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November 15, 1984


PIX #1 - Above illustration depicts the construction of a typical Plank Road. After grading the roadbed, heavy timbers were anchored to the soil, and more timbers were anchored crosswise to provide the surface over which the traffic of horsedrawn vehicles moved. The illustration actually depicted a segment of the U.S. National Road between Columbia and Providence, MO. (State Historical Society of Missouri Illustration).

PIX #2 - This illustration shows a typical Plank Road in use. The lower Sandusky Plank Road provided an unimproved road beside the improved portion to accommodate vehicles that had to turn off the main road to allow the most privileged team to continue, as illustrated above.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Most recently, the historical Plank Road was mentioned in the series of Potluck Amsden articles. A reader telephoned and told me that complete data about the Plank Road was contained in the Sandusky County History. The following article is presented from data extracted from it. Sorry, I lost my note of the person who told me where to find it and cannot give her credit.

"For a period of about nine years after the failure of the Ohio Railroad Company in the late 1840's, the spirit of business enterprise seemed to slumber in Sandusky County, and enterprising businessmen talked of the dullness of business prospects. Some even considered leaving, to go where business was more promising"...according to the history of Sandusky County for the period of 1840-1850.


Sandusky, OHio was referred to then as Lower Sandusky. The small village further south on the Sandusky River was known as Little Sandusky, and still further south was Upper Sandusky...all named after Indian name for the river.

Lower Sandusky was well situated for collecting produce and selling merchandise back then. It was the central trading point of an area extending southward more than halfway to Tiffin, eastward to at least halfway to Bellevue, north almost to Port Clinton, and west halfway or more to Perrysburg, and southwest as far as Risdon and Rome, (now Fostoria) in the western portion of Seneca County.

It was an area with an average diameter of 40 miles. Products were brought to Lower Sandusky for sale or exchange, and for shipment by way of the Sandusky River and Lake Erie to Buffalo, and then to New York.

The people residing in that area were chiefly supplied with drygoods, groceries, drugs, salt, leather and fish by the retail stores in Lower Sandusky. In fact, a large retail and barter business was carried on even without railroads.


Unfortunately, the dirt roads, excepting the Maumee and the Western Reserve trunpike, were never good, and much of the year they were impassible. Consequently the time and expense of hauling heavy loads of wheat, corn and pork was considerable and reduced the value of the products where produced. Regardless of circumstances and conditions, great quantities of farm products were hauled to Lower Sandusky at certain seasons via the roads from Bettsville and Rome (Fostoria).

The idea of building plank roads was born, and it appeared to be the best system. Thus, it was the phrase "plank road" awakened the spirit of enterprise which had hindered progress in the area. The Lower Sandusky Plank Road Company chartered with capital stock of $100,000 in shares of $50 each.


The plan of the Lower Sandusky Plank Road Co. was to build a road from the south termination of Front Street in Lower Sandusky, southward along the Sandusky River to the south line of Edward Tindall's land; thence southwesterly to Bettsville, and then to Rome, with a branch starting from the south line of Tindall's land south to Tiffin.

In earlier Potluck articles, I referred to the building of the Plank Road from Fostoria to Fremont, and mentioned Charles Foster as prominently connected with the project. Never did I know, until the subject in the Sandusky County History explained that the project was primarily financed by 53 Fremont Stockholders out of total of about 60.


On April 11, 1849, four of the five directors, named by the stockholders, namely James Justice, L.Q. Rawson, Charles W. Foster (of Rome), John R. Pease and James Villetta, held their first meeting at the office of L.Q. Rawson. Foster was absent. Officers elected were James Justice, president; L.Q. Rawson, secretary; John R. Pease, treasurer.

No time was lost after the election of officers in getting plans started. Contracts for grading were executed by the president, assisted by Daniel Tindall. Sawmills in the vicinity were engaged for exclusive production of planks and strings for the road. One stream mill was erected and operated by Joshua B. Smith for lumber production at the location three miles north of Swope's Corners.


The form of the plank road, when finished, was that of a turnpike, well- graded and ditched. The crown or flat surface of the top of the pike was 18 feet wide. the planks were eight feet long and two inches thick of best white or bur oak, laid crosswise on firm stringers embedded in the earth, on one side of the crown, leaving a good earth road for use in dry weather, and for the use by teams in all weather if they had to turn out for the team to pass which was entitled to the plank track.

John England, a resident in the village of Ballville at the period of time prior to the building of the plank road, also later when the Sandusky County History was being written, remembered and reported "In several instances I met heavily loaded teams on the plank road where the side or earth road was so soft that it would not do to turn off the plank, for if I did, I could never pull out. The result was that the team bound by the law of the road to turn out would unload in part and then turn out to let the other pass, then take the plank again, reload and go on".


Mrs. England also reveales that he was in the service of Charles W. Foster as a teamster about seven years, four years of it spent in hauling on the plank road between Rome and Lower Sandusky. He hauled produce from Rome to Tiffin, also from Rome to Lower Sandusky, on the earth raods, before the plank road was made. Before the plank road was built, 40 bushels of wheat, or 2,400 pounds was a full average load for a wagon and one span of good horses. After the plank road was built, Mr. England revealed he often hauled at one load 110 bushels of wheat or 6,000 pounds with one span of horses.

The toll charge for such a load was 45 cents, a small amount for the larger loads that could be hauled and the saving in time as compared with the conditions of the earlier roads.

According to the Sandusky County History report, strangers passing through or stopping on business would see the streets crowded with loaded teams waiting their turn to unload. It was not uncommon to see 400 or 500 two- horse wagons standing in the streets along the way to the elevators.


Even though the era of the Plank Road brought renewed vidor to the entire area for which it was constructed, its destiny was doomed by the development of a system of railroads through northwestern Ohio. As the writers of the Sandusky County History said, "The noble horses of flesh and blood, whose food was oats, corn and hay, and which needed rest, was, in the grand march of invention and progress soon to retire and leave the long and heavy hauling to the iron horse which lives on coal and water".

Regardless of the advent of the railroads, by early 1860's the builders of the Plank Road discovered that the wooden structure of the road had started to deteriorate and needed replacement. It was apparent that even though the Plank Road encourage the people to stay and develop the material resources and business activities of the area, it was doomed to be replaced by the railroads.

The completion of the Toledo, Norwalk & Cleveland Railroad in 1852 and the Fremont, Lima & Union Railroad, which was completed as far as Fostoria at about that same time, spelled "finish" for the Plank Road. It was abandoned early in 1860.

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