Michigan Plank Road
Michigan Plank Road
 
PLANK-ROADS.
In common with many other sections of the Union, Michigan passed through a phase of experience which may be designated as the "plank-road mania." 
Its extensive forest lands furnished ample material for development in this direction, and the construction of wooden roads was carried on for a number of years with a zeal worthy of Sherman's grand army in its march through the South. 
Plank-roads almost innumerable were projected in every part of the State where there were permanent inhabitants, and even the wilderness was invaded by this universal remedy for the crying evils of mud and sand. 
The number of charters granted by the Legislature was something astonishing, and the feeling among the people was very similar to that expressed upon the completion of the great Erie Canal through the State of New York.
The enthusiasm for the new style of road was not without some foundation in reason. 
The country was new, and although there was abundant material for the construction of durable turnpikes, the property of the people was not sufficiently developed to bear the strain of a taxation equal to the needs of the country. 
Timber was everywhere cheap and in many places really a troublesome nuisance, to be got rid of in a summary manner. 
The building of plank-roads would subserve two ends: it would aid in clearing valuable land for cultivation and furnish at least a temporary relief from the evils of imperfect roads.
Accordingly, charters were obtained, mills put in operation, right of way was obtained, funds were raised, and the work began and was carried on more or less generally throughout the State. 
For a period of from ten to fifteen years the plank-roads answered a good purpose; but when they began to wear out and stand in need of repairs it is astonishing how rapidly they went out of use. 
Some were superseded or rendered unprofitable by the building of railroads, but the graded beds of many of them have been transferred into graveled turnpikes, which are being rapidly constructed in many parts of the State.
The era of plank-roads has undoubtedly passed, but in their time, when the people were unable to pay for anything more substantial and enduring, they undoubtedly served an excellent purpose.
 
By reference to the session laws of the State we find the following acts by the Legislature incorporating various companies for the construction of plank-roads:
 
