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The Branch Road

April 23, 2012 - Jodi Burnsworth
During the pioneer settlement, many trails and roads intersected in the Tygart Valley. Maybe the biggest and most important was the road north and south through the valley. This road was known to the settlers as the “War Road” or the “Great Road” and became known to historians as the “Seneca Trail.”

At the site of Elkins, another road ran west and east. This road led to the older settlements on the South Branch of the Potomac near today’s Petersburg and Moorefield. During war time in the 1750s, Indians carried settlers over this route into captivity in Ohio. Originally a trail, it became known as the “Branch Road.”

In 1774 the Augusta County Court ordered a road established from Jacob Eberman’s mill at the present-day Elkins airport to Mouth of Seneca. Improvements were made to the trail to the South Branch. But still the road was little more than a wide trail. David Crouch, who lived in the valley in the 1770s, described the road: “The bed was composed of round stones none less than a cannonball or your hat & was dangerous... nothing but mountains. Once a year my father...packed (salt) over (from the South Branch) on horses … had five mountains to cross… so steep a horse could hardly carry a man over them. Never a wagon could get to … Tygert's Valley… There was not a wagon or wagon rut in Tygert's Valley.”

From Mouth of Seneca, the Branch Road went up Seneca Creek, crossing the Allegheny Divide through a pass about 75 feet lower than where Route 33 crosses today. Near the pass was “Strader’s Spring,” a favorite stopping place for militia scouts watching the road during war time. The road went down Stinking Run to today’s Job, crossed Rich Mountain, and passed another spring on Laurel Fork where Joseph Roy had a camp.

Below today’s Bowden, it forded the Cheat at what was known as the “Deep Ford” and followed the south side to the present-day location of the railroad tunnel east of Elkins. About three miles below there, the road went into the “Wilmoth Settlement” where George Shaver, the apparent namesake of the Shaver’s Fork, had a cabin in the 1770s. The spot became known as the “Wilmoth Settlement,” as the Wilmoths as well as the Summerfields, Walkers, Thompsons and Isners also had camps or settlements there.

From there the Branch Road went west up Cheat Mountain and forked at the top. The right fork, which by the 1780s was known as the “Wilmoth Road,” went down Cravens Run and through the back campus of today’s D&E College to Friend’s Fort at today’s Crystal Springs. The left fork went down Isner’s Creek to Wilson’s Fort at the present airport. At Wilson’s, another road went west, across to Georgetown, and up Whitman Run to Flat Bush at today’s Mabie and on to Buckhannon.

The road was still in use a century later when White’s West Virginia Atlas, published in 1873, marks the road showing the Isner Creek branch. Besides bringing some of the first settlers into the Tygart and keeping them supplied, the Branch Road also saw several militia companies, often with pack horses of supplies, pass through to garrison forts in the Tygart Valley. The road was a pack road only. David Crouch reported that there had not been a wagon brought over the roads into the Tygart Valley by the time he left there in the 1780s.

Special contribution by David Armstrong


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