Our ancestors used federal roads coming into Alabama to get here

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2010

The popular name of Three-Notch continues to intrigue local folks throughout South Alabama. Its origin came from the practice of marking trees with three blazes or notches to show the way of a trail or route for creating a new road. This method was used especially by the military during the early 1800s, and it is believed that General Andrew Jackson used it on some of his excursions.

The name has frequently been used in Andalusia and Covington County to identify sites, streets and businesses. The historic East Three Notch and South Three Notch Streets, which follow the route of U.S. Highway 29, have been well established for at least a century. The current Andalusia City Hall is a restoration of the former Three Notch Elementary School, to which many citizens have ties. This structure, built in 1914, was the first high school for the city school system. It is not practical to list all the current or former businesses that have used the Three Notch name, but it still has a strong attraction to folks of South Alabama.

Having streets named Three Notch is something the City of Andalusia has in common with the City of Troy as it has a North Three Notch Street and a South Three Notch Street. Both of these cities fall along or near the original path of the Three Notch Road, with was built by the U.S. Military in 1824. There is also a Three Notch community or village and railway station on the Central of Georgia Railroad, which is a few miles southeast of Union Springs in Bullock County.

Most citizens of the above communities are quite proud of the name and like to perpetuate it. They also enjoy the legend or the thought of General Andrew Jackson coming through their area and maybe marking trees to show his path. However, there is no clear documentation of this actually happening.

The Three Notch Road that passes through this area of Covington County and through Russell, Bullock, Pike, and Escambia Counties was not just a local thoroughfare, but a vital part of a much larger network of early roads in South Alabama. Several of these or spurs branched off the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, which ran from Philadelphia westward to Gettysburg and then southward through Shenandoah Valley of Virginia into the Carolinas and terminating at Augusta, Georgia.

During the last 15 or so years of the Colonial Period, tens of thousands of our ancestors came south along this road. The following facts show how the settlers make their way to South Alabama: In 1805, the Old Federal Road came into being to speed up mail from Washington City to New Orleans. It ran from the Southern Terminus of The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road at Augusta, Georgia, and then across Georgia. It then entered Alabama in what is today Russell County near present day Phenix City. From there it continued through Macon County and Montgomery County and then turned southwest following the Old Wolf Pack Trail. This path followed the divide between the Conecuh and Alabama Rivers on through Lowndes, Butler, and Monroe Counties down to Fort Stoddert, which was located on the west bank of the Alabama River, near the southern boundary of the Mississippi Territory.

The Old Federal Road continued on to Mobile, and thence westward to New Orleans. It actually went by Old St. Stephens, first capital of Alabama, and then west to Natchez. Built in 1805, it was the only recognized path from Georgia across the Creek Territory prior to 1817. It became the great highway from the East into South Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Mail deliveries, early settlers, commercial goods, troops, and military supplies made use of the Old Federal Road. Essentially all the early settlers coming to South Alabama from Georgia prior to 1820 would have used this road.

Also of significance is the Gaines Road, a military road that ran across Southern Alabama. It is the only road mentioned in the original (1821-1822) land survey notes of Covington County. The surveyors referred to it simply as the Gaines Road or Gaines Federal Road, and its path across Covington County and South Alabama was well defined. It appears it was cut along ridge ways and existing trails rather than an effort to find the shortest path.

The Gaines Road ran from Fort Hawkins to Fort Crawford in Georgia and by Fort Gaines on the west side of the Choctawhatchee River in Alabama. It came across Alabama to a point near the early Village of Montezuma on the Conecuh River and turned south to the Carolina community where it joined other established paths. The Gaines Road ran directly through the heart of hostile Indian Territory, so it was used primarily by the military and not kept in very good condition. After another federal road was built across the Florida Panhandle in 1824, the Gaines Road lost its importance to the military. It appears the portion running across Covington County was abandoned after 1830 since there were very few settlers along its path.

In his book, Early History of Covington County, Alabama 1821-1871, local historian, Wyley Donald Ward, classifies early roads into three categories: Indian Trails or Trader Paths, Federal Roads (military and post roads), and state and/or county roads. Roads often began as Indian Trails and were used by those trading with the Indians. Later, they were improved and used by the military for troop movements or for supplying outposts. They might also have been used as a postal route and later became a post road. After an area was settled, the existing roads were usually taken over by the local authorities, and they were then designated as state or county roads.

Ward states that one of the most important and certainly the most publicized of all the early roads through Covington County was the Three Notch Road, which followed the ridge along the divide between the Conecuh River on the west and the Black Water, Yellow and Pea Rivers on the East. The Indian Trail, which ran along this same ridge way, was probably used by the early settlers in the area, but there is no evidence to indicate that any significant improvements were made to the trail until after Covington County was formed in 1821.

Since there is considerable interest in and the major significance of the Three Notch Road, it is planned for it to be the subject of next week’s column.

The primary sources for today’s writing were Wyley D. Ward’s Early History of Covington County, Alabama 1821-1871, George Sidney Waits, Jr.’s The Three Notch Road Across Covington County, The Heritage History of Russell County, Alabama, and an article entitled “Three Notch Road” written by Peter A. Brannon, former Curator of the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.

It is certainly possible that this writer has misrepresented some of the history or related facts on this subject. Anyone who notes any are requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 34620; 334-222-6467; or e-mail: cthomasson@centurytel.net.