Roads to Chelsea

The highway was wet from a recent rain as I drove west along Shelby County Road 36 from the K-Springs community in Chelsea and crossed Simmsville Mountain into the little valley beyond.

Passing the site of the old W.A. Belcher Blue Flame charcoal pits and warehouse at the foot of the mountain, I thought about another trip I’d made along this road on a rainy afternoon close to 40 years ago.

Road 36 wasn’t paved back then. There were no sub-divisions covering the hills and hollows, with paved side streets leading into them, as there are today. My three young children and I walked close to half a mile to the nearest house to find someone who could pull our car out of the mud with a farm tractor.

The first time Ken, my then husband-to-be, brought me to meet his relatives we had to practically plow our way over the rocky Simmsville Mountain in his new ’54 Chevy convertible. I thought he was joking when he said this was the main road to Chelsea from my home in Pelham. But I soon learned that it was no joke.

As a young boy living a couple miles west of K-Springs church, Ken said, he could look at tracks in the road every morning and tell who had come by in a car or a wagon the evening before.

According to passed-down family stories and land and church records, the earliest settlers to this area came in the early 1830s. They migrated from Virginia and the Carolinas through Tennessee and Georgia and on down through lower Jefferson and northeast Shelby counties.

There were no public roads when the settlers came. It wasn’t until many years later that heavy machinery began cutting down hills and pushing them into valleys.

Immigrants made their way the best they could from one place to another via Indian trails and streams or through valleys and mountain gaps. They made wagon paths through dense forests by cutting trees close against the ground where the stumps would not interfere with wagon axles.

Now, when commuters get bogged down on public roads it’s because of progress in the form of dump trucks and paving machines. Still, that’s probably better than getting jarred off the back of a wagon into a mud hole or getting stuck in mud as my children and I did all those years ago on County Road 36.