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Thursday, May 4, 2017

The "Highways Before Concrete And Blacktop & Travel Before Motorized Vehicles" Story

An historical marker along the
Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike.
Click on photos to enlarge.
It was an ordinary day.  Driving through mile after mile of Lancaster County rich agricultural farmland on what at one time was the beginnings of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  What many take for granted now was at one time, as early as 1714, just a patchwork of rutted roads that linked thriving Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  It was back in 1791 that Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Mifflin told residents of south-eastern Pennsylvania that a better road connecting Philadelphia to Lancaster was needed.  Not quite sure why Governors before Mifflin never decided to build the road sooner since a request for the road was put in form of a petition in 1730.  Well, finally on April 9, 1792, the state voted to allow Mifflin to select a company for the construction of what eventually would be known as the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  
Old photograph shows how the turnpike was built.
The Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road Company raised the initial capital by selling stock in the project.  The initial turnpike road was completed in 1794 with a road paved with stone and overlaid with gravel.  The 62 mile turnpike cost more than $450,000 which was unheard of at the time.  To get that money back the Company charged a toll through toll gates located every ten miles along the route.  Naturally Motels, Strip Malls and plenty of McDonalds sprung up along the way.  
Another old photograph shows mules pulling a canal boat
along a passageway in Pennsylvania.
Nah!!  That didn't come until later, but small inns and taverns were conveniently located along the route to make traveling easier for weary travelers and their horses.  During the summer of the first year over 1,000 Conestoga Wagons traveled the turnpike each day carrying produce, meat, dairy products, grain, leather, lumber as well as plenty of liquor from Lancaster to Philadelphia as well as points along the way.  Toll fees were based on what was being transported along the turnpike.  
This old postcard shows travel by the Pennsylvania
Railroad at their shops in Altoona, PA.
Didn't take long for the turnpike to expand and in 1804 the turnpike ran as far west as Pittsburgh.  Over the next 30 years more than 3,000 miles of roads were built to help transport goods from point A to point B.  Then came the railroad and canals which could move freight much faster and more efficiently than a horse-drawn wagon on a stone paved road.  Then in 1808 Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of Treasury suggested it would be faster to take materials from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia by going down the Mississippi River, through the Gulf of Mexico, and up the Atlantic Ocean; a total of 3,000 miles.  
An early tollgate in Bedford, Pennsylvania
Cheaper than going by land the 300 miles from one city to another?  That seemed prepos- terous to many in the state so they proposed to create the first National Road which would be constructed by the Federal Government.  Sounded pretty good for Pennsylvania, but Jefferson - and well as other Presidents until Andrew Jackson - feared what would happen if the Federal Government funded a road for Pennsylvania.  
Cars lining up for the opening of another link in the turnpike.
Luckily Congress felt it was worthwhile and voted for the construction of the road which would travel to the Ohio Valley and the money would come by selling public land in the new state of Ohio.  Eventually this road, known as the National Road, or Cumberland Road, stretched from Cumberland, Maryland to Ohio.  This new roadway was used to transport goods as well as carry the U.S. Mail.  
And naturally, gas stations were needed along the turnpike.
Many early traders and settlers passed along the route during the nineteenth century and was the beginning of our National Highway System.  Along this route eventually came an "S" Bridge in Washington County and the first all-metal arch bridge, built in the United States, in Fayette County.  The early nineteenth century was a period of intense turnpike road building and by 1831 there were about 2,500 miles of turnpike roads in our country.  When you consider what we have today, those 2,500 miles of turnpike roads are just a drop in the bucket and my trip along the original turnpike that ran through Lancaster is rather minute as far as roads go.  But, I'm enjoying my ride anyway. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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