A Photo Tour of the Turkey Foot Road
By Lannie Dietle
Purpose of the web page
This is an online picture tour of a road that was cut in 1779 to resupply a desperately undersupplied Fort Pitt. Comma delimited GPS coordinates link to Google maps, so you can use Google maps and satellite images to trace the route of the road across the landscape. This web page is not intended to be used as a driving tour or as a walking tour. None of the coordinates have been vetted for safe parking areas, and many are on private property, and therefore inaccessible to the public.
Like most primitive roads, the course of this road mutated over time. Rather than identifying the precise location of the 1779 road, the coordinates on this web page relate to what is known of the post-Revolutionary War route. This article provides a general overview, but does not include every known route variation, or every known landmark.
This brief tour draws from the book “In Search of the Turkey Foot Road”, which provides comprehensive historical and route information on the old road. The book is available from the Mount Savage Historical Society.
The big picture
As the Turkey Foot Road wound northwest from Fort Cumberland in Allegany County, Maryland, it passed through the locations of Corriganville and Barrelville, and passed near the location of Mount Savage. In Somerset County, PA, the route was located a short distance west of Pocahontas, and passed through the locations of Salisbury, Savage, Dumas, Harnedsville, and Ursina. In Fayette County, the route passed through the locations of Nicolay, Mill Run, Normalville, and Wooddale. It crossed into Westmoreland County just east of Scottdale, and merged with Braddock’s road near Hunker.
Military History of the road
In 1778, Americans were outraged by massacres committed by Tories and British-allied Indians at Wyoming Valley, PA and Cherry Valley, NY. In January 1779, Quartermaster General Nathaniel Greene advised George Washington to respond by launching a two-pronged attack against the food supply of the hostile Indians, with one division marching from a desperately undersupplied Fort Pitt.
In preparation for the attack, Washington asked Greene and Commissary General Wadsworth to improve the transportation of supplies from the “frontiers of Virginia” to Fort Pitt. Greene contacted Colonel George Morgan, who was the “purchasing Commissary for the Western department”. Morgan assigned Captain Charles Clinton and Colonel Providence Mounts to cut a new, shorter pack horse road from the town of Fort Cumberland to supply Fort Pitt. Clinton lived at Fort Cumberland, and Mounts was a miller living at the site of Connellsville.
The supply situation was so bleak that Washington cancelled Fort Pitt’s role in the campaign. Completion of the new road changed the supply situation, and Washington’s mind.
By putting 1,500 pack horses on the new road, Fort Pitt was adequately supplied by June 24, 1779. Major General John Sullivan led the primary attack from the Wyoming Valley on July 31, 1779, destroying at least 40 Indian villages in New York. Colonel Daniel Brodhead led a successful parallel campaign from Fort Pitt on August 11, 1779, with 605 combatants and 100 escorts for the campaign supplies. Brodhead marched north as far as the upper Seneca towns, destroying a number of Indian villages and over 500 acres of associated crops, and returned to Pittsburgh on September 14, 1779. The twin campaigns were followed by an exceptionally harsh winter, which was devastating to the now under-provisioned hostile Indians. Although the ways of war are cruel, the campaigns provided a new degree of safety for settlers in the western frontier of Pennsylvania.
The new road passed through the southern end of what is now Somerset County to take advantage of forage in the “two plentiful Settlements” located there. North of Turkey Foot, the route passed through property in the vicinity of Mill Creek reservoir that was surveyed for Morgan and his brother in 1776. Morgan located his wartime “bullock Pens” on this property. The bullock pens were used for pasturing livestock that was being driven to Fort Pitt. The new road was some 20 to 25 miles shorter than Braddock’s old road, and dryer, because it remained on the eastern side of the Youghiogheny River.
The military origin of the Turkey Foot Road, briefly summarized here, is proven by military correspondence that is detailed by articles in the 2012 and 2013 issues of the “Casselman Chronicle”, a publication of the Springs Historical Society.
Soon after the war, several documents identify the Turkey Foot Road by name: A 1784 letter from Washington’s physician James Craig; Washington’s Sept. 22, 1784 journal entry; and his Nov. 30, 1786 letter to Tobias Lear. Craig refers to the route as “the Turkey-foot road”, and reportedly purchased property near Morgan’s “bullock pens”. Washington calls the route “the New (or Turkey foot) Road” and “the New road by the Turkey foot”. The earliest known maps to identify the new postwar road were published by Reading Howell in 1791 and 1792.
Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene had an idea for a military campaign
In July 1778, New York Indians and British-allied Tories killed more than 300 Americans. This became known as the Wyoming Valley Massacre. Another massacre took place at Cherry Valley, New York in November. 32 inhabitants were scalped and killed. Americans were outraged, and wanted retaliation.
