Warren and Donald at Fenway Park during Boston Marathon Week 2008
May 2008
Edition 37
Jerrems Family Newsletter
Family Stories from Around the Globe
Dear Donald,
We continue to ferret out new ancestral stories from different locations: Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Our genealogy research continues to expand also as we get new subscribers (up to 48 now) who wish to share their own research. This brings us to Sandra Walcyk's story below. Her ancestors settled in western New York state in the early 1820s.


Plank Roads
Ray Jerrems, Our Genealogist, Historian   Why talk about plank roads? 
No, I have not taken leave of my senses. Plank roads did actually exist

Sandra Walcyk, one of our subscribers, has unearthed a fascinating piece of US history in her research on her branch of the Jerrems family. It is the construction of plank roads, and it also involves her great great grandfather (Joseph) and his brother Joseph, both of whom migrated to the US and settled in Utica in New York State.

Sandra has an additional interest in the history of the Utica area because she grew up there. There is a weekend festival there in the summer each year called "Plank Road Days".

The origins of plank roads. Plank roads were used in a number of countries, including Russia, China, Canada, the US and (to a much lesser extent) Australia.

They were first built in the US in the 1820s. Heavy timbers were laid crossways on top of the ground like railway sleepers/ties, and were of similar thickness. For the sake of simplicity I will call them "sleepers".

Although some of the roads may have only had sleepers, these by themselves would have given a rough ride. Other roads had two sets of additional planks running lengthways along the road, fixed on top of the sleepers for the vehicle wheels to run along. Some photos also show a more elaborate system also using additional planks running lengthways, but fixed along the ends of the sleepers to stop movement of the sleepers and to provide an outer guide rail for vehicle wheels.

It seems to me that the addition of planks for the wheels running lengthways was the best method of construction because the longitudinal planks stabilised the sleepers, took the brunt of the wear and tear and could be replaced fairly easily One feature of the plank roads is that they were at least 8 foot wide (some were a lot wider) with wider parts at intervals for vehicles to pull into, to allow oncoming vehicles to pass. These wider sections were called "turnouts".

The advantages of plank roads. Looking at photos on the internet I would say that the plank roads were mainly suitable for light to medium size vehicles. They would have been ideal to provide a fast trip for people commuting between towns and for light commercial vehicles. Plank roads therefore gave a safer, faster, and more comfortable ride for vehicles. Perhaps surprisingly they cost a lot less to construct than normal well-constructed roads, possibly because labour was cheap in those days and before the days of massive land clearing a lot of local timber would have been available for use. Also they could be built over sand hills (a feat well beyond the capabilities of normal road construction) and over rocky or boggy ground.

It was soon discovered that the economic advantage of the low initial cost of construction was offset by high maintenance costs. The iron shod narrow wheels of the horse-drawn vehicles would have cut into the timber (I have seen places where wagon wheels even cut grooves in stone) and the horses' shoes would have chopped the timber. Probably the ballasting (if any) under the sleepers would also have been dislodged over a period of time, leading to breakage of the planks on top. In the US the roads were often built by turnpike companies, so that people using these roads paid tolls to the road owners.

But it was not all a bed of roses for the public and the road owners. Some of the articles about the Utica road that Sandra has found showed public dissatisfaction with the toll gates and bridges. It is possible also that people resented the fact that the plank companies had monopolies and could charge what they liked (sounds familiar doesn't it?).

Plank roads also proved to be of military use in the American Civil War.

Although plank roads were built in Australia the only systematic use of plank roads was in outer parts of Perth in Western Australia in the early1900s. This explains why I had never heard of them before. In Western Australia the planks were made of very tough jarrah timber, which would have lasted a lot longer than the softer Northern Hemisphere timbers. A somewhat similar (but far more rudimentary) technique was used on Australian bush roads, which were often "corduroyed" through boggy areas with cut saplings and logs laid crossways.

Very little evidence of the plank roads still exists. When plank roads were abandoned they were quickly pulled to pieces for their timber, so we have to rely mostly on old photos to see how and where they were built.

Plank roads and the Jerrems family. A plank road was built by the Bridgewater & Utica Plank Road Company in the 1840s between Utica and Bridgewater, a distance of 18 miles. It had a generous width of 12 feet. Perhaps this generosity was too much for the Company's finances because it went broke and sold the road in 1859.

The route of the road was, and still is, Oneida Street.

Sandra's great great grandfather Joseph and his family lived in Utica, and his brother James and his family lived seven miles south at Washington Mills. When it was first built the plank road, which went past Washington Mills, would have given Joseph, his wife Sarah and their 2 family a much easier trip to visit James and his extensive family. Similarly James and his family would have had a much better trip to Utica to go to the markets and visit Joseph and his family.

James had an additional interest in using the road. At Washington Mills he made soap, which he would have transported to factories and stores in Utica. On some return trips he would have brought back the raw materials required for making soap. The plank road would also have given him easier access to the villages further out towards Bridgewater.

The end of the road. So I have not taken leave of my senses.
Running Warren in the Boston Marathon
Brother Donald who was a Spectator   A Memorable Boston Weekend in mid-April!
Warren completed his second Boston Marathon in a time of 3:34; he ran the last 25 miles with an injured heel. His qualifiying time was 3:10, so the injury took its toll on his time, but not his spirits (see nearby picture).

The weekend was eventful. The brothers Jerrems watched the exciting U.S. Women's Olympic Marathon Trials on Sunday (a separate race from the traditional Boston race)

They attended a Red Sox games at Fenway Park (pictured). The Sox came back from a 5-0 deficit to beat the Texas Rangers.

Proud Parents and Grand Parents
Anita and Brad, Ray and Di   New Subscriber
Welcoming newborn Samantha to Anita and Brad's household.

Pictured: Ray and Di's granddaughters Jessica (the older one, DOB July 29 2005) and Samantha (three and a half weeks).


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