April 3, 1848. 
The Michigan and Mason Plank-Road Company, incorporated for the purpose of building a road from Michigan to the village of Mason. 
(Now Lansing as the current city name was originally called the "City of Michigan") 
The incorporators were George B. Cooper, George W. Peck, and Minos Mo. Robert. 
The capital stock was fixed at $25,000.
Under the same date the "Dexter and Michigan PlankRoad Company" was incorporated for the purpose of constructing a road from Dexter, in Washtenaw County, to Michigan, in Ingham County. 
The incorporators were Samuel W. Dexter, D. C. Whitwood, and E. B. Danforth, and the capital stock authorized was $50,000.
At the same time the "Portland and Michigan PlankRoad Company" was incorporated to build a road from Portland, at the mouth of the Looking-Glass River, in Ionia County, to Michigan, in Ingham County. 
The incorporators were William F. Jenison, A. Newman, and Hezekiah Smith. Capital, $50,000.
Also on the same date was chartered the " Michigan and De Witt Plank-Road Company," to build a road from Michigan, in Ingham County, to De Witt, in Clinton County, distance about ten miles. 
Incorporators, James Seymour, Siloam S. Carter, J. W. Turner, George T. Clark, David Ferguson. 
Capital stock authorized, $10,000.
Also at the same time the "Ann Arbor and Michigan Plank-Road Company," to construct a road from Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, to Michigan, in Ingham County. 
The incorporators for this road were G. D. Hill, Luther Boy den, Robert S. Wilson, C. N. Ormsby, Volney Chapin, Edward Mundy, Charles P. Bush. Authorized capital stock, $100,000.
At the same date the "Battle Creek and Michigan Plank-Road Company" was chartered to build a road from Battle Creek, in Calhoun County, to Michigan, in Ingham County. 
Incorporators, William Johnson, Hannibal G. Rice, Sylvanus Huntseeker, William Brooks. Capital, $75,000.
Under the same date was chartered one of the two companies which eventually built the only plank-road that ever reached Lansing,—to wit, the " Detroit and Howell PlankRoad Company." 
The incorporators named were Henry Ledyard and Ashbel S. Bagg, of Detroit; Jabesh M. Mead, of Plymouth, Wayne Co.; Augustus C. Baldwin, of Oakland County; and Josiah Turner, of Livingston County. 
This company were authorized by the act to take possession of the Grand River State road between Detroit and Howell, provided they did not obstruct it for ordinary traffic purposes. 
The capital stock was fixed at $125,000, and the charter was granted for sixty years.
Also, at the same time, was chartered the Eaton Rapids Plank-Road Company to construct a road from Eaton Rapids to Jackson. 
The incorporators were Gardner T. Rand, Horace Hamlin, Benjamin Wright. 
Capital stock, $75,000; charter to run sixty years.
One of the latest companies chartered was the Lansing and Howell Plank-Road Company, March 20,1850. 
The incorporators were James Seymour, Hiram H. Smith, Ephraim B. Danforth, George W. Lee, Frederick C. Whipple. 
Authorized capital stock, $60,000, in 2400 shares of twenty-five dollars each.
Under the act, the Detroit and Howell Company was authorized to subscribe stock in the Lansing and Howell Company in a sum not exceeding $15,000. 
These two companies built the only road terminating at Lansing, though there were no less than seven companies chartered to build as many different roads diverging in various directions.
The Detroit and Howell Company probably constructed their road between 1848 and 1850. 
When the Lansing and Howell Company was chartered the Detroit and Howell Company took the amount of stock in the new company authorized by the act of incorporation.
Among the prominent stockholders in the Lansing and Howell Plank-Road Company were Erastus Corning, of Albany, N. Y.; Horatio Seymour, of Utica, N. Y.; L. D. Coman, of New York City; L. K. Plimpton, of Buffalo, N. Y.; John Owen, F. Wetmore, C. C. Trowbridge, H. P. Baldwin, Zachariah Chandler, C. H. Buhl, of Detroit; and A. N. Hart, of Lapeer.
The contractors for the construction of the road were H. H. Smith, James Turner, and Charles Seymour, the latter a son of James Seymour, under the firm-name of Smith, Turner & Seymour.
Ground was broken on the road about the 1st of July, 1850, and a portion of it, between Lansing and Okemos, opened for business in June, 1851. 
The entire line between Lansing and Howell was completed and opened probably in December, 1852. 
James Turner was treasurer and superintendent for the company from 1851 to Oct. 10, 1869, the date of his death. 
Mr. Turner was also prominent in the construction of the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw Railroad.
The Lansing and Howell Plank-Road had seven tollgates, located as follows: 
No. 1, a mile east of Lansing 
No. 2, two miles west of Okemos Village; 
No. 3, at Red Bridge, ten miles east of Lansing; 
No. 4, at Leroy Village; 
No. 5, near Fowlerville; 
No. 6, between Fowlerville and Howell; and No. 7, at Howell. 
The road connected at Ionia and Grand Rapids with boats on Grand River, and thence via Grand Haven with steamers on Lake Michigan. 
It was not only a valuable property to the stockholders, but of vast advantage to the business interests of the whole central and northwestern portions of the State. 
It was extensively patronized, and a constant stream of travel and traffic passed over it, until the completion of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway attracted a large portion of its former business. 
The completion of that line of railway occurred in 1858. 
* Mr. Smith became subsequently a noted railroad contractor, and constructed several important lines in Michigan. 
He is at this time a wealthy and respected citizen of the city of Jackson, well advanced in years.
The road was still comparatively profitable and was maintained as a plank-road until about 1866, when the company procured an act of the Legislature authorizing them to change the road to a graveled turnpike. 
The change began about the last-named date by filling the bad places where the plank had decayed with gravel; and this process gradually went on until about 1870, when the whole line from Lansing to Detroit had become a solid turnpike, and as such is still maintained.
The old plank-road followed substantially the Territorial and State road for the entire distance, passing through Bedford, in Wayne County; Farmington, Novi, and Lyon, in Oakland; Brighton, Howell, and Fowlerville, in Livingston; and Webberville, Williamston, and Okemos, in Ingham County. 
The total distance between Detroit and Lansing is eighty-five miles.
The firm of Hibbard & Burrell (Daniel Hibbard and A. Burrell, of Detroit) was the first to establish a through-line of mail- and passenger-coaches after the plank-road was finished over this route. 
The coaches were strong and capacious, and carried twenty passengers each, making the entire distance in ten hours, or an average of eight and a half miles per hour,—a feat more marvelous in those days than the performances of the fast mail-trains over our railways to-day.
The completion of the Detroit, Lansing and Northern Railway in 1871 again diminished its business quite materially, and it at present has about an average amount of traffic with other prominent lines of highway in the State.
There has been a great amount of complaint in recent years that the companies who constructed the plank and graveled roads should be permitted to continue the tollgates upon them. 
The charters will expire as follows: The Detroit and Howell, April 3, 1908, and the Lansing and Howell, March 20, 1910. 
It seems a long time to the people, no doubt, to look forward to a free road, and it is more than probable that long before the time expires the system of toll will be given up; but there is also another side to the question which it is well enough for those who are clamoring for the abrogation of the charters to examine.
Hon. C. C. Trowbridge, in October, 1879, published a statement of some interesting facts as a reply to those who are calling for the abolition of the toll-road. 
We make a few extracts from his article:
"It is useless to catch the ear of the present busy generation as to what transpired about these roads thirty-odd years ago; but the fact is undeniable that at certain seasons of the year, and about half of the time, they were almost impassable, and that at such periods non-intercourse with the country was the rule. 
A great outcry was made for relief. 
Certain of our business men procured the passage of the plank-road act of 1848, and these corporations were organized under its provisions. 
Failing to persuade the farmers and the city landholders to take up the capital stock, these same business men took it and built the roads. 
At first they were profitable to their owners, but the revenues soon fell off and the expenses of repair increased, so that for the last seventeen years the Saline has paid only an average of one and one-seventeenth per cent, per annum; the Lansing and Howell, for twenty-five years, one and one-eighth per cent.; the Detroit and Howell, for sixteen years, six and three-fifths per cent.; and the Erie less than nine per cent.; the whole average being less than five per cent.; while the yearly saving to our citizens in the cost of fuel and supplies, and the general effect upon the markets has been equal to the total cost of the roads, and the lands along their lines have quadrupled in value. 
Please note here that these and the succeeding dividends will be all that the shareholders will receive in return for $300,000 which they expended in building these roads. 
At the expiration of their charters, now only twenty-eight years distant, the roads revert to the vicinage and become town property, subject to taxation for repairs. 
In respect to one of them that period will probably be materially shortened, for it is already difficult, by the most economical use of the revenue, to keep it in passable condition.
"Under these circumstances the proprietors feel that they are equitably entitled to whatever the law allows, and they ask their fellowcitizens to put themselves in their place and not to condemn them as thieves for endeavoring to maintain their rights. 
It is obvious to all who have served as road-masters that if left to the towns to keep the roads in repair the people would never submit to the necessary taxation. 
Up to 1879 tha Howell road had expended for that purpose $303,369.98, or an average of $11,667.10 per annum; the Erie, $276,890.16, or an average of $10,649.60 ; the Lansing, $98,854.07, or an average of $3954.18; and the Saline, $261,610.31, or an average of $10,464.41; a total, of about $1,000,000.*
 
