of historic roads are often questionable, usually because of inadequate research and lack of conceptual clarity. In this regard I might cite promotional hype concerning the Natchez Trace from the 1930s and the invention of the Three Chopped Way. The River Road seems to be no exception.
The website presents River Road as “the original pioneer highway between LeFleur’s Bluff, Monticello and Columbia” and as “the primary corridor . . . between the three port cities on the Pearl Road during the Mississippi territory days.” Beside the fact that LeFleur’s Bluff was not a port city during territorial days–in fact nothing can be said about the bluff except that it was a bluff– there are to my knowledge no primary sources that indicate that this was “the original” and “primary corridor” at the time.
As best as I can determine the primary north-south corridor through this area between 1815 and 1824 was a road known as Carroll’s Trace which paralleled the Pearl River on the west side running north, passing through the site of what would become Jackson, and finally terminating at the Natchez Trace at Turner Brashear’s Stand (the site of Shucker’s restaurant near the reservoir). I can’t determine exactly when this road originated, but it was used by General William Carroll’s troops in 1815 during their return to Tennessee following the Battle of New Orleans, hence the name. It also appears on the GLO survey plats of the early 1820s. No road was depicted on the eastern bank of the Pearl by the same surveys.
River Road is quite apparent in this image of the “Original Survey” from the Bureau of Land Management:
These links lead to the plat from the original GLO (General Land Office) survey of T6N R20W, a survey that dates to ca 1810. The township lies in Lawrence County southeast of Monticello and is apparently the location of the three mile section of “River Road” that is the focus of the website.
After studying the plat, I can’t see anything that is clearly a road. Regardless, even if there was a road in this township in ca 1810, it has little bearing on the question of there being a River Road as defined and discussed above. That question isn’t even addressed, and I suspect that it’s not historically defensible.
However, this project isn’t about the pioneer River Road per se. It’s about preserving a three mile strip of–no doubt attractive– road in rural Lawrence County. However, this fact is obscured by the rhetoric that conflates the present-day road with the questionable pioneer road.
The three mile strip is also linked–somewhat unclearly–with a plantation owned in the late 1840s-1850s by the absentee landlord, Stephen A. Douglas. The maps section of the website provides a link to the “Stephen A. Douglas survey,” suggesting perhaps a map specifically linked to Douglas’s plantation. However, the link takes you to the aforementioned GLO plat of T6N R20W and doesn’t mention Douglas.
The reason for having this strip of road designated as a Mississippi Landmark is that it “presents the passerby the impression of what the pioneer traveler experienced.” Here the casual reader must recall the legions of “legislators, statesmen, frontiersmen and settlers” making their way from Columbia to Lefleur’s Bluff. Similar rationales are common for preserving other old roads. However, the claim that the modern traveler can experience what the pioneer experienced is–in most cases, I suspect– usually contradicted by current roads having little resemblance to their forebears. In this specific case the three mile strip of River Road is paved with an early 20th century pony truss bridge and is presumably mucher wider than it was during the 19th century.
It would certainly be laudable to preserve the scenic environs of the road, regardless of the questionable historical associations. However, most of the environs are presumably on private property and therefore not likely to be included within Mississippi Landmark boundaries.
I confess I’m not seeing the road in this 1810 map either. I think the second link was supposed to show the exact area, but when I click it, it doesn’t go anywhere. Is there a map later than 1810 that shows the road more clearly?
Most maps of Mississippi for the first two decades of the 19th century don’t show roads very precisely. The Fielding Lucas map of Mississippi of 1823 is fairly good for the roads for the Mount Dexter cession lands. It shows a road running along the eastern side of the Pearl River from Columbia to Monticello which probably corresponds to the River Road. And I have little doubt that this road predated 1823.
This map and many other pre-1875 maps of the state can be viewed at:
However, my point is that there’s little evidence–to my knowledge–for a road that ran along the east side of the Pearl River from Columbia to Lefleur’s Bluff (the site that would in 1822 become Jackson). The River Road website defines the River Road as running from Columbia to Lefleur’s Bluff via Monticello on the east side of the river. The Lucas map depicts only General Carroll’s Road (or Trace), which I previously mentioned, running northward from Monticello to the Jackson vicinity, and it runs on the west side of the river passing through the future Jackson townsite and terminating at the Choctaw Agency on the Natchez Trace. This northern terminus (i.e. the agency) is slightly in error in that the more accurate GLO plats indicate that the road actually terminated at Brashear’s Stand on the Natchez Trace. This site is a couple miles east of the agency. I suspect that any travel northward during the late 1810s-early 1820s from Monticello to the agency (or Jackson or Brashear’s) would move up the western side of the Pearl on Carroll’s Road.
