New York Turnpikes

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Migration Routes Gotoarrow.png US Migration Trails and Roads Gotoarrow.png New_York_Turnpikes

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 aparatus 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. 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.


Shortly after the end of the [Revolutionary War, 1775 to 1783] 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. Companies began operating in new settlements in the Central and Western New York in the late 1780's resulting in a demand for the constrution of a main road west from Utica. At this time, town governments financed and managed the building of roads. Typically, townships compelled a road labor tax assessing eligible males a days 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.

Recognizing the success of the Lancaster Turnpike in Pennsylvania, 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.