Emily and I always enjoyed knowing that our family lived along the old plank road in Racine County, Wisconsin. Eventually our portion of Highway A was officially named Plank Road. Other official “Plank Roads” exist throughout the Midwest, including the Watertown Plank Road in Milwaukee County and the Old Plank Road Trail in northern Illinois, along with businesses and organizations named after such roads, past or present.
However, some Midwestern plank roads have almost completely vanished from memory as well as from sight. For example, while I have lived in Porter County, Indiana, for twenty-five years, I learned only recently that I travel to school every day over an old plank road. According to a June 25, 1914, Chesterton Tribune article, an early settler named Ben Little recalled that the plank road that ran north from Valparaiso through the village of Calumet (later renamed Chesterton) was built in 1850-51 as “the great highway for the farmers to haul their grain to the vessels at Michigan City. . . The road was built of oak plank, made from virgin timber that grew along the road. The plank was nine feet wide, and two inches thick.”
Last week in Chesterton I saw a remnant of one of those massive oak planks on display in the Westchester Township History Museum. An 1858 plat map identifies as the “Plank Road” the street that is called Calumet Avenue today. A little square alongside the plank road is identified as the “Thomas Hotel,” and south of the hotel is a square marked “Toll Gate.”
I wonder whether the hotel keeper’s family and the toll gate keeper’s family were as neighborly as the Mathers and the McEachrons of Plank Road Summer. Because inns and toll gates were necessities along the plank roads, friendships like that of Florence and Katie could have occurred anywhere along the thousands of miles of plank roads in the United States. There may well be untold stories about a plank road near you.
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I wonder what it was like to ride on a plank road. Probably pretty bumpy, but maybe better than maneuvering over ruts and getting stuck in the mud.
I’ve driven on various kinds of roads – dirt, cobble stone, and now brick in India. I guess the key to any surface is maintenance. On a poor road made of any of the above as well as asphalt, one might go faster on foot or horse than trying to go on a wheeled vehicle.
Yes, there is a Plank Road in my family history.
My Great-Grandfather, George W. Acklam, was an original toll keeper for the Wilmot Plank Road at Highway 11 and Taylor Avenue in Racine, coming to Wisconsin in 1838, from England. He was my Mother’s grandfather, which makes it all the more special that my family be there to buy several copies of your book on Mother’s Day at The Racine Heritage Museum. My cousins and I are very excited and interested in the characters of your book, however fictional, but based on facts. Message from the Acklam family, Thank you for linking the true story of Wisconsin’s Plank Roads !!!
I would like to see your book soon made into audio tape for the visually impaired.
Cynthia L. Bitto (youngest greatgrandaughter of George W. Acklam