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Fincastle Turnpike

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Fincastle Turnpike
In 1834 the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to develop a route ... read more

In 1834 the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to develop a route known as the “Fincastle Turnpike” from the Wilderness Road at Fincastle to Cumberland Gap. This was to be a toll road maintained by each county. The 248 miles of the road was completed around 1841. Militia Forts dotted the road as it traversed through the counties of Botetourt, Craig, Giles, Bland, Tazewell, Russell and the joining the Wilderness Road in Scott and Lee Counties.

Transportation Needs

By the turn of the nineteenth century the need for improved transportation between Western and Eastern Virginia was widely recognized. The means for economically moving the increasing volume of bulk commodities was becoming both a political and economic issue. Political demands were being made to divert funds from the Kanawha Canal and Turnpike to the construction of a turnpike connecting the watersheds of the Holston, Clinch and Powell to the East Coast. In l832 the Virginia General Assembly passed “an act directing a survey of a route for a road between Cumberland Gap and Price’s Turnpike”. Price’s Turnpike ran from Fincastle to the Valley of the Kanawha.

The Route

The general route specified was “from Cumberland Gap, by Wallen’s Ridge, in the County of Lee, near Powell Mountain, thence, crossing said ridge and mountains, to the Valley of the Clinch, and up the same, to Russell Courthouse, and either down the valley of East River, or Wolfe Creek, to Giles Courthouse, thence to Chapman or Snider’s Ferry on New River; thence up the valley of Sinking Creek to the head thereof, in a gap of the Alleghany Mountain; thence the most practicable route to New Castle; thence down the valley of Craig’s Creek in Price’s Turnpike Road.”

The Road Opens

By l834 the surveying was complete and the General Assembly passed the necessary legislation to fund the construction of “a road from Price’s Turnpike to Cumberland Gap”. Toll gates were to be set up every fifteen miles and the toll was set equivalent to that on the Kanawha Road. Problems related to toll collection, maintenance, payment of bonded debt, and other conflicts began as soon as the road was completed. While some counties fulfilled their responsibilities related to upkeep and bonded debt, others flatly refused to service their section.

Support Collapses

In 1846 the state had enough and turned the road over to the counties through which it passed. With the county governing board unable to effectively function the Fincastle to the Cumberland Gap Turnpike slowly died and passed into history. Shortly after turning the Fincastle Turnpike over to the counties the state authorized the construction of the Southwest Turnpike from Salem to Bristol, thus bypassing the counties that refused to support the Fincastle Turnpike. The Southwest Turnpike survives today as I-81.

Militia Forts

After the Pleasant Point Campaign of 1774, Lord Dunmore ordered local militia to erect seven forts in far Southwest Virginia along the Clinch River. Often the frontier forts were well built block houses or small fortifications that provided port holes for warding off attacks. Many other fortifications were built in the region as more settlers moved into the new territory.