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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Responding to Relative Decline: The Plank Road Boom of Antebellum New York


From 1847 to 1853 New Yorkers built more than 3,500 miles of wooden roads. Financed primarily by residents of declining rural townships, plank roads were seen as a means of linking isolated areas to the canal and railroad network. A broad range of individuals invested in the roads, suggesting that the drive for bigger markets was supported by a large cross section of the population. Considerable community spirit animated the movement, indicating that New Yorkers used the social capital of the community to reach their entrepreneurial aspirations.

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