Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Turkey Foot Road

                   Guest Blog 


 Lannie Dietle, the author of, "In Search Of The Turkey Foot Road" has been kind enough to write an article to be posted for my blog, 'Fayette/Westmoreland Forgotten History'. He lived here in the 'old days' and finds his residence in Texas. 

   [I, myself, can relate somewhat to the pride that would be felt, with military ancestry  on different sides of a family tree and in a traditional connection to the Hatfields, though not fully researched yet; going on back into the 1700's]. 
  Lannie, (and some of his informed colleagues), have some real expertise in their various fields that, hopefully folks around the 'borders' and further out into surrounding counties as well, will  find an important contribution to the knowledge of this near ancient road system traveling up through Pennsylvania. A lot of research is put into this subject matter. It's a fine thing he's accomplished and a purchase of the newer edition of his book due out in November, should prove to anyone the truly deep interest it deserves. Leading to a rare insight into our unique history, as well the various uses within the confines of this olden, mostly forgotten Road. (If, by chance, ANYBODY has further info, please contact Lannie at the link he provides at the end of his article here- thanks). Just to think of the days when it was once traveled by the Indians and our ancestors and pioneers back and forth through the southern regions and through Fayette County and into Westmoreland. And here is a veritable opportunity to do so and I expect you'll enjoy it
  --- Histbuffer

             The Turkey Foot Road

                         By Lannie Dietle



There were several early roads in Fayette and Somerset counties that were known as the Turkey Foot Road.  They all derive their name from the simple fact that they passed through the Turkey foot region of Somerset County. The road featured in this article was cut during the Revolutionary War as a military supply route from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, and has Indian and packers path antecedents. This Turkey Foot Road achieved legendary status in parts of Allegany County, MD and Somerset County, PA, because of the significant role it played in settling those areas. It would have played a similar role in parts of Fayette County.

The big picture


As the Turkey Foot Road wound northwest from Cumberland in Allegany County, MD, it passed through the locations of Corriganville and Barrelville, and passed near the location of Mount Savage. In Somerset County, PA, the route was located a short distance west of Pocahontas, and passed through the locations of Salisbury, Savage, Dumas, Harnedsville, and Ursina. In Fayette County, the route passed through the locations of Nicolay, Mill Run, Normalville, and Wooddale. It crossed into Westmoreland County just east of Scottdale, and passed through or near Mount Pleasant.

The military origin of the road


In 1778, Americans were outraged by massacres committed by Tories and Indians at Wyoming Valley, PA and Cherry Valley, NY. In January 1779, Quartermaster General Nathaniel Greene advised George Washington to respond by launching a two-pronged attack against the food supply of the hostile Indians, with one division marching from a desperately undersupplied Fort Pitt.
In preparation for the attack, Washington asked Greene and Commissary General Wadsworth to improve the transportation of supplies from the “frontiers of Virginia” to Fort Pitt. Greene contacted Colonel George Morgan, who was the “purchasing Commissary for the Western department”. Morgan assigned Captain Charles Clinton and Colonel Providence Mounts to cut a new, shorter pack horse road from the town of Fort Cumberland to supply Fort Pitt. Clinton lived at Fort Cumberland, and Mounts was a miller living at the site of Connellsville.
The supply situation was so bleak that Washington cancelled Fort Pitt’s role in the campaign. The new road changed the supply situation, and Washington’s mind.
By putting 1,500 pack horses on the new road, Fort Pitt was adequately supplied by June 24, 1779. Major General John Sullivan led the primary attack from the Wyoming Valley on July 31, 1779, destroying at least 40 Indian villages in New York. Colonel Daniel Brodhead led a successful parallel campaign from Fort Pitt on August 11, 1779, with 605 combatants and 100 escorts for the campaign supplies. Brodhead marched north as far as the upper Seneca towns, destroying a number of Indian villages and over 500 acres of associated crops, and returned to Pittsburgh on September 14, 1779. The twin campaigns were followed by an exceptionally harsh winter, which was devastating to the now under-provisioned hostile Indians.
The new road passed through the southern end of what is now Somerset County to take advantage of forage in the “two plentiful Settlements” located there. North of Turkey Foot, the route passed through property in the vicinity of Mill Creek reservoir that was surveyed for Morgan and his brother in 1776. Morgan located his wartime “bullock Pens” on this property. The bullock pens were used for holding livestock that was being driven to Fort Pitt. The new road was some 20 to 25 miles shorter than Braddock’s road, and dryer, because it remained on the eastern side of the Youghiogheny River.
The military origin of the Turkey Foot Road, briefly summarized here, is proven by military correspondence that is detailed by articles in the 2012 and 2013 issues of the “Casselman Chronicle”, a publication of the Springs Historical Society.