 
Detroit to Lansing PLANK ROAD
It must occur to one that the railroad from Detroit to Lansing, via Howell, must have been suggested by the Lansing-Howell and Howell-Detroit old plank road. 
It has been told previously that James M. Turner, senior, was one of the early projectors of the plank road between Lansing and Howell. 
Mr. Turner was treasurer and manager of the plank road and this connection must necessarily have brought him in touch with those who early realized that the railroad must soon supplant the plank roadway.
It appears that Detroiters were chiefly those who were active in behalf of the road from Detroit to Howell, that Howell, Williamston, and men to the eastward led in the enterprise from Howell to Lansing, and that Lansing men pushed the enterprise between Ionia and this city.
The Howell & Lansing was first incorporated for 100 years and its capital was named at $270,000. 
Albert N. Hart, Lansing, was among the stockholders. 
Others of this place were L. K. Hewett, F. S. Holmes and Dart Davis. G. N. Walker, of Okemos, was a subscriber. 
H. H. Benedict, of Fowlerville, was another. 
Belltown came through with quite a contribution to the capital of the projected road. 
T. P. Lyon, of Plymouth was first president.
After the consolidation which resulted in the Detroit, Howell & Lansing, there was considerable activity in the actual building of the road. 
The road under the other names had been almost wholly on paper. 
The road between Detroit and Plymouth was opened for traffic, June 30, 1871; between Plymouth and Brighton, the next day; between Brighton and Williamston and between Williamston and Lansing the same day, namely, August 31, 1871. 
A woman who is a resident of Lansing but was then of Williamston, says the opening of the road at that point was celebrated with a barbecue and she vividly remembers the cloud of flies that attended.
The road from the west had progressed similarly. 
The section between Lansing and Portland was formally declared open November 18, 1869; between Portland and Ionia, in December, the same year.
 
 
Plank Roads
 
Michigan was a leader in the development of plank roads.
Most mid-nineteenth century Michigan's roads were only rutted paths through swamps and forests. 
Entrepreneurs formed private companies to build corduroy roads of logs to solve this problem. 
Later, they built the smoother plank roads. 
To pay for building the roads, they charged travelers a toll.
Building a Plank Road Plank roads were constructed by laying planks of pine or oak, eight to sixteen feet long and three to four inches thick, across boards called sleepers or stringers. 
The stringers, usually made from oak or whatever wood was locally available, were placed parallel to the direction of the road. 
In wet areas, the stringers were placed on top of logs. 
Ditches on either side of the road provided drainage. 
A dirt or gravel road alongside the plank road allowed wagons to pull over or pass each other.