Missouri Bicentennial Minutes: Missouri Roads at Statehood

Mar 25, 2021

Missouri had poor roads at statehood. Territorial authorities maintained some roads, and counties oversaw petitions for new local roads. County-level courts ordered those living along the routes of local roads to establish, then maintain them or face fines. Today’s gravel roads would have been super highways to early Missourians. Even state roads were two-track paths, requiring detours around rutted portions. Travelers crossed streams at shallow fords, or on ferries at larger streams.

A major road was the prehistoric Natchitoches Trace, along today’s Highway 67. Segments extended from St. Louis to Greenville, then to Missouri’s southern border at Harris Creek. A branch led from Cape Girardeau to Greenville. Other names included St. Louis-Arkansas Road, the Military Road, Arkansas Road, Texas or Southwest Trail. Colonial authorities established the King’s Highway, or El Camino Real, the route of today’s Highway 61 to New Madrid. The Three-Notch Road led from Ste. Genevieve to Mine la Motte, and followed a route traceable in county roads today.

Other major roads led from Potosi—one to Ste. Genevieve and one to Herculaneum, and were instrumental in moving lead. Principal roads outside southeast Missouri included the Boone’s Lick and Potosi to Boone’s Lick Roads.

Of those early roads, Rev. Timothy Flint observed, “There are as yet few roads … that are much wrought. [This country] is … gentle hills and easy slopes. …. If a person in a carriage is dissatisfied with the beaten [road], he selects one for himself; and can travel … through the untrodden forest. The roads are passable at all times of the year; and scarcely ever muddy more than two or three days at a time …”