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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Mystery of the Cart Path Farms

Those of us who are native to the area on either the west or east bank of the Wabash River in the vicinity of Vincennes and interested in the history of this locale, or who have had occasion to become involved in the transfer or abstracting of land records have often encountered the “mystery of the ‘Cart Path’ farms. Why were these long and extremely narrow strips of land radiating from old Vincennes laid out in this fashion?

Their width measured a little less than 385 feet fronting on the river and their length averaged slightly less than 1½ miles encompassing approximately 68 acres.

What purpose did they serve, deviating so radically from the American cadastral pattern which surrounded them?

Local historians now believe the simple answer emanates from the Colonial French agricultural technology of that era. Quite simply, the French wheeled plow commonly used during the period consisted of a long single trace which ran between two oxen and was attached to the animals by means of a cross member tied to their horns. This trace was attached to the body of the plow itself just forward of two adjacent wheels, one considerably larger than the other. The larger of the two wheels ran in the recently plowed furrow while the smaller rode on the unplowed ground. Another long wooden member ran from the wheel assembly to the mouldboard and plow handles. All in all, this rig was a very, very long and cumbersome contraption – and extremely difficult to turn. The long narrow strips of farmland provided the maximum planting acreage with a minimum number of plow turns.

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