Thursday, May 05, 2005

Scourge of Spring

Before modern paving, spring thaws and rains turned roads to thick soup. Mud caused far more transportation problems than snow, swallowing the narrow wheels of carts and carriages and slowing journeys to a crawl. It still does in rural Vermont and New Hampshire.

Our forefathers tried various ways to cope with these quagmires. Logs were buried in the mud; in many places, plank-topped highways were built. For a while, charcoal roads were popular – logs were laid along the surface, set afire, and covered with dirt so they burned slowly and turned into charcoal that lasted longer than wood. The surface dirt was removed, and the charcoal packed into place. In some towns quarried stone was laid, long side down, to create durable and dry Telford roads.

The simplest way to handle particularly muddy spots was to fill them with boulders. While years of reworking and repaving have removed most of these old mud rocks, you will still run across old roads in New England towns with boulders protruding through the pavement, pushed up by decades of frost. Odds are, these are not rocks left long ago by lazy road builders, but ones once hauled there to deal with the scourge of spring.

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