An Abbreviated History of Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Chapter Five: Transportation and Routes

By Maud Carter Clement, Chatham, Virginia, ca. 1952.

Chapter contents:

Early Roads

When the early settlers moved into Lunenburg's great western area, roads had to be laid out at once so that these "back inhabitants" could attend court more than a hundred miles to the east.

Dan River Road

Lunenburg's first court was held in 1746, and the following year the first road to be laid out in what is now Pittsylvania was order to be cut from William Bean's plantation on Dan River to the courthouse. A numerous settlement had been made in the Dan Valley at this early date. Peter Wilson was ordered to cut the road from Bean's to Sandy River (near Danville); William Hogan from Sandy River to Double Creek; William Wynn from Banister River to North River at Cargill's. This road led in the same direction of the road that leads today from the Oak Hill Plantation to Danville, where turning northeast it continued across Halifax.

Morgan Bryan Road

In 1748 an historic roadway was cut across Lunenburg's western lands from north to south, but was not done by court order. Morgan Bryan, a Pennsylvania Quaker, had led a body of settlers down into Virginia, along the Shenandoah. In 1748 Bryan decided to move his family to the Yadkin River in North Carolina. He made the journey down the Valley of Virginia, crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains through Maggoty Gap (near Boone's Mill), and continued across what is now Franklin and Henry Counties into North Carolina. With the aid of his sons, three months were required to cut and clear a way for the passage of his wagon. In 1753 the Moravian brethren travelled Bryan's road when they came from Pennsylvania to make their settlement in North Carolina, (now Winston-Salem). They kept a diary of the trip, and noted that after crossing Smith River they came to John Hickey's store. The roadway became known as Morgan Bryan's Road, and was travelled by thousands who made their homes in the Carolinas.

There were three very early roads which led across Pittsylvania from east to west, known as Hickey's Road, the Pigg River Road and the Irish Road. Along these three highways travelled the early settlers, some moving westward from the more thickly settled sections of eastern Virginia; others having travelled down the valley, crossed the mountains and moved eastward.

Hickey's Road

Hickey's Road was ordered to be laid out at a court held for Lunenburg in June 1749, and led from a point on Staunton River to the Mayo Settlements in what is now western Patrick County, a distance of more than a hundred miles. As we have seen the Mayo Settlements were made by Pennsylvania emigrants and became a place of importance in the early life of the section. The road order reads: "It is ordered that a road be laid off and cleared the best and most convenient way from Staunton River to the Mayo Settlement at the Wart (Bull) mountain, and it is ordered that Joseph Mayes and all the male laboring tithables convenient to said road forthwith mark of and lay the most convenient way from Staunton River to Allen's Creek, and keep the same in repair according to law."

Richard Parsons was appointed surveyor from Allen's Creek to Banister River; Joseph Cloud from Smith River to the settlements. This road led from a point on Staunton River in northern Halifax by Mt. Airy, Chalk Level, and Chatham, crossing Banister river near the old Poor Farm, and turning west led across Henry and Patrick Counties. It took its name from John Hickey, whose store and settlement were near its western limits.

Irish Road

The Irish Road led in the same general direction of Hickey's Road, east and west. From early land plats we find it leaving a ford on Banister River near old Pigg's Mill, running thence to Whitmell and on into Henry County, crossing Grassy Creek to the west. It probably took its name from the early Irish settlers.

Pigg River Road

The Pigg River Road led from Elkhorn Creek by Whittles, Green Bay Church, and Red Eye in a northwesterly direction across Pigg River, and serves as a main thoroughfare today. It was later continued across Franklin County to Little River of Floyd County.

Other Roads

When this section became a part of Halifax County in 1752, new roads had to be laid out leading to the new courthouse at Peytonsburg.

In July 1753 another road was ordered to be surveyed from Bean's house on Dan River to the Courthouse, and Peter Wilson was ordered to be surveyor from Russell's Mill to Fall Creek: Samuel Harris from Fall Creek to Sweeting Fork; Ben Terry from the latter to the courthouse.

When Pittsylvania was organized a county in 1767, a road was ordered which remains an important highway today:

"Thomas Watson, Thomas Hardy, and Henry McDaniel are ordered to mark a road from Hickey's Road at Great Cherrystone (Chatham) to the Pigg River Road across Elkhorn."

This would be the road from Chatham to Peytonsburg. In 1776 Henry France was appointed surveyor of the road "from where Morgan Bryan's Road crosses the South Fork of Mayo to the Carolina line."


