Friday, March 18, 2011

Anatomy of a Plank Road

Upper Washington Ave. in Rensselaer, NY's North End was once the Albany and Sand Lake Plank road. So what was a plank road like?

The Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review quoted a letter from plank road promoter George Geddes in their 1847 article “Plank Roads – New Improvement” (Geddes introduced the concept to the US, out near Syracuse):
The plank are of hemlock, eight feet long and four inches thick, laid crosswise of the road on sills four inches square. The earth is broken up and made fine, the sills are bedded into it, and the surface graded smooth; the plank are then laid on the sills, care being taken that the earth is up to and touches the plank at every point. … The plank having been laid, the next thing is to grade a road some ten or twelve feet wide on one side, and two or three on the other, by taking earth from the ditches on each side, and bringing it, by a ditch scraper, just up to and even with the upper side of the plank, so that if a wheel runs off the track, it passes upon a smooth surface of earth.
William Kingsford, Civil Engineer On Hudson River Railroad, provided these illustrations in his 1851 book: History, Structure, And Statistics Of Plank Roads In The United States And Canada.

Next: Toll Gates and the Shunpike Road; Plank Road Directors

Previously: The Albany and Sand Lake Plank Road

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