As settlers entered Arkansas they had to follow routes that nature made possible. Many followed Native American routes through the area. These were simple wilderness trails, often marked only by blazed trees. A typical early road was described as "a direction marked out, not a surface to travel over."
Eager to receive mail, one tradesman in Old Independence County, John Luttig, stated in a 1815 letter, "There will soon be a regular Post Road through these parts."
Between 1816 and 1818 several men petitioned the Circuit Court of Lawrence County (which included all of north Arkansas) for three more roads to be laid out. Government specifications called for "a sixteen-foot-wide lane with brush and saplings leveled to the ground and all trees up to twelve inches in diameter cut to within four inches of the ground. The stumps of trees wider than twelve inches had to be within eight inches of the ground."
Slight improvements on these trails were made in 1824 when the first Military Road was constructed in the state. Contracts provided for a "path twenty-four feet wide with timber and other impediments removed, though stumps were not removed." The road remained in bad shape on throughout the years before the Civil War.
Sometime before 1834 a path known as the Carrollton Road had been laid out from the town of Jackson (Davidsonville) in Lawrence County and ran westward to Fayetteville. Another road, later known as the Clinton Army Road, ran from Batesville to Clinton and on to Morrilton. The Batesville Road went from the Saint Francis River to Batesville.
By 1844 three more roads left the White River bottoms, leading into the hills. One meandered along high ridges out of Batesville toward Clinton across present Cleburne County, passed near Drasco (Crossroads) and followed a direction which closely corresponds with present State Highway 92. All three roads were extremely difficult to travel, with little clearance and many holes. The only other way to traverse the wilderness was to follow old Indian trails and buffalo trails.
Other, shorter roads were built, usually from a steamboat landing on White River inland to small towns.
By 1900 all the region's roads were still dirt and largely unimproved. In 1907 the Henry Lewis family traveled by wagon from Mount Pleasant in Izard County toward Indian Territory and wrote: "In going up the mountain west of Locust Grove we had to hitch two teams to one wagon . . . . Our wagons had narrow wheels about one and one-half inches wide which made deep cuts in the soft earth. . . . Some days we would drive all day and not see a house."
Decades later, in 1930, the region sported no paved roads, except for 25 miles in White County and 10 miles in Poinsett County. Most of the 12-county region's 1,262 miles of roads were graveled, but in each county there were still miles of roads only graded or unimproved. All roads leading out of Batesville were graveled, except for a graded road crossing the White River leading to Desha, and to Bradford. Highway 14, unimproved and primitive, led from Batesville to Bethesda, crossed the ferry below Marcella, and went on to Mountain View toward Leslie.
That same year the State Highway Commission reported that in Arkansas only 26 automobiles were registered per mile of road in all of its highway system, compared to 84 autos per mile in the United States.
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On April 30, 1816, Congress established the first post road in the Arkansas Territory from Saint Louis to Arkansas Post. Mail service was restricted to one delivery per month. In 1923 three new post routes were added, including weekly mail from Batesville to Little Rock. By 1829 increased population forced an expansion of the postal road system, including 14 routes. In the Old Independence region mail was delivered every two weeks between Batesville and Izard Courthouse (Norfork) and weekly mail betweenGreenville, Missouri and Batesville.
In 1816 settlers petitioned for a road to be laid out from the town of Lawrence (Davidsonville) to Poke Bayou (Batesville), and commissioners were appointed to view and mark it. At the same time the Circuit Court ordered a road to be laid out from the town of Lawrence to the mouth of Bayou Saladore (Salado Creek). Another road was opened that year through Lebanon Township and Christian Township. Two years later a road was marked from Stuarts Mills to White River near the mouth of Poke Bayou, and on to Red River.
The Old Military Road was first called the Old Natchitoches Trail and later designated as the Southwest Trail. It led down through upper southeast Missouri, crossed Black River at Poplar Bluff and entered Arkansas near the state line at the old Pitman or Hix Ferry across Current River. It crossed Fourche deMas River at the ancient Columba crossing, then Eleven Point River at Black's Ferry and Spring River at the Miller Ford. After it crossed the Strawberry River Valley into Independence County near Batesville, it crossed White River and went on to Fulton on Red River in southwest Arkansas.
When George Featherstonehaugh traveled along the Road in 1834, he noted that the way was full of rocks, stumps, and fallen trees that had not been removed. Bridges were missing and mud impeded his progress.
The Carrollton Road was laid out from Jackson to Izard Court House (Norfork), crossed the river at Talbots Post Office and ferry (above present Cotter) then angled on to Yellville and Carrollton. A leg of that road (or of the Batesville Road) ran up from the southeast to join at Izard Court House. It was laid out from Batesville up the north bank of White River by Pine Bayou (Mount Olive) and to Izard Court House. The Carrollton Road was laid out by the Army Corps of Engineers and was intended to be used primarily to facilitate the removal of Indians to the west.
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