This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
There is, perhaps, as much skill to be displayed in the location and construction of an ornamental road as in any other branch of landscape adornment, and there is precisely that knowledge wanted that can define the line where all the essential requirements of a good road can be had without going beyond a fair expense. Among many examples of road-making that can be mentioned, no motive of economy could be urged as a reason for not producing the best results, but simply a total ignorance of all that is necessary in the execution of such works. The requirements of a good road are, a hard, smooth surface, that can not be cat up in any weather, whose drainage is perfect, and which may be kept in high order with the least amount of labor. Such a road, if tastefully aligned and graded, is what one naturally expects to see on entering the inclosure of a place that pre-tends to any ornamental display.
There are many sections of our country, however, in which it is impossible to procure the needful materials to make such roads, and where one must be content with such road coverings as can be had, or with the natural surface of the earth. Broken stone and gravel are not within the reach of all. But whether a road be designed for a covering or not, the same principles of construction should be observed; the same preparation of the earth road is necessary, whether the travelling be done on the earth surface, on the broken stone covering, or on a covering of any other materials.
Perhaps the most important thing to be observed in road building is thorough under and side drainage; and the location should be made with this in view, and so as to avoid as far as possible the drainage from adjoining lands. Agricultural drainage has established the fact, that lands hitherto impassable for teams have been made firm and accessible, and those lands usually soft in the spring are in settled condition much earlier in the season. As the obejct of every road-maker should be to get a hard, firm, and durable road bed, thorough drainage should become with him an important study, as by this means he can preserve to a very great extent the permanence of the road. So necessary is this, that no one can hope to make good roads over wet grounds, unless embanked so high as to be above the influence of the water. No amount of metaling will compensate for the lack of drainage, as, sooner or later, it will mix with the soil and become comparatively worthless. Drainage is one of the essential parts of road construction, and no money or labor is so well expended as that which will effect this object. It is the most economical disposition of one's means that could be suggested. Wherever the ground is firm and dry, or naturally drained, this precaution is unnecessary.
The object should be to obtain a free outlet for all the water that falls, or runs on to the road bed, or that which would be retained by the earth. Sandy or gravelly soils rarely need artificial drainage.
We prefer, in laying out an ornamental road, to keep the grade line as near the original surface of the ground as possible, and not make use of embankments or deep excavations, if they can be avoided; and in any case where compelled to do so, they should be carefully blended into the lines of the natural surfaces. The natural windings of a road seeking a uniform grade over irregular ground are very apt to be more beautiful than if a location is forced by heavy work. Independent of the economy of avoiding earth work, there are also other considerations of value, among which would be less liability to wash and less labor in repair, a straight road on a steep grade being among the most difficult of all to keep in good condition. To preserve a handsome grade with the least amount of earth work is one of the best of reasons for adopting a gracefully flowing line.
In most cases it would be preferable to remove one foot of the top soil from the road, as that is more likely to retain water than the subsoil; yet there are examples in which the top soil would be best. Whatever is removed to this depth can be advautageously used in filling up irregularities or depressions about the grounds.
The whole secret in making a road not designed to have a covering, but to be used as an earth road, lies in a skillful and judicious location, moderate grades, thorough drainage, (which include also an inclination from the centre to the sides,) and the use of the firmest and least absorbent earth obtainable. More evils can be avoided by a proper location than could be remedied by all the ingenious devices yet brought to notice. All matters of construction are but secondary to location; one is but a simple mechanical process, the other involves judgment and skill; the one an exhibition of labor, and its attendant bustle and noise, the other apparently a summer day's recreation, the result, however, of years of study and hard work, the invisible power that decides between a judicious economy and a wasteful extravagance, that solves that difficult problem wherein is at-tained the best results at the minimum of expense.
Whatever class of covering may be adopted for the purpose of improving the surface of a road, will not alter in any respect the preparation of the earth road; the covering, whether it be gravel, stone, or other material, must have the same foundation made for its reception as has been described for use without covering. We are particularly desirous of calling attention to the expensive blunders usually committed by those who pretend to lay out and construct ornamental roads having a stone covering, and to direct attention to those intelligent and well-known systems which not only present the most good qualities, but do so with the most economy of means. There is no impression so absurd as that which supposes a truly scientific course of road-building to be the roost expensive; on the contrary, it is the true principle of economy, although on private estates there are strong prejudices to overcome among those who copy the usual poor plan in which the mass of materials is supposed to make up the deficiency in quality and combination. He who uses eighteen inches to three feet of broken stone, of all sizes, in making a stone road, ought to be able to give good and sufficient reasons for his acts.
It must, however, be plain enough to any one who investigates thoroughly this subject, that such would be a foolish and extravagant waste of materials and labor, and that no example of such construction can be found among the really fine specimens of road-building in this country. We shall in our next article on this subject illustrate the best mode of constructing broken stone roads, showing wherein a properly prepared stone covering of from six to ten inches in thickness is every way better than the common practice of building such roads in country estates, as has been thoroughly demonstrated for years by the matchless broken stone roads of Telford, McAdam, and Bayldon, the best examples of which we have in the magnificent drives of the Central Park.