Old Wire Road....
The Old Wire Road...
what an intriguing name. It has a nostalgic ring to it and an aura
of mystique. There is something about it that makes one want to
know more. It has been the subject of at least one book, numerous
articles and endless hours of research and mapping. Just what is
this Old Wire Road?
Quite simply it is a
stretch of road extending from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Smith,
Arkansas, along which were strung telegraph wires for communications
purposes during the Civil War period. But it is more than that.
Its true significance lies in the history of people who lived and
events that transpired along it before it ceased to exist or was
swallowed up by the elements or progress.
The road was never just
a single route constructed as an individual project. Rather it was
separate bits and pieces joined together for a common purpose. It
existed much earlier than the telegraph but only assumed its name
when it became associated with the telegraph.
As the telegraph made
its way westward across the country it utilized already established
roads or trails. Many of these no doubt were referred to as wire
roads, none having any more significance than the other, but each
having a story to tell in its own right; a story that is significant
to those who lived along its route. And so it is with the Old Wire
Road in southwest Missouri.
The original inhabitants
of southwest Missouri developed trails as they moved from place
to place. Eventually these trails became established Indian trails.
With the establishment of St. Louis, these Indian trails were used
by the Spanish for commercial purposes between Santa Fe and St.
Louis as pack trains transported gold and supplies.
In June of 1836 a main
road was laid out and opened between Versailles and the Arkansas
line, passing through southwest Missouri. Each county was responsible
for the expense of the road through its boundaries. In 1839 several
roads were established or rerouted providing connections with Boonville,
St. Louis and Fayetteville. It was the road to St. Louis and Fayetteville
that was destined to become known as the Wire Road.
In 1846 Joseph Burdin
of Springfield held a contract with the United States government
to carry mail using a two horse stage between Springfield and Fayetteville.
On March 3, 1857, a bill
was passed in the U. S. Congress that provided for transcontinental
mail service. Bids were opened in June. John Butterfield of Utica,
New York, was awarded the contract. Tipton, Missouri, was the beginning
of the 2,800 mile route with San Francisco, California, the end.
Tipton was chosen as the beginning point it being the terminus of
the railroad from St. Louis. The Overland Butterfield Mail Route
would pass through Springfield and Greene County. The first outward
bound stage made its scheduled stop on Springfield's public square
on September 17, l858. The event was celebrated that evening with
fireworks and general revelry. The eastbound stage arrived the next
month on October 22.
The extension of the
telegraph from New York westward began in 1846 and reached St. Louis
on December 22, 1847, and Springfield in 1860. Poles for the wires
consisted of trees easily accessible along the route or poles supplied
by nearby residents. From this time on the route the telegraph lines
followed became known as the Wire Road.
The road was much used,
but during the Civil War it was of strategic importance as it became
a military road used to transport supplies and military units between
Springfield, which became a large military depot, and points south
To learn more
about the Wire Road, check out this website: