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The Central Highway and early State Highway 10 (NC 10) through Orange County
 
 
The Central Highway between Hillsboro and Durham, circa 1912
The Central Highway between Hillsboro and Durham, circa 1912
 
In 1911, the North Carolina state legislation conceived of the Central Highway project so as to create a continuous highway running from the Tennessee state line (near Murphy, NC) to the coast of North Carolina (ending at Beaufort), through 19 counties in all.

In 1931, Cecil K. Brown described the origin of the Central Highway in his study of North Carolina's state highway system:
  One of the most important steps taken in [statewide road planning] was the creation by the legislature in 1911 of the Central Highway. This was by no means a highway in any practical sense of the word, but was only a projected route for travel through the state. The route was to begin at Morehead City and go through the state from east to west by way of Raleigh, Greensboro, Salisbury and Asheville. All the way it followed closely the line of railroad built by the state in the middle third of the last century. That route, long ago broken up into several routes with various directions, was built on a most circuitous survey. But the Central Highway followed its sweeping curves and even today [1931] the magnificent state route number 10 takes the same roundabout course from the seashore to the Tennessee line. In 1911 a Central Highway Committee was appointed with the function of designating the route in detail, and getting the various counties to cooperate in building it through from one end of the state to the other. The idea was to show people what a highway trip through the state would mean. Every year the committee made a trip over the route, traveling by automobile, exhorting the people to good works and telling them what the other counties were doing.  
 
The Highway in Orange County

By mid year, the entire 460-mile route had been scouted by the Central Highway Association and they learned that the coastal and mountain regions of the state were extremely enthusiastic about the project, but the central portion was not. Regarding Orange County, they stated that "[o]ne of the toughest snags that we will run up against is in Orange County, but we found their people enthusiastic for the Central Highway and they are preparing to begin an educational campaign to vote a $225,000 bond issue so that old Orange is awake and will build good roads."

The Chapel Hill-based Good Roads Commission commissioned a survey of the route for the proposed Central Highway across Orange County in late 1912, after the county's citizens voted for the bond issue to be used in the building of roads. The survey began in June, but when it was found the state legislature hadn't allowed any money for the project (actually, they hadn't authorized Orange County to sell any bonds to raise the money), the survey was temporarily suspended until January 1913. Joseph Hyde Pratt, the State Geologist and secretary of the North Carolina Good Roads Association, gave a basic description of what the improved road through Orange County would be like: "The road to the Durham line will be macadam and across Orange County it will be gravel or sand-clay. Within a few miles of Hillsboro the road passes through two of the noted farms of the State, the Duke farm and the Occoneechee farm. On leaving Hillsboro the road to Mebane is very hilly and rough, but a new location has been made and the new road should be finished within the next year."

According to Pratt, there was "dissatisfaction among the people along the route" between Hillsboro and the Durham County line, and several surveys of segments of the route were conducted before a final decision was made. Pratt noted that the "people who are to be benefited by the road have thus delayed the work by bringing long complaints and petitions before the Commission." As had happened with earlier roads (and the railroad), and still happens today, people either didn't want a road affecting their property negatively, or wanted it directed past their property so as to increase their property's value.

Construction of the Hillsboro to Durham County line section of the highway (basically on the route of the Durham Road, earlier known as the Raleigh Road) began in June 1913. Clearing the right of way and installing culverts and bridge abutments started at Hillsboro, as the commission's engineers considered it the harder section to grade. Crews completed two miles of this segment in July.

In August, a construction firm out of Portsmouth, Virginia, began surfacing the Hillsboro to Alamance County line section of the route. One contractor was hired to surface the entire road, which was done by a "force" (convict labor, most likely) supervised by the State Highway Superintendent. Gravel, topsoil, and sand-clay were to be used, "according to the relative convenience of the different materials along the route and the nature of the foundation upon which they were to be used." By December, a half mile of surface had been laid by "farmers' teams" (i.e. rigs powered by horses or mules), utilizing sand and gravel from the bank of the Eno River. Also at the end of 1913, the Good Roads Commission essentially took the Southern Railway Company to court when it petitioned the North Carolina Corporation Commission to get the railroad to pay for the undergrade crossings (i.e. underpasses) constructed and/or improved during road construction undertaken within the county, with two of the underpasses being along the path of the Central Highway. One, "Strayhorn's," about 8 miles east of Hillsborough, needed to be constructed; the other, the underpass where Eno Street, Nash Street, and Dimmocks Mill Road intersect in West Hillsborough, needed widening (to 26 feet). It was found that the Southern Railway company should pay one-half of the construction costs of the Strayhorn underpass, and one-third of the improvement costs of the West Hillsborough underpass, with the Good Roads Commission paying the remainder.
 