Soon after the war, several documents identify the Turkey Foot Road by name: A 1784 letter from Washington’s physician James Craig; Washington’s Sept. 22, 1784 journal entry; and his Nov. 30, 1786 letter to Tobias Lear. Craig refers to the route as “the Turkey-foot road”, and reportedly purchased property near Morgan’s “bullock pens”. Washington calls the route “the New (or Turkey foot) Road” and “the New road by the Turkey foot”. The earliest known maps to identify the new postwar road were published by Reading Howell in 1791 and 1792.

The post-Revolutionary war route


A comprehensive look at the history and route of the Turkey Foot Road is provided in the book “In Search of the Turkey Foot Road”, which is a publication of the Mount Savage Historical Society. A new edition of that book is scheduled for a November, 2014 release, and contains 70% more information than the previous edition. A summary of the Fayette County route, including a map, is published online by the Bullskin Township Historical Society. A summary of the Somerset County route is contained in the November 2011 issue of the “Laurel Messenger”, which is a publication of the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County. The overall route is presented as a virtual tour in the 2013 “Casselman Chronicle”.
The summary provided here is a brief synopsis of information found in the aforementioned publications, and uses modern place names that did not exist in 1779. The route was not a fixed, unchanging entity. It mutated over time as offset alignments were created. This article provides a general overview, but does not include every known route variation. Comma delimited GPS coordinates are provided for use with satellite imagery websites. Underlined coordinates define specific locations of the roadbed with relative accuracy. Italicized coordinates are approximate locations of the route. The remainder of the coordinates relate to landmarks along the route. You can paste the coordinates into the search field of a satellite imagery website to view the locations. (On Google, look for the green arrow.)

Alleghany County, Maryland


Supplies for Fort Pitt were brought to Cumberland from Virginia via Skipton [39.541724, -78.611619], which is now known as Oldtown, MD. From Cumberland [39.650614, -78.765321], the Turkey Foot Road followed the west side of Wills Creek through the Narrows [39.668011, -78.78422], and northward to Corriganville, MD [39.693675, -78.788317]. From Corriganville, the road followed the north side of Jennings Run to Barrelville, shoehorned [39.698957, -78.82531] between Little Allegheny Mountain and the formerly meandering, natural path of Jennings Run.
At Barrelville, the road formed a T-junction [39.701193, -78.842808] with the 1804 antecedent to Route 47. Just west of Barrelville, the road turned generally northward past a circa 1845 stone house [39.701831, -78.848265] that sits well back from the modern highway , and then turned west-northwest toward the Level Ridge section of Arnold’s Settlement at a switchback [39.70451, -78.845768]. After the switchback, the road passed an old stagecoach stop that was located in the now wooded “mule field”. Mile Lane follows the 1827 route from 39.705887, -78.860443 to 39.702961, -78.869525. A now abandoned portion of the 1804 route began at Arnold’s residence [39.703893, -78.871940], and headed northwest to the southern end of Bald Knob Road.
From 39.706702, -78.875798 to its termination on Blank Road at 39.721392, -78.886449 near the 1817 Fredrick Rigert stone house [39.72221, -78.886121], Bald Knob Road follows the 1804 route, with only minor deviations. From 39.721392, -78.886449, the 1804 route headed westward to 39.721943, -78.889882, where a gradual turn to the north began. The route crossed the state line at 39.722879, -78.890397. After crossing a saddle on Savage Mountain, the route temporarily returned to Maryland, with several variations crossing the pipeline between 39.724122, -78.919387 and 39.724089, -78.918142. There were a maze of route variations in this area, but a section of Sampson Rock Road is the current alignment.

