The first road signs to Charlotte were made of stone and three of those rare mile markers have been returned to their home - along the roadbed of the oldest road in the Piedmont - Nation Ford.
The three hip-high granite markers date to the early 1800s. One of the markers has a crudely chiseled "CH 16" (Charlotte 16 miles) on one side and "FM 2" on the other.
The family of Eli Springs of Charlotte have given the markers to the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill. And the 200-pound artifacts have recently been re-erected along a section of the former Nation Ford Road. Hwy. 21 near Carowinds was built over sections of Nation Ford.
"Nation Ford Road was the gateway to Charlotte back in the 1700s and 1800s and we are very lucky to have these historic markers," said Anne Springs Close. "It was a nice gesture of the Springs family to give us these stones, and it's fitting because they really are coming home."
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Eli Springs - a cousin of Close's - said in an interview with The Charlotte Observer in 1999 that his grandfather collected the stones along Nation Ford in the early 1900s. The family took the markers with them when they moved from Fort Mill to Charlotte in 1936. The Springs family owned a 375-acre farm at the corner of Providence Road and Highway 51. The farm is the site of the Arboretum mall, part of Raintree and the Providence Springs neighborhood.
Stone mile markers date to the Roman Empire and were used along the Appian Way. Historians say that from about 1785 until the post-Civil War Constitution of 1868, property owners along sections of road were responsible for their maintenance. Property owners would also often erect mile stones.
Nation Ford is a shallow area of the Catawba River just south of Fort Mill where the Catawba Indians have crossed the waterway for more than 1,000 years. Nation Ford Road was originally an ancient Indian trading path that existed before Columbus. It was part of the Occoneechee Trail which connected eastern Virginia with present day Augusta, Ga., and became part of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road that first brought settlers to the Piedmont. Part of Tryon Street in downtown Charlotte was built on the old Nation Ford Road.
Two weeks ago, Bill Steele and several workers from the greenway used a post-hole digger to erect the markers along the ancient road bed. You can still see the eroded red clay banks of the roadbed in several sections of the greenway. The markers are about a foot out of the ground - and after a handful of leaves are scattered over the newly dug earth - it looks like the stones have been in the same place for the last two centuries.
"We decided not to make a big deal out of the markers but to just put them back in the ground as they were originally," said Steele, who oversees the Greenway. "They look pretty natural, we're glad to be their home again."
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The miles stones can be viewed by walking south on the path near the Dairy Barn at the Anne Springs Close Greenway off Hwy. 21 Business. for more, visit www.leroysprings.com/ Greenway.html