The Journal of Economic History


Responding to Relative Decline: The Plank Road Boom of Antebellum New York

John Majewskia1, Christopher Baera2 and Daniel B. Kleina3

a1 Department of the University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024

a2 Assistant Curator of Manuscripts and Archives at the Hagley Museum and Library, P.O. Box 3630, Wilmington, DE 19807.

a3 Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California, Irvine, CA 92717.


From 1847 to 1853 New Yorkers built more than 3,500 miles of wooden roads. Financed primarily by residents of declining rural townships, plank roads were seen as a means of linking isolated areas to the canal and railroad network. A broad range of individuals invested in the roads, suggesting that the drive for bigger markets was supported by a large cross section of the population. Considerable community spirit animated the movement, indicating that New Yorkers used the social capital of the community to reach their entrepreneurial aspirations.