Somerset County, Pennsylvania


At approximately 39.724415, -78.940319 the 1785 route crossed the Greenville Road. From there, the old road was typically located no farther than about 600 to 1,000 yards west of the Greenville road. It joined the present route of Greenville Road east of the Greenville Lutheran Church, right where Red Dog road terminates [39.748357, -78.970655]. Along the way, the 1785 route crosses Hemlock Lane at 39.731028, -78.952056, and crosses Murray Road at 39.736333, -78.960972.

The Greenville Road follows the old route to 39.748671, -78.998512, where the modern road turns sharply southwest toward the Greenville gap. At that turn, the 1819 road followed an existing fencerow to 39.748019, -79.003903, then passed through 39.749111, -79.014455 as it headed toward the Allegheny Mountain. The fencerow is visible on present day satellite imagery. The 1700s route was located farther north, parting ways with the 1800s route east of the Greenville Lutheran Church [39.751279, -78.990827]. Both routes crossed the Allegheny Mountain at the same point. A few hundred yards east of the crest, a stone culvert [39.741096, -79.037578] from one variation of the road still survives. Here, the old road is located one mile north of where the Greenville road passes through the Greenville gap. West of the mountain crest, the deeply sunken old road plunges straight down the mountain from 39.742317, -79.044017, and enters a field at 39.7475, -79.050850.

West of the Allegheny Mountain, the road passed the former site of Clement Engle’s 1807 grist mill [39.752882, -79.061453] and the circa 1845 Lowry brick house [39.749924, -79.067466],and served as the antecedent to Salisbury’s Ord Street, passing a circa 1820 log tavern [39.753205, -79.08261]. Near the fire station, the old road turned southwest to several Casselman River fording sites, which were located between 39.752609, -79.093355 and 39.752271, -79.093044. Where the old route turned southwest from Ord Street [39.754059, -79.089152], the old sunken roadbed survives as a feature that looks like a drainage ditch. This sunken feature shows up on the present day town plat as an abandoned street, and is visible on satellite images.

West of the Casselman River, the old 1700s road followed a route similar to present day Springs Road (Route 669) between approximately 39.748675, -79.098194 and 39.742315, -79.122205, passing near the 1809 Beachy stone house [39.751015, -79.094927]. A pre-1779 packhorse path followed a different route near the Beachy house, on the northern flank of the hill.

From approximately 39.745738, -79.171493 to 39.756791, -79.178137, Savage Road (Route 2002) is the current alignment of the Turkey Foot Road that is shown on the earliest surveys. From about 39.780294, -79.239433 to 39.781931, -79.317094, High Point Road, Green Road, and Fort Hill Road follow the 1700s route.

At Harnedsville, a covered bridge was built in 1815 that crossed the Casselman River at 39.795278, -79.322737, which is at or near the old Green fording site. In Ursina, the 1786 route was the antecedent to Chestnut Street [39.815097, -79.333873], although the traditional fording site is farther east [39.815436, -79.330302]. North of Ursina, tradition informs us that the route followed Jersey Hollow [39.830533, -79.333598], and an 1818 map shows it passing the Jersey Baptist Church [39.841019, -79.337536]. The current building was erected in 1877. North of the church, between approximately 39.849683, -79.341931 and 39.8759, -79.353953, Jersey Hollow Road follows the route that existed in the 1785 to 1814 timeframe.

Fayette County, Pennsylvania


At the county line on Laurel Hill [39.900733, -79.399017], the present-day name of the road changes from Jersey Hollow Road to Maple Summit Road. Between 39.889126, -79.374783 and 39.909868, -79.407034, Jersey Hollow road, Maple Summit Road, and Schroyer Road are the present alignment of the 1794 route. The original route can be seen as a sunken feature at 39.882967, -79.358450. At 39.909868, -79.407034 the 1794 route departs the modern road at the site of the old Maple Summit stagecoach site, and heads generally northwest in the general direction of Indian Creek Baptist Church, passing through several now abandoned farmsteads along the way. One of the old farmsteads was located at approximately 39.917147, -79.418299. The 1867 route is located farther to the east, and is still known as the Turkeyfoot Road today.

