The Ancient and Important Walnut Bottom Path-Road

Three published works have dealt with routes through the area of Cumberland County which is west of Carlisle. In 1904 a Shippensburg attorney, John R. Miller, wrote Reminiscences of the Walnut Bottom Road. Five years later a Carlisle surveyor, John D. Hemminger, published Old Roads of Cumberland County. The third author was Dr. Paul A. W. Wallace, who in 1965 published the 227 -page Indian Paths of Pennsylvania.

Wallace, a resident of New Cumberland, worked from notations on eighteenth century surveys returned to the Penn family's land office and confirmed his findings with intense study in the field. He identified two important east-west Indian routes. The first, Allegheny Path, crossed future Cumberland County from Harris's Ferry to future New Kingstown and what by 1736 was termed "New Town," in the east end of future Carlisle.1 The second, Conoy Path, crossed the Susquehanna at future York Haven and proceeded via future Newberrytown and Lisburn to Letort Junction, now the east end of Carlisle.

From this point the traveler could go north over Blue Mountain at Croghan's (now Sterrett's) Gap,2 west over Roxbury Gap, or southwest. In the last direction two alternatives to Shippensburg presented themselves: the Virginia Path, in 1994 U.S. 11, or the Walnut Bottom Path via Centerville.

The route of the Virginia path seems to have been governed by an east-west topographical feature which this author christens "Limestone Ridge." Its importance is that it contains no water table and, therefore, could not produce the large number of fresh water springs that otherwise characterize the valley. The consequence was that travelers, for whom frequent sources of palatable water were necessary, shunned the Virginia path which ran at its base and opted for the Walnut Bottom path to the south which offered numerous watering places.

An Anglican Church chaplain in 1758 testifies as to the barren nature of the land at the base of the Limestone Ridge:

Friday, July 20th. Being tird with waiting at Carlisle, set out for Rays- Town [now Bedford] ... A good Road through shallow barren land much broken with Stones & little Hills led us to Shippensburg a small poor town about 20 miles from Carlisle.3

In 1736 Samuel Blunston, Penn family land agent, made the earliest known reference to the routes down the valley in describing a license he issued to Charles McGill: "Where he is already settled at the round meadow on the old waggon road to Potowmac & about three miles Beyond Falling Spring [Chambersburg]."4 Blunston, however, was speaking prematurely in calling the path a wagon road, for inhabitants of the land to the north near the Conodoguinet Creek in 1735 objected to the blazing of such a road to the south, saying it would be "hurtful to our Plantations." The plain implication here was that at least by 1735 there were three east-west roads in the Valley.

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