New York Turnpikes

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Early turnpikes were toll roads. They were called turnpikes because they were barred by a pike (or pole) balanced and swinging on a post. This aparratus was placed in the center of the early turnpikes as a toll gate. When the traveler paid his toll, the pike was turned parallel with the road and the toll-payer passed through. [1]

Turnpikes had important social and political effects on the communities that debated and supported them. They rarely paid dividends or other forms of direct profit, but they attracted enough capital to expand both the coverage and quality of the U. S. road system. With turnpikes, nineteenth-century Americans integrated elements of the modern corporation – profits –with non-profit motivations such as use and esteem.

History[edit | edit source]

Shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, westward migration into Central and Western New York surged. Traveling west of the Albany area was mainly by water. Rudimentary roads were laid out following the Mohawk River, but there were no major land routes west of Fort Schuyler (present day Utica) except for an old foot path known as the Iroquois trail.

At this time, town governments financed and managed the building of roads. Typically, townships compelled a road labor tax assessing eligible males a day of roadwork under penalty of a fine. The labor requirement could be avoided if the worker paid a fee. Assessments could only be worked out in the district in which the laborer lived, making it especially difficult to mobilize labor when a connection was needed in unsettled areas.

The bringing together of laborers was done in a disconnected manner. Since the labor force was commonly farmers, crop schedules often took precedence over road deterioration and the repairs schedule. Financing was small and sporadic, mostly from the fines and commutations of the assessed inhabitants unless there were special appropriations. It was hard to plan for improvements. There were problems coordinating with various jurisdictions, because work areas were divided into districts, as well as into towns. Therefore, road conditions were inadequate.

Companies began operating in new settlements in the Central and Western New York in the late 1780's resulting in a demand for the construction of a main road west from Utica. Since the current system was not working and the new Lancaster Turnpike in Pennsylvania was operating successfully, the State of New York enlisted private corporations to build the roads. There was some opposition, mainly from the farmers. However, most of the rules were written in favor of them.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Routes[edit | edit source]

  • Albany and Schenectady Turnpike connects New York City with Albany, New York.
  • Catskill Road and Catskill Turnpike is 200-mile-long connecting Springfield, Massachusetts and Catskill, New York, and continuing on to Unadilla, New York.
  • Cherry Valley Turnpike connects Albany with Cazenovia, New York.
  • Cochecton-Newburgh Turnpike connects the Hudson River with the Delaware River.
  • Mohawk Turnpike follows the Iroquois Trail from Albany to Utica New York where it joins with Great Genesee Road.
  • Mount Hope-Lumberland Turnpike was built over the Shawangunk Mountain, past present day Cuddebackville and up the Oakland Valley corridor, ultimately reaching Narrowburg on the Delaware River.
  • Ontario & Genesee Turnpike is the western extension of the Great Genesee Road.
  • Philipstown Turnpike connects Cold Spring with Pawling, New York to overcome lack of transportation when the Hudson River froze in the winter.
  • Rensselaer & Columbia Turnpike connects Rensselaer, New York with Brainard, New York.
  • Seneca Turnpike is a major part of the Great Genesee Road which connects Utica with Buffalo, New York.Susquehanna Turnpike is the original portion of the Catskill Turnpike that connected Catskill to Unadilla, New York.
  • Ulster and Delaware Turnpike(also called the Jericho Turnpike or Esopus Turnpike) connects Kingston, New York with Bainbridge, New York. This historic roadway was was begun in 1802 and chartered in 1806. To the east it connected to the Salisbury and Canaan Turnpike in Connecticut.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Charles B Knox Gelatine Co. Inc., Edition of The Old Mohawk-Turnpike Book