The first building of the Indian Creek Baptist Church was built along the Turkey Foot Road on land donated by Abraham Skinner. The current building is located at 39.940256, -79.44981. North of the church, the village of Mill Run [39.95179, -79.454517] was built along the Turkey Foot Road, according to the 1882 book “History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania…” North of the village of Mill Run, the old road crossed Indian Creek at Mill Creek Reservoir [39.973478, -79.452846]. This is the property purchased by George Morgan in 1776, and the site of his Revolutionary War bullock pens.
According to James Veech’s circa 1858 book “The Monongahela of Old”, the Turkey Foot Road crossed the Clay Pike (now Route 653) at Springfield, which is now Normalville [39.99529, -79.445955]. Just south of Normalville, Alexander Cummings is buried at 39.99007, -79.446723, on property he had surveyed in 1788 along the Turkey Foot Road.

North of Normalville, the 1788 route of the Turkey Foot Road correlates to Gas Well Road and Cavanaugh Road between 40.025881, -79.456 and 40.033858, -79.459552. The intersection at 40.029027, -79.45673 is within a few dozen yards of the western terminus of the abandoned 1788 road to Jones Mill. This intersection was on Cornelius Woodruff’s property, which is the only named Fayette County landmark along the Turkey Foot Road on the 1792 Reading Howell map.

North of Woodruff’s, the Turkey Foot road followed a west-northwest course between 40.033858, -79.459552 and 40.042318, -79.482286 . Part of this section of the old road survives as Hawk Road. Quail Hill road follows the 1794 route from about 40.053176, -79.508657 to about 40.054227, -79.519601. After this, the Turkey Foot road turned northwest toward Wooddale, crossing over Breakneck Road. The 1794 route passed through 40.067423, -79.524547, and crossed Shenandoah Road at 40.072694, -79.526789. This may be a shortcut route across rough terrain, because a 1783 deed suggests that the then existing road may have followed a more favorable valley route along Mounts Creek, and through the Pleasant Valley Country Club [40.068799, -79.540884] property.

According to Veech, the Turkey Foot Road passed Cathcart’s circa 1790 mill, which was located at or near 40.088088, -79.527465 in Wooddale. The mill was located along Mounts Creek, which is named for Providence Mounts, who built the northern part of the Turkey Foot Road. Veech describes the Turkey Foot Road as crossing Jacobs Creek about a mile below the 1801 chain bridge, which was located at roughly 40.1126, -79.553186, at the place known as Iron Bridge. This puts the Turkey Foot Road fording site at roughly 40.105403, -79.569345, where State Route 1059 (Dexter Road/Overholt Drive) crosses the creek. This is the first logical crossing location below the chain bridge, because of intervening swampy ground. This swampiness would have dictated the desirable crossing locations, and helps to substantiate Veech’s description of the location where the Turkey Foot Road crossed Jacobs Creek.

The route between Wooddale and the Jacobs Creek fording site is unknown. An article in the April 17, 1969 issue of the “Evening Standard” refers to the fording site as Dexter, and states that between Wooddale and Dexter, the Turkey Foot Road crossed the Catawba Path on Walnut Hill [40.093397, -79.569114]. On a straight line, Walnut Hill is about 0.8 miles due south of the fording site, and roughly 2.2 miles west of Wooddale. The 1817 Melish manuscript map shows a road crossing at or near the fording site that appears to pass through the Walnut Hill area, but it does not connect directly with the Wooddale area. Whether this is a fragment of the Turkey Foot Road, or another road, is unknown.

Very little is known of the route north of Jacobs Creek. A mileage statement in Doctor Wellford’s 1794 travel journal places the Turkey Foot Road at or near Mount Pleasant [40.153233, -79.550832]. According to Veech, the Turkey Foot Road merged with Braddock’s road somewhere north of Jacobs Creek. As an educated guess, the routes may have merged in the environs of Mount Pleasant.

The Indian and packers path antecedents


Traditions from the Mount Savage, Salisbury, and Turkeyfoot regions state that the Turkey Foot Road began as an Indian or packers path. Various bits of documentary evidence lend support to the traditions. The earliest evidence is Christopher Gist’s November 4, 1751 journal entry, which is interpreted as describing the Jennings Run water gap as the gap “the Traders commonly pass thro”. The 1755 Fry and Jefferson map illustrates a path from Cumberland passing through the vicinities of present-day Mount Savage, Maryland and Salisbury, Pennsylvania, and continuing on to the Ohio River via Turkey Foot—although the part west of Salisbury deviates from the post-Revolutionary War route, detouring north of Mount Davis. The Library of Congress copy of the circa 1747 Mayo map was annotated after publication to show a “Road to Ohio” that follows Wills Creek and a very clear depiction of Jennings Run. This route turns southwest after Barrelville, and may have followed Jennings Run to the Frostburg area. Clearly, these documents prove that the eastern part of the Turkey Foot Road was preceded by a packhorse route before the Revolutionary War. History tells us that such trading paths typically followed Indian paths. History also tells us that the Indian trade along such paths precipitated the French and Indian war.