Sand-clay road section of the Central Highway in Orange County, circa 1915
Sand-clay road section of the Central Highway in Orange County, circa 1915
 
From Central Highway to North Carolina State Highway 10

The second (1915) and third (1919) State Highway Commissions had a route for the proposed North Carolina Highway 10 surveyed (they were mainly charged with the task of "surveying and mapping those routes which in its estimation ought ultimately to be incorporated into a state system."). Additionally, World War One showed the need for a cross-state road that would be usable by military troops; after 1916, federal aid was likely made available to the states at this time for road building and/or improvement projects via the the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. NC 10 was initially part of the Central Highway, and existing roads and newly-constructed roads were connected to form the new, "modern" highway. NC 10 was designated as such in 1921, and the actual building of the highway was ensured in late February 1921 with the passage of $50 million in roadbuilding bonds by the legislature and the formation of the fourth State Highway Commission. By 1924, only about half of the Central Highway/NC 10 had been paved state-wide; the rest remained as sand clay or gravel (macadam) roads. The route of NC 10 was changed over the years, and circa 1927, US 70 began replacing much of NC 10 within the state, so the paving of the original route of NC 10 in its entirety was never completed in Orange County.
 
1918 USDA soil map excerpt, showing the Central Highway southeast of Hillsboro
1918 USDA soil map excerpt, showing the Central Highway southeast of Hillsboro (click to view entire 1918 route of the Central Highway through Orange County)
 
The original route from the Durham County line to the Alamance County line (i.e. east to west) roughly follows the following present-day roads (see map below):

1. Old NC10 west to New Highway 86, then
2. New Highway 86 north to Highway 70 Business, then
3. Highway 70 Business west to (cross Old Highway 86/Churton Street) Exchange Club Park Road, then
4. Cross the Eno River via Exchange Club Park Road northeast to Churton Street (enter downtown Hillsborough), then
5. Churton Street north to King Street, then
6. King Street west to Nash Street, then
7. Nash Street south to Dimmocks Mill Road (pass under railroad trestle), then
8. Dimmocks Mill Road west to (merge with) Ben Johnston Road, then
9. Ben Johnston Road west (intersect 85/70 Connector and pass under Highway 85) to West Ten Road, then
10. West Ten Road to (merge with) Mattress Factory Road (enter downtown Mebane and Alamance County).
 
Click here to view the approximate route of the Central Highway/NC10, superimposed on a modern-day map
 
 
Sources:

Brown, Cecil K. The State Highway System of North Carolina: Its Evolution and Present Status. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1931. 57-58.

Pratt, Joseph H. and Hattie M. Berry. Proceedings of the Good Roads Institute. Chapel Hill: Good Roads Institute, 1911 and 1914.

Pratt, Joseph H. Road Building in North Carolina During the War. Good Roads: A Weekly Journal of Road and Street Engineering and Contracting. Vol XIV, No 7, August 18, 1917. New York. 84.

Tom Magnuson, personal communication.

Wikipedia. North Carolina Highway 10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Highway_10

Orange County Register of Deeds
Plat book 6, page 5

Noble, M. C. S. Map of Orange County Roads (by type). (Circa) 1915.

David Southern, personal communication.

State Highway Commision. Orange County Fourth District, North Carolina County Road Survey. 1930.

State of North Carolina. Report of the Corporation Commission. Fifteenth Annual Report, for the Year Ending December 31, 1913. Raleigh: E.M. Uzzell & Company. 1914. 264.

University of North Carolina. The Teaching of County Geography. The University of North Carolina Record. Number 129, Extension Series No. 12. Durham: The Seeman Printery, (September) 1915.

USDA Bureau of Soils. Soil map of Orange County. 1918.
 
 
[Created: 21 March 2010; Last updated: 06 May 2010]      

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