Tag Archives: Roads
… you will find us in the hilliest & healthiest country in the world. I would recommend to you to come & return by different routs. the shortest and levellest is by Fairfax court house, Songster’s, Brown’s, Slate run church, Elk run church & Orange court house. the best country and entertainment, tho’ along a hilly road, is by Fairfax C. H. the Red house Prince Wm. C. H. Fauquier C. H. Culpeper C. H. and Orange C. H. the worst, longest, & most uninteresting road is by Fredericksburg.
To Henry Dearborn, August 13, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thoughtful leaders encourage exploration and provide options.
Jefferson was at Monticello for two months, escaping what he called the “sickly season” along the coast and tidewater region, where the yellow fever sickened and killed many in late summer. Learning that Dearborn, his Secretary of War, was traveling with his family to see James and Dolley Madison at their home, the President invited him to come 30 miles further and visit him.
While this region of central Virginia was dotted with towns, there were no public roads to speak of, only acknowledged bare-earth segments or trails from one courthouse, tavern or inn to another. Fording creeks and climbing hills in a horse drawn carriage, especially after a rain, added extra challenges. Ever the explorer, Jefferson advised Dearborn not to come and go by the same route but to see more of the countryside.
Jefferson suggested the three most likely routes:
1. The shortest, fastest and most level (If you just want to get here)
2. The most appealing, though hillier (Challenging but enjoy the journey)
3. “the worst, longest, & most uninteresting” (You have been warned!)
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I tried the road by Ravensworth … 2 miles of it which I think cannot be passed by your carriage without oversetting … you must absolutely come by Fairfax courthouse … till you come to Little’s lane … I passed it yesterday, a waggon being then stuck fast in it, nor do I suppose any four wheeled carriage could then have got through the spot where the waggon was without stalling … [then] the difficulty of your getting up the Bull run hill … there are other bad hills sufficient to make them give you a great deal of vexation. the Bull run hill is really the worst I ever saw on a public road. still let nothing tempt you to go by Centerville as on that rout the whole is cut by waggons into Mudholes … you had better start as soon as you can see to drive … and come on here to dinner. we shall wait for you till 4. aclock.
To James Madison, April 30, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders help one another navigate the rough spots.
Jefferson had just returned from Monticello to Washington and found spring rains had made the hilly, muddy and rutted roads almost impassable. His neighbor and Secretary of State designate would now be making the same journey.
He alerted Madison which roads were trouble, which would wear out his horses or cause them to balk, which to avoid. In what could be a bit of rare, wry humor of a black sort, he wrote, “…let nothing tempt you to go by Centerville …”
And get an early start the last day, as soon as there enough light to travel! He would be expected for dinner. That meal was usually at 3 PM. Knowing the challenges that lay ahead of his friend, he announced that meal would be postponed an hour.