The advent of the automobile brought about a need for improved roads.
Charles Town’s streets were unpaved through the 1880s and 1890s. When the streets were unpaved, either too much or too little rain were both problematic. Too much rain turned dirt streets into a soupy mess which stuck to boots, trousers, and skirts and made travel by wheeled conveyance an adventure at best and sometimes treacherous. Too little rain turned the streets into dust bowls.
As long as the wheels were pulled by a four-footed animal, the rain and dust were impediments, but centuries of experience passed from one generation to the next enabled the driver to successfully maneuver the cart, carriage, or wagon safely, albeit slowly, to the intended destination. The horseless carriage changed all of that.
Samuel Eddy Barrett, a Chicago roofing contractor, sought an economical solution to the problem of unpaved roads. In 1903 Barrett began experimenting with the application of roofing tar on unpaved surfaces and eventually formulated a coal tar-based liquid which he had trademarked as Tarvia. In the summer of 1919, Charles Town’s council decided to pave some of the town’s streets and paid $1,200 for 8,000 gallons of Tarvia at 15 cents per gallon – the equivalent of $18,000 in today’s money. In September, the Tarvia arrived from Chicago in a tank car which parked on the B & O siding along North Street between Samuel and Mildred Streets. The town council had local men patching potholes in advance of applying the Tarvia but contracted with the Barrett company to supply both a truck and driver to complete the job. The Barrett truck arrived on September 17th and the work got underway. Within a week, Washington Street was paved from West Street to East Alley. George Street was treated from Liberty Street south to Congress Street. One block of Liberty Street, between George and Mildred, was paved. Mildred Street was paved from North Street south to Washington Street. Charles Street between Washington and Liberty Streets was paved. It was obvious that the focus of the initial paving was on the commercial and not the residential sections of Charles Town. After the paving was completed, for the first time in its history, teams were not permitted to be hitched “on main street in the business part of town.” A sign of progress?