Plank Roads Were Abundant in Michigan, 1800s Including Through Kalamazoo
Plank roads were commonplace back in the early 1800s throughout the country. Dirt trails were turning to mud - carriages, coaches, buggies…even horses were getting stuck in the mud. The remedy? Well, even though hard roads were possible - cobblestone, brick, etc. - the majority of the population could not afford the inevitable taxes that those type of roads would bring. So the next best thing – and the cheapest thing to use - was wood.
Thus was born the plank road. Michigan had more than enough forestry to supply wooden planks and boards for a makeshift road. It was a win-win-win situation.
WIN #1: It was inexpensive
WIN #2: The downing of trees helped clear the land for more settlers and businesses
WIN #3: No more bumpy roads, or getting stuck in the mud - especially in springtime
Even though wood was cheaper, toll gates sprung up to help pay the costs. Soon, there were plank roads everywhere; not just in city limits or the countryside, but through the woods and forests as well.
People were crazy about these roads.
Just what was needed!
Michigan was not the first to have plank roads…the first one was located in Syracuse, New York, that lasted from 1846-1912. But eventually many Michigan towns and cities boasted plank roads: Lansing, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and many, many, many more, making Michigan a leader when it came to plank roads.
But after about a decade, the wood started rotting, cracking, breaking, and in dire need of repair. This was something that wasn’t considered by many. Not wanting to keep spending money for all the plank road repairs, it didn’t take long for the plank roads to eventually disappear over time, replaced by more railroads, gravel highways, and paved city roads.
This brief synopsis is just a tip of the plank road iceberg; there is SO much more to the story. You can read a lot more in-depth detail HERE.
The gallery below shows just a few of the old Michigan plank roads and locations!