The cold is upon us. On Saturday, winter taunted us, threatening a snowy season and a pothole-filled spring. After each year’s blast of northern aggression, our roads present a challenge to the Virginia Department of Transportation and those of us who play dodgem with craters and heaved pavement. But we have got it pretty good compared with those who dealt with the dirt roads of 100 years ago. Yet, there were those in Chesterfield who would not allow themselves to be stuck in the ruts of apathy, as is evident in an address made to the Board of Supervisors in September of 1902.
J.W. Nunnally, who was the Bermuda District Supervisor in 1902, submitted a plan for permanent roads in Chesterfield. “It would indeed be a difficult matter to select any of the varied products of man’s handiwork that demands more constant and watchful attention than our common roadways,” Jeremiah Wallace Nunnally told the board. More motorized vehicles were beginning to travel local dirt roads at the turn of the 20th century, even though there were fewer than 15,000 cars on the road in the entire United States and half of those were powered by steam.
In the Bermuda District, the main north/south roadway was called the Richmond and Petersburg Turnpike (now Jefferson Davis Highway). It wasn’t what you would call a turnpike now, but rather a track rutted from narrow wagon wheels, prone to dust in the summer and mud in the wet months. Nunnally submitted that at the time they had “only fairly good roads for a short time once or twice a year.” According to Francis Lutz, in his book Chesterfield: An Old Virginia County, Chesterfield was authorized by the General Assembly in 1902 to “create a general road fund and to provide for the permanent improvement of roads.”
Donald Graves, whose great grandfather was Nunnally, was recently given a copy of the well-written address to the board by his cousin and said, “I thought it would be interesting that people were having a similar discussion about roads even back then.”
Nunnally had the idea that there were two ways to deal with the maintenance of roads. One way was to go over the road each spring and fall “with a squad of hands” and make necessary repairs. He favored a more logical approach. He called it the “continuous system.”
“Under this system,” he posited, “repairs are made at the proper time, by workmen constantly employed for that purpose and no break or defect is allowed to remain in the road for any length of time. I would suggest the employment of one man (horse and cart), to keep in repair the road after once being made permanent; that he be required to go over a mile each day to remove all defects from said road (or ditches) and make all necessary repairs through the year.”
He continued that once six miles were made permanent that the “section master” shall go over six miles each week. Nunnally, a business savvy man who owned and operated a saw mill off Chester Road near where it now intersects with Route 10, reasoned the first road to be made permanent should be what is now Route 1, because it was the “shortest route between the capitol and Petersburg.”
Being in the timber business, Nunnally eventually subdivided an area north of Route 10 along what is now Lee Street. Originally called Josephine Street, Lee ran back to the Seaboard Airline Rail Line and along it Nunnally named Delavial and Quay streets after the middle names of his daughters Florence and Caroline, respectively.
Nunnally was specific in his directions of how Chesterfield might rebuild this permanent road so as to make maintenance as simple as possible.
“To start with,” he proposed. “Use the road machine in throwing the road up in its proper shape then gravel six inches deep; using the best terra cotta pipe for drainage, large enough to carry off all surplus matter.”
The Bermuda supervisor continued that it would only do justice to build one first class highway through the county. “The farmers have always borne their share and sometime more than their share, of taxes, for road purposes. For in the city there is a consolidation of wealth, hence, the state should make one permanent highway so it will be an ever present object lesson to the county officials in the construction of other roads.”
While his proposal was written to the Board of Supervisors and signed by his hand, the address was most certainly delivered verbally to Chesterfield’s governing body.
Nunnally was well known in the county, having been a Confederate soldier of Robert E. Lee’s army and surrendering with his compatriots at Appomattox. Through the fog of history, his voice is almost audible and it had to have been followed by a round of applause.
Jefferson Davis Highway is now on the register of historic place and known as Historic Route 1.