In January 1779, Nathanael Greene pictured above) wrote to George Washington, proposing an attack on the Indian food supply. One army was to advance from the Wyoming Valley, and the other from Fort Pitt. Fort Pitt was under-supplied, and too weak to attack. Before Fort Pitt could go on the offensive, it had to be supplied. One of many difficulties was inadequate transportation.
George Morgan was responsible for having the Turkey Foot Road cut
In February 1779, Washington wrote to Greene about provisioning Fort Pitt for 1,200 men. The supplies were to come from Virginia.
Washington asked Greene for transportation assistance. Greene appointed George Morgan to cut a new supply road to Fort Pitt. Morgan assigned two men to supervise the effort. One was Charles Clinton, from Cumberland. The other was Providence Mounts, from Connellsville.
The new road went through southern Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and then angled northwest through Fayette County, merging with Braddock’s road in Westmoreland County. The route was determined by the availability of forage. That’s why it went through the early Somerset County settlements.
Colonel Daniel Brodhead
The new road was completed just in time to enable Brodhead’s attack against the Seneca Indians.
Because of the supply problem, Washington had canceled the attack. The problem was solved by putting 1,500 packhorses on the new road. On June 24, 1779, Brodhead reported that he had ample supplies. Washington already knew and sent a letter on the 23rd of June granting permission to attack.
Sullivan’s army left the Wyoming Valley on July 31, 1779. Brodhead’s army left Fort Pitt on August 11, 1779. Brodhead had 605 combatants and 100 escorts for the supplies. Destroying the Indian food supply was the focus of both campaigns. This destruction was followed by an exceptionally harsh winter, with very deep snow. This, and the lack of food, had a devastating effect on the hostile Indians. Simply put, they had to retreat or starve.
Right after the war, Washington corresponded with several people about the new Turkey Foot Road.
The supplies for Fort Pitt were brought to the town of Fort Cumberland from Virginia via Skipton, which is now known as Oldtown, MD. This is Michael Cresap’s stone house [39.541859, -78.611512] at Oldtown, 14 miles southeast of Cumberland. John Jacob is said to have built the brick addition to the stone house. The road between Skipton and Fort Cumberland is not considered to be part of the Turkey Foot Road.
The 1792 Reading Howell map shows most of the route between Fort Cumberland and Jacobs Creek.
This is a 1792 map of Pennsylvania. It is the first postwar map to show most of the route of the Turkey Foot Road. By staying east of the Youghiogheny River, it avoided two hazardous river crossings, and saved 20 to 25 miles over Braddock’s road. It passed through the present limits of Bullskin Township, and merged with Braddock’s road in the environs of Hunker, west of Mount Pleasant.
This is a rough schematic of the southern part of the Turkey Foot Road. It passed through the Cumberland Narrows, and followed Wills Creek to Corriganville. From there it followed Jennings Run to Barrelville. There, the route swung northwest to Arnold’s settlement. It entered Pennsylvania to cross Savage Mountain. After temporarily re-entering Maryland, it paralleled today’s Greenville Road. It joined the modern road east of the Greenville church. Instead of following the Greenville Gap, it went over the Allegheny Mountain to Salisbury. It followed Winding Ridge to avoid a swamp at High Point Lake. After that, it took a direct route to Harnedsville and Ursina. After that, it passed through the Jersey Settlement and into Fayette County.
The circa 1747 Mayo map
According to tradition, the Turkey Foot Road followed an old path between Cumberland, Maryland and Salisbury, Pennsylvania.
This old map was marked up long ago to show part of the same path, along Jennings Run. The road was given the label “Road to Ohio”. Other documents prove an antecedent Indian war path between the Narrows and Corriganville, Maryland.
Fort Cumberland was located at 39.650614, -78.765321, but by 1779 Fort Cumberlaand was the name for present-day Cumberland, Maryland. The fort itself was reported as being “deserted and demolished” in 1775
The Narrows at Cumberland, Maryland
In this photo (courtesy of Geologist James L. Stuby), Cumberland, Maryland is on the right, and the valley of Wills Creek is on the left. This makes it easy to understand why the Turkey Foot Road went through the Narrows [39.668011, -78.78422], and northward to Corrigannville, Maryland.
Cumberland wasn’t quite so big in 1779. A 1776 journal states “There is now only a little public house at Fort Cumberland…” Meshack Brown described the condition of the town in about 1791. He said “there were not more than twenty or thirty houses, and they mostly cabins, surrounded by large corn-fields, containing heavy crops of corn.”
The road turned west at Corriganville [39.693675, -78.788317], within sight of Devil’s Backbone. Between the Narrows and here, the antecedent was an Indian war path. Settler's cabins were located along the war path, north of the Narrows, by 1763. This is one of the few pictures of Devil’s Backbone that exists. This striking geological feature was quarried away in the early 1900s. Indian Will, who gave his name to Wills Mountain and Wills Creek, lived near this landmark.
