Monday, September 21, 2015

Toll House

Once upon a time (more specifically, during the late 18th to 19th centuries), Connecticut was laced with 1,600 miles of toll roads. (Here is a list of them.) The tolls were collected not by the government, but by private corporations which built and maintained the roads. Sometimes this involved repairing an existing path, but other toll roads had to be constructed from scratch, carved out of the woods. In 1807, one visitor reported that "in almost every other direction" in Middlesex County, he encountered "a turnpike-road; for these roads being here made objects of private gain...they are established with avidity, on the smallest prospect of advantage."
“as in almost every other direction a turnpike-road; for these roads being here made objects of private gain . . . they are established with avidity, on the smallest prospect of advantage.” - See more at: http://connecticuthistory.org/early-turnpikes-in-connecticut/#sthash.65axpDJe.dpuf
“as in almost every other direction a turnpike-road; for these roads being here made objects of private gain . . . they are established with avidity, on the smallest prospect of advantage.” - See more at: http://connecticuthistory.org/early-turnpikes-in-connecticut/#sthash.65axpDJe.dpuf

Tolls were paid at the toll houses dotting the routes. A pike, mounted on a post, prevented travelers from passing by without paying. After they handed over their fare, the toll keeper would turn the pike, allowing them to continue. Not everyone had to pay all the time; the state of Connecticut exempted "persons travelling to and from public worship, funerals, society, town, or elector's meeting; all officers and soldiers going to and from military duty, by order of law; all persons going to and from grist-mills; or on their ordinary farming business, and not travelling more than three miles" on the road from payment. The toll roads are gone now, though whether or not to reinstate their modern equivalent is a frequent topic of debate. But their memory lives on in the many Connecticut thoroughfares that never dropped the "Turnpike" from their names, as well as in Cromwell's Shunpike Road, named for those travelers who chose to go around the long way rather than pay the toll.

This once-commonplace facet of Connecticut's past also survives in the few remaining toll houses. This one on Main Street in Plymouth is now the Toll House Museum, part of the Plymouth Historical Society. (The little red building is home to an 1852 Woodruff and Beach steam engine that powered the Shelton & Tuttle Carriage Company factory.)

As it turned out, running a turnpike was usually not a profitable venture. Connecticut's private toll roads were all gone before 1900. The Connecticut State Highway Department, formed in 1895, continued to collect tolls on certain roads to help pay for their maintenance, a practice that continued in some form until 1989. As for the toll houses, few are clearly identifiable. Aside from this one in Plymouth, there is one other that I know of, in West Cornwall near the covered bridge; it houses a Shaker furniture showroom. But others do survive, standing unnoticed on unremarkable roads where once, in order to pass by in your sulky, you would have had to stop and rummage around for spare change.

No comments:

Post a Comment

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...