South Carolina’s early road system could best be described as “local option.” The roads were generally poor and were designed to facilitate local travel. But after the end of the War of 1812, the expansion of cotton production in the South Carolina interior fueled a demand for easy transportation to Charleston. In December 1818 the General Assembly responded by appropriating funds for internal improvements to the state and creating a board of public works to oversee improvement projects. As part of this larger effort, the board began construction on a 110-mile State Road, which would connect Charleston with Columbia. In addition, the board began construction of a road from Columbia to Buncombe County, North Carolina, to accommodate the importation of food-stuffs for South Carolina cotton farmers. This section of the State Road was better known as the Buncombe Road (not to be confused with the city of Greenville’s own Buncombe Road). Only an eighteen-mile stretch of this section, running south from Saluda Mountain, was built by the state.
The State Road was not designed to connect towns in the state and, except for Charleston, did not enter a single county seat. The project was a true state enterprise, and for the first four years the laborers on the road were direct state employees. That method was abandoned in 1823, and the work was contracted out. The expensive undertaking was to be paid for with tolls. Plagued by high costs and low income from tolls, the State Road project was a failure. Poor maintenance and high tolls ensured that the road attracted little traffic. The General Assembly halted funding for the road in 1829 and turned over authority for its operation to local commissioners and private interests. More than a century later, Interstate 26 would essentially retrace the route of the original State Road.
Charles, Allan D. “The State’s First Try at Building Highways.” Carolina Highways 33 (February 1978): 23.
Kohn, David, and Bess Glenn. Internal Improvement in South Carolina, 1817–1828. Washington, D.C., 1938.
Moore, John Hammond. The South Carolina Highway Department, 1917–1987. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.
Smith, Alfred G. Economic Readjustment of an Old Cotton State: South Carolina, 1820–1860. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1958.