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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Market and Community in Antebellum America: The Plank Roads of New York

  • Author(s): Majewski, John
  • Baer, Christopher
  • Klein, Daniel B.
  • et al.

The importance of canals and railroads has hardly grown "deeper and deeper," but at least they had their day. As for plank roads, most people have never heard of them.

The historical obscurity of plank roads reflects the general scholarly neglect of nineteenth-century roads. Excellent work has been done on canals, and studies of railroads have engendered some of the most vibrant debates in American economic history. Yet no substantial study of road transport has been done in decades. In 1964, Robert Fogel complained about the "neglected problem" of road transportation in the nineteenth-century. Fifteen years later, Fogel lamented that "the issue of antebellum wagon transportation should not be left in such a highly conjectural and unsatisfactory state." Although Winifred Rothenberg's work on Massachusetts's farmers has produced some suggestive insights on the cost of road transport, Fogel's call has gone more or less unheeded.

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