Catskill Turnpike

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The Catskill Turnpike, also known as the Susquehanna Turnpike, and sometimes identified with the Forbidden Path[1] started on the Hudson River at Catskill in Greene County, skirted the north side of the Catskill Mountains and worked its way westward through upstate New York to Unadilla (formerly Wattle's Ferry) on the Susquehanna River in 1804. From there New York State extended it to Ithaca in 1806, and Bath about 1808. Later extensions not normally called the Catskill Turnpike took travelers into Erie County, New York, or followed part of the old Indian Forbidden Path and beyond to Erie, Pennsylvania. Each end of the Catskill Turnpike connected to other important migration pathways. The length of the Catskill Turnpike from Catskill to Bath was about 207 miles (333 km).[2] For the route from Bath to Buffalo add 102 miles (165 km). From Bath to Erie, Pennsylvania is an additional 169 miles (272 km).

Background History[edit | edit source]

Significance. The Catskill Turnpike was an important early route for New England emigrants headed to western New York and beyond. In the 20 years after it was built about 300,000 people mostly from New England settled in the counties along the Catskill Turnpike and its extensions. Other emigrants moved along the turnpike toward Ohio.[3]

Feeder routes. Emigrants reached the Catskill Turnpike along three main routes. First, they came up the Hudson River Valley by boat or via the Albany Post Road. Second, they came along the Catskill Road[4] (later Ancram Turnpike[5]) from Springfield, Massachusetts to Catskill, New York. Third, there was also stagecoach service on the Greenwood Road[6] from Hartford, Connecticut to Albany which could drop them off near Catskill.

Footpath to turnpike. By 1769 European settlers were following an early pathway from Catskill to Ithaca which eventually became the Catskill Turnpike.[7] In 1800 the New York legislature commissioned several turnpikes (toll roads), inspectors, mail, and stagecoach service to improve roads from the Hudson River to the Susquehanna River. Stock companies were formed to raise the money, build, and maintain these higher quality roads. Tolls were to be collected at gates every ten miles to repay the stock companies. As traffic grew, inns were soon established every few miles to provide the beverages, food, and lodging needed for people and animals.[3]

Overlapping trail names. The original pathway from Springfield, Massachusetts to Unadilla, New York was called the Catskill Road. When the legislature upgraded the Catskill-to-Unadilla section they called it the Susquehanna Turnpike. But when the turnpike was extended west to Bath the whole west-side-of-the-river road was renamed the Catskill Turnpike (or Bath Turnpike). At the same time the east side of the river was renamed the Ancram Turnpike.[8] During the same period, the legislature commissioned the upgrade of a different, connected road starting farther to the south at Kingston (on the Hudson River). It went west to Bainbridge (near Unadilla) and was called the Ulster and Delaware Turnpike (or Jericho, or Esopus Turnpike )[3] Also, in 1804 twice a week mail service was started from Catskill, New York, partly following the Catskill Turnpike but to Athens, Pennsylvania, the eastern end of the Seneca Indians' Forbidden Path. This probably explains why the Catskill Turnpike is also associated with the Forbidden Path.[5]

Stagecoaches and drovers. Stagecoaches usually took four days and nights to drive from Ithaca to Catskill. This service continued year around even in the snow. Some years the traffic was so heavy two passenger coaches were hitched together followed by a baggage wagon. Before the railroads, cattle drovers also commonly used the turnpike to take their herds a few miles a day to market usually in Dutchess County.[3]

Rise and fall. Soon after it was built the turnpike began to turn a profit. It was most prosperous from 1820 to 1830. Competition from railroads and the Erie Canal was responsible for a decline in turnpike traffic and revenues after 1830. Maintenance on the western parts of the road was abandoned by the stock company (becoming a NY public road), and the number of toll gates in Greene County was gradually reduced from ten in 1830, to five in 1842, and three in 1884.[9] Stagecoach service was discontinued in 1850 when the Erie Railroad built through to Owego.[10]

Route[edit | edit source]

The counties along the Catskill Turnpike route (east to west) were as follows:[1]

The road was later extended westward. Counties along the northwest fork of the extension (east to west) were:[11]

Counties along the west fork of the extension (east to west) were:[12]

Connecting trails. The Catskill Turnpike linked to other trails at each end and in the middle.[13]

The migration pathways connected at the east end of the Catskill Turnpike in Catskill, Greene County, New York Genealogy included:

The migration pathways connected in the middle of the Catskill Turnpike included:

The migration pathways connected at the west end of the road in Buffalo, Erie County, New York Genealogy included:

The migration pathways connected at the west end of the road in Erie, Pennsylvania included:

Modern parallels. The modern roads that roughly match the Catskill Turnpike from Catskill to Bath are:[14]

  • Take New York RT-23 northwest from Catskill to Oneonta
  • At Oneonta take New York RT-7 southwest to Bainbridge
  • In Bainbridge take New York RT-206 west to Whitney Point
  • From Whitney Point take New York RT-79 west toward Watkins Glen
  • RT-79 becomes RT-414 briefly. From near Watkins Glen head west for Tyrone on CR-23.
  • Continue past Tyrone until it becomes Birdeye-Waneta and Birdeye-Holw.
  • Turn left on RT-87 southwest towards Hammondsport where it turns into RT-54 southwest to Bath.

Settlers and Records[edit | edit source]

Early settlers in central New York most likely traveled there from Connecticut, and Massachusetts. But people from almost every part of the eastern seaboard and Europe also were common in the area.

No complete list of settlers in New York who used the Catskill Turnpike is known to exist. Nevertheless, local and county histories along that trail may reveal pioneer settlers who arrived 1722 to 1850, and therefore who were the most likely candidates to have traveled the Catskill Turnpike.

For partial lists of early settlers who may have used the Catskill Turnpike, see local histories like:

Delaware County

Chenango County

Tompkins County

Steuben County

External Links[edit | edit source]

Other Wiki Pages[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 849. WorldCat entry; FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.
  2. Route length in miles and kilometers calculated in at
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lyman H. Gallagher, "The Catskill Turnpike in Stage Coach and Tavern Days," Crooked Lake Review (Fall 2005) at (accessed 28 December 2011).
  4. Handybook, 848.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Map and Timeline: 1800 to 2020 (and Beyond)" in Susquehanna at (accessed 28 December 2011).
  6. Handybook, 850.
  7. Archer Butler Hulbert, Pioneer Roads and Experiences of Travelers, vol. 2, Historic Highways of America, vol. 12 (Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1904), 144. Google books online copy; At various libraries (WorldCat).
  8. Almyra E. Morgan, The Catskill Turnpike: a Wilderness Path (Ithaca, NY : DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County, 1971), 5. Tompkins County Public Library digital pdf copy; At various libraries (WorldCat).
  9. J. G. Beers, "The Susquehanna Turnpike" (1884) appearing in Susquehanna at (accessed 28 December 2011).
  10. Morgan, 14.
  11. Handybook, 849.
  12. Handybook, 849.
  13. Handybook, 847-54.
  14. Route information from at