An 1878 book indicates that an Indian town preceded Cumberland. This, and documented Indian villages at Oldtown and Corriganville provide circumstantial evidence of a connecting path through the Narrows. Several early surveys mention a war path along the western side of Wills Creek. A portion of such a path is illustrated on the 1755 Lewis Evans map, and appears to connect Cumberland with Barrelville.  Mason and Dixon’s map of their 1766 boundary line survey shows a building at Corriganville, providing further support for the existence of an early path. With a documented Indian village at Corriganville, it would make little sense if there were no Indian path through the Jennings Run water gap, which is located between Corriganville and Barrelville. Evidence of Indian occupation along the Turkey Foot Road has been found along the route near Mount Savage, including a half a bushel of grinding stones and other implements, and the circular post holes of an Indian hut. These are just random finds by a farmer; one can only wonder what a detailed archeological study might reveal.

The Salisbury area was settled well before the Turkey Foot Road was cut as a military road in 1779. Two of my ancestors were already living there by 1775. Pownall’s March 1776 map and the 1776 Sayer and Bennett map show a portion of the route that settlers must have followed to reach the Salisbury area. When the earliest settlers came to the Salisbury area, they found abandoned Indian fields that are proof of an Indian village from the historic period. A rich supply of Indian artifacts have been found on both sides of the Casselman River fording site.

The 1755 Mitchell map shows an Indian village at Turkeyfoot, and a number of Indian skeletons were found there in the 1800s. There was an Indian village from an unknown time period where the Turkey Foot Road crossed the Casselman River near the mouth of Whites Creek. Abundant evidence of Indian occupation has also been found along Laurel Hill Creek at Ursina.
The Jersey settlement north of Ursina founded a church congregation in 1775. The 1779 military road was routed through this area because of the forage that could be obtained from the settlement. The existence of this early settlement is a sure indication of an early path.

In summary, the Indian villages from the 1700s at Corriganville, Salisbury, and Confluence, the early Casselman valley and Jersey settlements, and early maps, provide reasonable evidence that a path preceded the Turkey Foot Road. Terrain, Gist’s 1751 journal, the Indian villages at Old Town and Corriganville, along with the early maps, provide reasonable evidence of an Indian path through the Narrows and the Jennings Run water gap. The portion of the path through the Wills Creek valley is a documented Indian war path. These various pieces of documentary evidence are further supported by the Indian and packers path traditions that have survived in the Mount Savage, Salisbury, and Turkeyfoot regions. There can be little doubt that the eastern part of the Turkey Foot Road was preceded by an Indian and Packers path.

Conventional Wisdom


According to the well-regarded 20th century historian Paul A. W. Wallace, the Turkey Foot Road was originally cut by the Ohio Company, and went to the present site of Confluence. Although we owe Mr. Wallace a huge debt of gratitude for his tireless study of Pennsylvania’s Indian paths, in this case he was wrong. Unfortunately, his belief has been accepted as the conventional wisdom concerning the Turkey Foot Road, and has been repeated many times in print.
Analysis of various pieces of documentary evidence proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the route described in the Ohio Company records is simply the well known Ohio Company road that was marked out by Nemacolin, and subsequently improved by Washington and Braddock. This analysis is detailed in the book “In Search of the Turkey Foot Road”.

Mr. Dietle is an industrial designer who lives in Houston, Texas. He is descended from various pioneers who located in the southern part of Somerset County, and relied on the old Turkey Foot Road in their day to day lives. He first became interested in the old road in 2009, and has spent thousands of hours researching the topic. Mr. Dietle can be reached via his website,, which covers a number of other historical topics related to southern Somerset County.
© Lannie Dietle, 2014


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