Discussion of the “River Road” or any other historical roads should be based on the most reliable sources and should avoid conceptually vague, and often erroneous, geographical reconstructions.
A much more defensible approach for presenting the background for the River Road would be to define it as running from Columbia to Monticello (and thereby deleting any claims north of Monticello). As mentioned this route is depicted on the 1823 Lucas map.
A final caveat: the scale and resolution of the 1823 map can’t be used to precisely locate the route of this road, although I suspect it probable that it does at least closely approximate the route of the current road.
Jack, I think I understand your point now–not that this is or isn’t a historic road but that it perhaps doesn’t fit in as part of a much longer River Road that went all the way up to what is now Jackson. Since the road is named River Road (in Lawrence County), I was mistakenly assuming you were questioning that this was even an old road.
Exactly. It’s not so much a question of whether or not the three mile strip of River road is old; its a question of meaning. Do the concepts we use make sense? Do they reasonably interpret reality?
Every road is defined within a given historical and geographical context. Within its context the road must make sense.
Within the prescribed context of ca 1815-1825 Mississippi, the River Road was defined as the major artery running up the east side of the Pearl River from Columbia to “Lefleur’s Bluff” via Monticello. Based on our sources, such a road makes little sense.
However, a road running along the east side of the Pearl from Columbia to Monticello does make sense, in that it agrees with map evidence.
Jack and Everyone,
Thank you. This is exactly the conversation we need. I am very much of a novice at this and it shows. Our information is based upon limited information and experience. What we have is mostly based conversations with Anita Clinton and her written information about Stephen Douglas and Lawrence County. Unfortunately, Mrs. Clinton is no longer with us.
What remians of River Road still exists today intermittently north of Monticello in Simpson along the eastern side of the Pearl. Here is a BLM “Original Survey” Twp 9N-21W, MS, St Stephens (Subdiv. Lines) a north Lawrence map which shows what appears to be a North/South road. I hope this link works. You may need to cut and paste and zoom once you are into the BLM survey page.
Jack, you are correct. Our goal is save this historic place and road. In doing so we need to get our facts accurate. Any help you or any of the above can provide would be greatly appreciated. We are definitely in need of your expertise.
First, I suspect that historic road preservation is problematical considering (as noted above) that the historical fabric (such as there was) of road beds in many cases has usually been altered beyond recognition, often leaving nothing more than a narrow swath of greenery on either side for preservation. In effect then, the preservation effort isn’t so much about the road per se as it is about a very narrow strip of environ.
With that being said, I would provide you with the following pointers:
(1) For a property to be designated as a Mississippi Landmark, it has been necessary for it to be National Register eligible. Consequently, the argument for the significance of the road should be couched in terms of the National Register criteria of significance.
(2) I would suggest that your argument needs to be tighter. In other words, define the River Road in historically meaningful, and thereby defensible, terms. If you bring in the Stephen A. Douglas property (which might actually be somewhat extraneous), I would make the association with the road clearer.
(3) A practical consideration pertains to a boundary description. A Mississippi Landmark designation is effectively a permanent preservation easement which is recorded as a legal instrument in the appropriate chancery clerk’s office and requires a legal description of the property. For rural properties this often entails a metes-and-bounds survey. For small properties this is usually not much a problem. However, for a three mile strip of road it will probably be a major concern.
If I can help further, let me know.
Unfortunately, a couple of months ago a truck with a load of logs went across the bridge, causing damage and rendering the bridge unsafe. It is closed down at this time and I have not heard of any plans to restore the damage caused from this incident.
If anyone knows or has heard anything about this please post.
Good Morning: I’m researching how to find out more about the plantation that was owned by Stephen A. Douglas, the absentee landlord. I was looking for the plantation that was willed to him by his father-in-law, Martha Martin’s father, but the plat information you cite indicates acreage that he acquired directly. Could these acquisitions have been made after he was willed a larger plantation? Is there a way I could research the plantation by a particular name?
Not sure how helpful this is…but in 1857 Stephen Douglas combined resources with James A. McHatton. Douglas’ sons petitioned for restitution following the civil war for losses from that plantation. There is lots of information out there but I also have notes to share if helpful.