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This page is from The Way We Lived in North Carolina, copyright 2003 by the University of North Carolina Press. Classroom use of the materials on this web site is permissible, as is classroom presentation of this Web site. Linking from another web site is permissible. Materials including maps, text, and photographs, may be downloaded, printed, and/or copied for classroom or other educational uses provided that they include attribution to Joe A. Mobley, the University of North Carolina Press, and the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Any other use including commerical use of these materials are not allowed without the express permission of the rightsholders. For other uses not expressly allowed under the guidelines above, please contact the publishers.

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Express Lanes and Country Roads: North Carolina 1920-2001

By Elizabeth A. Fenn, Peter H. Wood, Harry L. Watson, Thomas H. Clayton, Sydney Nathans, Thomas C. Parramore, and Jean B. Anderson; Maps by Mark Anderson Moore. Edited by Joe A. Mobley. From The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 2003. Published by the North Carolina Office of Research and History in association with the University of North Carolina Press. Republished in NCpedia by permission.

See also: The Way We Lived in North Carolina: IntroductionPart II: An Independent People, North Carolina, 1770-1820Part III: Close to the Land, North Carolina, 1820-1870; Part IV The Quest for Progress: North Carolina 1870-1920Part V: Express Lanes and Country Roads, North Carolina 1920-2001; Automobiles for K-8 Students

Postcard images of Mecklenburg County road and road builders. The image of the road builders stand in front of an old automobile and houses. Part V: North Carolina 1920-2001

Although the frontier disappeared in North Carolina before the Revolutionary War, the frontier spirit lived on in the Tar Heel State well into the twentieth century. The ingredients of that spirit included a hardy frontier individualism that made each man the master of his own fortunes and the cause of his own shortcomings. In early times, this spirit had its most striking form in the code duello of the well-to-do and the gouging match of the common citizen. In recent times, it has manifested itself in a marked suspicion of any scheme designed to cast people together in organizational patterns or cooperative enterprises. Early and late, it has included a tendency to view government at all levels as a potential menace to the freedom and pocketbooks of individual citizens.

The period 1920 to the present saw the construction here of the nation's longest state-maintained system of roads, the establishment of great national forests and state parks, the emergence of a vast panoply of tourist accommodations. It was an age that saw the beginnings of a vital movement in historic preservation from the Outer Banks to the Great Smoky Mountains. Education and health care, literature and art, were far superior at the end of the period to what they had been at the outset.

As the twentieth century came to a close, Tar Heels could look back on the past eight decades with no little satisfaction at what they had accomplished and with greater confidence in their ability to resolve other problems. In terms of their willingness and capacity to respond to challenges, Tar Heels found that they had lost none of their old frontier spirit. They anticipated that the next century would be still better than the last.

North Carolinians have been drawing different conclusions from the past decades of change and turmoil. For some, the lesson was that society should abandon altogether collective efforts to remake itself in any image and leave it to individuals once more to strive as best they could for themselves. For others, the state seemed infinitely richer in spirit and talent as a consequence of the barriers broken and programs created through social struggle. Perhaps all North Carolinians might begin to look to their own peculiar heritage for guidance and inspiration. For there were values in that heritage that had nothing to do with oppression of the weak or exploitation of the underprivileged. States' rights and localism did not necessarily mean the reign of bigotry but could as readily mean a fuller participation of the individual in the life of the community, a closer bond between leaders and led. Or so it appeared as the state and nation came to assess a third century of their experience and to prepare for the challenges of a fourth.


The Sod-Busters: Agriculture in North Carolina 1920-2001
The Electric Cornucopia
Vendors and Lendors
Going to Town
Express Lanes
The Desert Blooms

Keep reading  - The Sod Busters: Agriculture in North Carolina 1920-2001  


Fenn, Elizabeth Anne, and Joe A. Mobley. 2003. The way we lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC [u.a.]: Published in association with the Office ofCover image for a N.C. Highway Commision highway map, 1962. From the collection of the N.C. Museum of History, used courtesy of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Archives and History, North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, by the University of North Carolina Press.

Educator Resources:

Grades K-8:

Image Credits:

"Mecklenburg Road and their Builders, Charlotte, N.C." in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

North Carolina State Highway Commission. "North Carolina Highway Map 1962." S.HS.2012.3.2, North Carolina Museum of History.