As we move into the next century, we find that Pittsylvania had become one of the richest agricultural sections of the state, ranking first in the cultivation of tobacco, growing 6,439,000 pounds; and second in the cultivation of corn (census 1840). The necessity for improved highways over which to move farm products to market was a matter of deep concern.

Franklin Turnpike

In 1837 Pittsylvania, Franklin, and Botetourt Counties petitioned the General Assembly for a dirt turnpike to be built from Danville by Rocky Mount, Big Lick (Roanoke City) to Fincastle, asking that the road from Danville to Rocky Mount be built at $300 per mile. The petition stated that the road would be of great benefit to travellers from south seeking the mineral springs of Virginia, as well as furnishing an outlet for the farm products of Southwest Virginia.

The petition was granted, and the road was built at once, being surveyed by the celebrated French engineer, Crozet. It was known as the Franklin Turnpike and proved to be a great artery of trade. Along its dusty way travelled droves of horses and hogs, herds of cattle and sheep, flocks of turkeys, wagon loads of chickens, apples and farm produce, seeking market.

Stage Road

In 1842 a turnpike from Danville to Lynchburg was chartered, which led by Chatham and Chalk Level, crossing Staunton River at Ward's Bridge. A stage coach plied daily between the two towns and the turnpike was known as the Stage Road.


The waterways of Virginia have provided a convenient means for travel from the beginning of its history. The fact that the rivers which drain this section — the Dan, Banister, Staunton, and Roanoke — flow into North Carolina brought about very close trade relations between the two sections. The clearing and opening of the waterways was a matter of so great concern that it was brought before the General Assembly, and in 1796 a committee was appointed from Virginia to confer with the Governor of North Carolina regarding improvement of the navigation of the Roanoke. Men caught a vision of a great waterway of trade, with boats and batteaux [laden] with produced swiftly covering the miles to market. The project offered relief from the weary miles through mud to the markets of Richmond and Petersburg.

The men of Pittsylvania at once set about clearing and opening their rivers. In December 1796 a bill offered in Legislature to improve the navigation of Staunton River from Booker's Ferry to the mouth of Pigg River.

The Roanoke Navigation Company

The Roanoke Navigation Company was formed in 1804 for the improvement of the navigation of the Roanoke River and its tributaries. In order to raise $100,000 to carry out the project, shares in the company were offered for sale. The company flourished for many years, adding greatly to the prosperity of this section. Navigation was opened from Weldon, North Carolina up Staunton River to the mouth of Pigg River; and up the Dan River to Meade, North Carolina. Batteaux carrying from 7,000 to 10,000 pounds plied regularly up Dan and Staunton Rivers propelled by long poles the blowing of the batteau horn gave notice of its approach at the landing places, where hogsheads of tobacco, cargoes of wheat flour, and other produce were awaiting shipment.

The river batteaux were long narrow boats, narrow in proportion to their lengths, and it is said the ideas was suggested by the Indians' custom of lashing their light canoes together with poles when a heavy load was to be carried. Later the long flat scow was used.

The building of a canal through the dismal swamp gave to this section the further advantage of the Norfolk markets, and access to the ocean.

A rock canal with locks was built around the falls at Danville, - and so enduring was the work that the canal is in use today by the cotton mills.

In 1835 the General Assembly passed a bill for improving the navigation of Banister River from Meadeville in Halifax County to Clark's Bridge, six miles east of Chatham. Meadeville and Riceville were river villages which grew up during this period when the waterways were the chief means of transportation. They flourished for a period, with their flour mills and tobacco factories, but when the railroads brought a change of trade centers, they gradually faded away.


There was no postal system in the American colonies until 1692, when Great Britain appointed Thomas Neale postmaster general of all the American Colonies. The following the House of Burgesses, eager to co-operate with the mother country, enacted that since Mr. Neale was to establish within the colonies "offices for the receiving and dispatching away of letters and packets", he should receive three pence for a letter of one sheet to go no further than eighty miles.

Little more of the system is known until 1730 when Alexander Spottswood of Virginia was made postmaster general of the American colonies. Being a man of action he at once arranged regular mail routes, a postrider being required to cover thirty miles a day. Mail from Philadelphia now reached Williamsburg in one week's time. He appointed Benjamin Franklin, an obscure printer, postmaster of Philadelphia.

In the early years of the Revolutionary War the main mail route from north to south led through the center of the state. Due to the muddiness of the roads, it was moved westward to the hills and led by Peytonsburg and through the Meadows. This route continued in use until well into the last century.

