Wooden Plank Roads

22 February 2021

Entrepreneurs in the mid-nineteenth century understood the difficulty of travel and realized there was money to be made.  They began building wooden plank roads that were relatively smooth and without obstructions, charging travelers by the mile.  It took a lot of money and hard work to build a wooden plank road in 19th century America.

It started with a survey to find the best route from one location to then next. The roadway had to be cleared and thousands of board feet of lumber cut and milled to start the road. Local farmers and laborers used shovels, hoes, rakes and teams of horse-drawn scrapers, under the supervision of engineers, to level and grade the road surface, requiring many months of manpower, equipment and horses to complete. 

The roads were generally graded to 24 feet wide with the center graded 6” higher than the sides to provide water runoff, and a ditch was dug on each side to keep water drained away from the road.  Milled logs provided the foundation along the length of the road, with 3” thick oak planks nailed crossways for the top layer.  Plank roads were generally well-maintained.  No longer did travelers or merchants have to clear trees, traverse swamps, and suffer the numerous pits and swales that led to delays and many broken axles along the way.   

See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: 1

Locally, Watertown-Plank Road ran from Goerke’s Corners in Brookfield, WI to Watertown, WI, and was one of the longest in the state.  Tolls were set up every five miles, where travelers were charged 1 cent a mile for each animal.  Travel time from Milwaukee to Watertown via the new plank road went from 6 days in bad weather, to 3 days regardless of weather.  Wagonloads of heavy merchandize made their way along the plank roads. Eventually the widespread network of railroads gave merchants a quicker and more reliable transportation option. Though short-lived, the use of plank roads reduced travel time in half, and became great sources for transporting goods and merchandise across the frontier.

(Excerpts from “Early Transportation” by Mike Rice)

(Next time – The Buffalo Roller)

Pioneer Travel

16 February 2021

Good roads have always been the key to travel.  Today’s highways are paved and generally well maintained for high-speed travel.  That was not the case in 19th century America when pioneers made their way from out east to the western frontier town of Eagle. 

Travel back then was difficult because roads were often little more than narrow, Indian trails that were widened enough for a wagon to pass. 

  Roads were rutted from the many wagon wheels that traveled along that way, and often washed out after rainstorms.  It wasn’t uncommon for branches and fallen trees to block roads. In the early days, they were seldom maintained, becoming uneven ruts that turned into mud pits after a rainstorm.  Pioneer travelers often had to clear and repair roads, and ford creeks and rivers along their journeys.

Towns began to grow along way, and townsmen soon realized that the key to their success was to build and maintain roads between nearby towns.  Farm goods and supplies, lumber, hardware and household goods needed reliable roads on which to travel.  Reliable roads also brought new settlers and new money. 

(Excerpts from “Early Transportation” by Mike Rice)

(Next time – Wooden Plank Roads)

Items From The Past

7 February 2021

In 1959, the Waukesha Freeman newspaper published a Centennial Edition of their paper which started in 1859. The Centennial Edition celebrated the history of their coverage of Waukesha county and the many towns and villages that grew here. Parts of the Centennial Edition were published each week for several weeks in 1959, along with their regular weekly edition. It’s fun to look back at the development, growth and history of Waukesha county, and read of what the pioneers endured as they moved to the area.

Over the next months, we will retell some of the stories of our past. All articles were printed in the Waukesha Freeman Centennial Edition.


Eagle Residents From The Past

13 November 2020

Harry F. Cruver
Colonel, United States Air Force

Col. Harry Franklyn Cruver was a retired Air Force colonel and decorated bomber pilot in World War II. He was born May 2, 1916 in Eagle Wisconsin to Charles and Caroline Cruver, the sixth of eight children. His parents owned a 79 acre farm on the west side of Hwy E, a few blocks south of Main Street. Some of his neighbors were Joseph Sprague, W.L. Cox, Ed Ely and Henry Onyon. Harry’s parents farmed all their lives and are buried at Jericho Cemetery in Eagle.

Harry F. Cruver 1938

Harry graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1938 with a bachelor of arts degree and became an architect. He later received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University

With the war raging in Europe, he joined the US Army infantry in July 1938, and later, the Air Corps in December 1940 where he was assigned the rank of “Aviation Cadet.”

Harry attended flight school and served as a flight instructor before becoming a command pilot with the 100th Bomb Group in Europe during WWII. He flew 23 missions over Germany including a daring daylight raid over Hamburg Germany where nearly one-third of the 100th Bomb Group’s B-17 aircraft were lost.

Among the many service decorations and awards he received during his 28 year military service, were the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, awarded for distinguished and meritorious achievement while serving with the Armed Forces.

It was during the war that Harry met and married the beautiful Frances De Clerk of Pocahontas, Arkansas in August 1943. They later had three children.

After the war, he served several staff positions at the Pentagon, and in 1966, Col. Cruver retired, finishing his military career as a manpower and personnel staff planner in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
He remained active in his retirement until his death on Feb. 12, 2000. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, Va. His wife Frances died in 1991 and is buried along with her husband at Arlington Cemetery.

(Information comes from Washington Post archives and 100th Bomb Group (Heavy) Foundation)

Details of his service record can be found below.

Harry F Cruver

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Sidney P Kline

22 September 2020
(Click image above for video) Part 1 video is about 18 minutes long

Sidney P Kline was a young man from Eagle Wisconsin who served with the 24th Wisconsin Infantry in the American Civil War. Sidney Kline was one of 13 boys from from Eagle who joined the regiment in July 1862, expecting a quick victory against Rebel forces. Instead, he and his fellow soldiers witnessed the horror and carnage of war.

In Part 1, Sidney tells his story, beginning with the families and friends in Eagle who went to war with him. In Part 2, he will detail his experiences in the war.

This presentation was originally sponsored by the Eagle Historical Society, co-sponsored by the Alice Baker Memorial Library and presented at the Eagle Municipal Building in 2018.

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