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Old Wire Road

The Old Wire Road . . .  what an intriguing name. It has a nostalgic ring to it and an aura of mystique. There is something about it that makes one want to know more. It has been the subject of at least one book, numerous articles and endless hours of research and mapping. Just what is this Old Wire Road?


Quite simply it is a stretch of road extending from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Smith, Arkansas, along which were strung telegraph wires for communications purposes during the Civil War period. But it is more than that. Its true significance lies in the history of people who lived and events that transpired along it before it ceased to exist or was swallowed up by the elements or progress.

The road was never just a single route constructed as an individual project. Rather it was separate bits and pieces joined together for a common purpose. It existed much earlier than the telegraph but only assumed its name when it became associated with the telegraph.

As the telegraph made its way westward across the country it utilized already established roads or trails. Many of these no doubt were referred to as wire roads, none having any more significance than the other, but each having a story to tell in its own right; a story that is significant to those who lived along its route. And so it is with the Old Wire Road in southwest Missouri.


The original inhabitants of southwest Missouri developed trails as they moved from place to place. Eventually these trails became established Indian trails. With the establishment of St. Louis, these Indian trails were used by the Spanish for commercial purposes between Santa Fe and St. Louis as pack trains transported gold and supplies.

In June of 1836 a main road was laid out and opened between Versailles and the Arkansas line, passing through southwest Missouri. Each county was responsible for the expense of the road through its boundaries. In 1839 several roads were established or rerouted providing connections with Boonville, St. Louis and Fayetteville. It was the road to St. Louis and Fayetteville that was destined to become known as the Wire Road.

In 1846 Joseph Burdin of Springfield held a contract with the United States government to carry mail using a two horse stage between Springfield and Fayetteville.

On March 3, 1857, a bill was passed in the U. S. Congress that provided for transcontinental mail service. Bids were opened in June. John Butterfield of Utica, New York, was awarded the contract. Tipton, Missouri, was the beginning of the 2,800 mile route with San Francisco, California, the end. Tipton was chosen as the beginning point it being the terminus of the railroad from St. Louis. The Overland Butterfield Mail Route would pass through Springfield and Greene County. The first outward bound stage made its scheduled stop on Springfield's public square on September 17, l858. The event was celebrated that evening with fireworks and general revelry. The eastbound stage arrived the next month on October 22.


The extension of the telegraph from New York westward began in 1846 and reached St. Louis on December 22, 1847, and Springfield in 1860. Poles for the wires consisted of trees easily accessible along the route or poles supplied by nearby residents. From this time on the route the telegraph lines followed became known as the Wire Road.


The road was much used, but during the Civil War it was of strategic importance as it became a military road used to transport supplies and military units between Springfield, which became a large military depot, and points south into Arkansas.

To learn more about the Wire Road, check out this website:

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