Corrigan’s tavern and the old log inn at Corriganville
The Turkey Foot Road eventually became part of a stagecoach route. These taverns at Corriganville were built to entertain travelers.
Corrigan’s tavern [39.693675, -78.788317] is pictured on the left. The old log inn [39.693335, -78.7889416], on the right, is acrosss the road from Corrigan’s tavern. It was built around 1850, and has six fireplaces.
There was already a building at Corriganville by 1766
This is Mason and Dixon’s 1766 boundary line survey. There was already a building at Corriganville in 1766. It’s circled here in red. This proves the existence of a path before the 1779 road. Another bit of proof is an Indian village at the same place. The village is mentioned in a 1745 survey, and was known as Wills Town. Ninian Cochran had a store here in 1797, and Benjamin Tomlinson had a mill.
The road followed the Jennings Run water gap
West of Corriganville, the road followed the Jennings Run water gap. So did the early packhorse path shown on the Mayo map. According to a 1751 journal, this is the water gap traders commonly followed.
The 1897 road between Corriganville and Barrelville
This 1897 picture was taken between Corriganville and Barrelville. The road was crammed between a cliff and the natural path of Jennings Run. Because of the cramped conditions, the road was only wide enough for one wagon.
In the 1850s, this was part of a toll road that ran between Cumberland and West Newton. In other words, it was part of the Plank Road through Somerset.
A 1906 road improvement between Corriganville and Barrelville
This is one of the places where the Turkey Foot Road was crammed between Jennings Run and a rocky cliff.
This roadway, and the stone wall, still survive as the Portertown Road [39.698933, -78.82535]. The cliff has been quarriied away, and is now the site of a house. Jennings Run has been moved into an engineered channel, in order to make room for the current alignment of Route 36.
West of Barrelville
At Barrelville, the old Turkey Foot Road formed a T-junction [39.701193, -78.842808] with the 1804 antecedent to Route 47. After Barrelville, the road turned north, past the stone house [39.701831, -78.848265] that is shown at the upper left. Even though it looks modern, this house was built around 1845. According to tradition, it was an inn. It is located way back from Route 36, along an abandoned section of the Turkey Foot Road.
The bottom picture is from 1939. The stone house is at the lower left, and Barrelville is on the right. The colored dots show the abandoned road climbing a hill. The switchback [39.70451, -78.845768] turns toward the Mule Field section of Arnold’s settlement. The Mule Field is named for a stage coach stop.
The Turkey Foot Road above the switchback
This is the abandoned bed of the old Turkey Foot Road above the switchback. The rocks are characteristic of primitive roads. They were set aside as they were exposed by erosion. That’s Mike McKenzie in the picture. He and Francis Bridges did the boots on the ground research in the Mount Savage area.
Research example using 1787, 1827, and modern surveys
Mile Lane follows the 1827 route of the Turkey Foot Road from 39.705887, -78.860443 to 39.702961, -78.869525. This shows one of the techniques used to identify the route. The bottom image is an 1827 road survey. The top image is a modern plat map superimposed on a 1787 plat map. The bold outline is the 1762 Level Ridge survey.
The lower survey documents a section of the road that was abandoned in 1827. Part of the abandoned section survives as Mile Lane, which is pictured at the upper right.
You can easily see why this was named “Level Ridge”. The 1762 survey mentions the site of a cabin, which helps to prove the existence of an antecedent path.
By tradition, this is the foundation to Arnold’s hotel.
The early farming settlement north of Mount Savage was known as Arnold’s Settlement. It was named after Archibald Arnold, who settled here in the early 1790s.
According to tradition, this is the foundation to Arnold’s hotel. It was located along an 1804 variation of the Turkey Foot Road. A now abandoned portion of the 1804 route began at Arnold’s residence [39.703893, -78.871940], and headed northwest to the southern end of Bald Knob Road.
From 39.706702, -78.875798 to its termination on Blank Road at 39.721392, -78.886449, Bald Knob Road follows tthe 1804 route, with only minor deviations. This house is located on a part of that 1804 route. The house looks modern, but it’s an old log and frame house.
The 1804 route into Pennsylvania
The road in the foreground is Bald Knob Road. Savage Mountain is in the background. The dark crop mark in the field is the 1804 route. From 39.721392, -78.886449, the 1804 route headed westward to 39.721943, -78.889882, where a gradual turn to tthe north began. The route crossed the state line at 39.722879, -78.890397. The route is still visible on some satellite imagery.
The state line is located at the right-hand edge of the field. You can see where the road turned north into Pennsylvania, to cross Savage Mountain. After crossing a saddle on Savage Mountain, the route temporarily returned to Maryland, with several variations crossing the pipeline between 39.724122, -78.919387 and 39.724089, -78.918142. There were a maze of route variations in this area, but a section of Sampson Rock Road is the current alignment.
A summary of the Somerset County route is contained in the November 2011 issue of the “Laurel Messenger”, which is a publication of the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County.