In a recent post I discussed my 4th-great-grandfather James Benton McMurry’s travels from southern Kentucky to central Indiana in 1830. That got me to thinking, what were the roads he traveled along like? What routes did these roads follow? What sights and landmarks would James have encountered on the road? How long would the trip have taken?
Thanks to a pair of travel maps from 1829 and 1831, I know roughly where the roads of 1830 Kentucky and Indiana were located (these maps show the towns that are connected by roads, but the roads as illustrated therein are, to a large degree, schematic). Determination of the precise routes that these roads took will require a bit of what I call “armchair landscape archaeology.”
Landscape archaeology is the study of how humans have modified their physical environment, whether directly (e.g., building a dam or diverting a stream) or indirectly (e.g., through farming). Roads and highways, especially long-used ones, can leave enduring impressions on the landscape. The clues left by an old road, if read correctly, can aid in tracing the road’s long-abandoned route. Unlike prehistoric archaeological pursuits, the study of early 19th century transportation routes concerns structures that are relatively recent. It can therefore be considered a type of historical archaeology, because there may be written records and/or oral histories that can aid in understanding and contextualizing the subject of the investigation.