The new congress of the United States in 1792 authorized the president to make contracts for new mail routes and regulate the rate of Postage. This was now fixed at six cents for a single letter to go not farther than thirty miles, and twenty-five cents when the distance exceeded four hundred and fifty miles.

The men of Pittsylvania kept fully informed regarding the work and laws of their new government, and at once petitioned the General Assembly for a postrider in each county, with cross post roads leading out from the great mail road established by the General government. (As we have seen the great mail road led through this county.) The petition set forth the need of the press (newspapers) "how it contributes to the security of the constitution by teaching the people to know and value their rights".

When regular stage routes came into use the stage carried the mails. Porter Flagg had the mail contract from Danville to Lynchburg for many years.

United States stamps were first issued in 1847. During the War between the States in the scarcity of stamps, the postmaster at Pittsylvania Court House, Mr. James P. Johnson, had a county stamp printed, reading "Pittsylvania Court House, James P. Johnson, postmaster," in color red and white. These stamps are now scarce and very valuable, an undamaged stamp selling for more than a thousand dollars.


There was no means of public conveyance in Virginia prior to the Revolutionary period. Stage lines had been established between northern cities as early as 1745. A stage was running twice a week between New York and Philadelphia by 1756. In the south travel was accomplished by private means — the wealthy using a coach or chaise, and the man of lesser means his own stout wagon.

But travel was a real hardship, with the roads rough, and inns uncomfortable and "indifferent", as Washington recorded. Most of the travel was done on horseback, by both men and women. In Baltimore there were not more than half a dozen four wheeled carriages in use before 1880; riding on horseback was common even in full dress to entertainments. The divided coattail of men's evening dress has come to us from this practice in Old England.

From early tax lists we find there were a few chaises in Pittsylvania even during the Revolutionary period. Owners of chaises between 1770-1780 were John Smith of the Pocket, John Dix of Dan River, Captain Hugh Innes, William Ware, John Briscoe (Maryland), William Tunstall, the clerk, John Lewis of Byrd.


It is not known when the stage route between Danville and Lynchburg was established. Mr. Charles Calloway was proprietor of the Bell Tavern at the Courthouse when he placed a notice in a Danville newspaper (The Recorder) of 1836, stating: "All persons wishing to take a stage north or south are informed that the stage office is kept at the Bell Tavern, where every attention will be given to passengers." Four horses driven at a long gallop were used to the stage, and relay stables were placed at Chatham and Chalk Level where the horses were changed. The approach of the stage was heralded by blowing a horn, and its passing each day was an event of interest.

Modern Railroads

There has been no change or improvement in man's means of transportation from the dawn of history down to the year 1800. He still travelled over water in a boat propelled by oars or sails catching wind currents. On land he rode in a wheeled vehicle drawn by a beast of burden — the horse, oxen, etc. But with the turn of 1800 the power of steam was used to propel a boat, to drive an engine. The idea was rapidly expanded into a railroad, an engine running on a laid track. By 1825 a number of short railways had been built; and then in 1827 was organized in Baltimore the great Baltimore and Ohio Railway System. The railroad has proven its worth.

The use of the new fuel, coal, was of utmost value in driving the new steam engine, and the two together formed the foundation of our industrial development.

The men of Pittsylvania were aware of the advantages of a railroad as a means of transportation for their farm products. Whitmell P. Tunstall, of the Bellegrove plantation, was the leader in a determined movement for a railroad from Richmond to Danville. A railroad convention met in Danville in October 1835. Tunstall, a young lawyer, represented the county in Legislature at this time, and in 1835 introduced a bill to charter the Richmond and Danville Railroad, pointing out that through this railway Richmond markets would receive the trade of all southwest Virginia to the Tennessee line. However, the charter was not won until 1847, and the first train arrived in Danville on June 19, 1856.

At the close of the War Between the States the railroad was in a deplorable condition, tracks torn up and bridges burned. Another son of Pittsylvania now became president, Algernon Sidney Buford, who also proved to be a great leader. During the impoverished years following the War, Colonel Buford extended the trackage to three thousand miles and laid the foundation of the great Southern Railway System.

In 1876 the railroad from Lynchburg to Danville was opened with depots at convenient intervals. So great was the enthusiasm of the people for the railroad as a means for developing this section that by popular subscription branch lines were built to nearby towns, and leased to the Southern. Such a road was built from Rocky Mount to Gretna; another from Stuart and Martinsville to Danville, known as the Danville and Western.

The Atlantic and Danville Railroad, connecting Danville with Portsmouth and Norfolk, was built largely with British capital. It serves today as an important carrier for southern Virginia.


The discovery of vast deposits of oil underlying our country in the latter half of the last century brought about the development of the oil industry, and gave the world a new fuel. Soon after the close of the War Between the States young Wyatt Whitehead opened a dry goods store at the Court House, and while purchasing his goods in Baltimore brought the first oil lamps to the county. Candles were still in use at this time.

When gasoline was developed and proved to be a refined and safe fuel for engines, there soon followed the horseless carriage, the automobile.

The need for a safe and quick means of private travel had long been felt, and both Europe and America had tried out new ideas for more than a hundred years. The automobile was the result of these many experiments.

In 1895 four automobiles were built in the United States. The number had increased to five thousand by 1900. (National Automobile Chamber of Commerce.) The aim of the builders during these early years was to produce a car that at least would operate.

The expansion of the automobile industry and the building of good roads went hand in hand. Today many Pittsylvania farm families have both and automobile for family use and an auto truck for farm use.

Hard Surfaced Roads

It is strange that with the universal need of good roads that it was not until the bicycle became popular that definite action was taken. In 1880 the League of American Wheelmen was formed and this organization aroused the American people to build hard surfaced roads.

In 1891 New Jersey gave "state aid" to her counties to help them build good roads, and in the following two decades most of the other states followed her lead. Then in 1916 Congress passed the bill of Federal aid to the States in road building.

When Claude A. Swanson, of Pittsylvania, served as governor of Virginia from 1906-1910, he sought to give Virginia better schools and better roads; and for many years following a "good roads" campaign was waged.

Today there is a United States System of highways as well as a State System. Pittsylvania is crossed from north to south by United States Highway number 29; from east to west by State Highway number 58 by Danville; and by State Highway number 40 by Gretna. The county is also traversed by many secondary hard surfaced roads.


Man's modern inventions have also (almost) eliminated distances, today one travels by plane with so great speed. When the Wright Brothers successfully demonstrated at Kill Devil Hills in eastern Carolina (1903) the flight of a heavier than air machine, the airplane industry was born. Again the use of a refined oil fuel made this possible.

The heavy demands of two world wars forced the rapid development of the plane. But the United States was slow to enter commercial aviation. She began regular air mail service in 1926, and soon outstripped the other nations.

The longest over-water route in the world is that from San Francisco to China, carrying mail and passengers, and covering a distance of 8,000 miles in four days.

Air ports have been established at Danville, Lynchburg, Roanoke and Greensboro, where one can take a plane to the most distant places, and travel in ease and comfort.

Mails — Newspapers

In the early settlement of Virginia, John Pory was secretary of the Virginia Colony. He was one of the three important writers at that time in English journalism. He sent news-letters from "James City" as early as 1619 to his "Good and gracious lord" in London. The history of newspapers in the United States dates from the news-letter of John Pory of Jamestown. (British Encyclopedia)

The first English newspaper, Weekly news, appeared in 1622. Virginia's first regular newspaper, the Virginia Gazette, was founded by William Parks of Williamsburg in 1736. Files of these Gazettes can be read in the State Library.

Danville had many early newspapers, beginning in 1820, lasting for different periods of time. A copy of the Danville Register of August 1851 states that it is Volume 4, making the date of its founding in 1847. In that issue there is a letter from subscribers of the county to the editor, Townley: "Having been subscribers to the Register for many years … we congratulate you upon your success in making the Register such a paper that we consider our file incomplete without it." Butter, coffee and lard were listed at 12 1/2 cents a pound. There was a list of the daily arrivals for the past week at Danville's two hotels, the Exchange and the American.

The Pittsylvania Tribune, the oldest of Chatham's two newspapers, was founded in 1869. The Pittsylvania Star was founded in 1943.

Today mail carriers are the steamship, railway, airplane, and automobile. Rural free delivery brings to your door the daily mail with the daily paper. Through the telegraph, transatlantic telephone and wireless the latest news of the world is brought to you in your paper. Wherever in Virginia your home happens to be, your government has made it possible for you to keep informed upon world-current events through the daily delivery of your mail.

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Related Book

(Available from the sponsor.)

History of Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Maud Carter Clement: History of Pittsylvania County, Virginia (1929)

This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia. (See also guides to Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville.)