Skip to main content
A HISTORY OF
THE BAL" 1 ! !ORE~FREDERICK TURNPIKE
E. F. DE ATLEY
THE PHI il FRATERNITV
A HISTORY OF THE BALTIMORE
Since roads are built to answer the needs of a country,
a good record of the history of any nation may be found in a study
of the development of its highways. Roads are built to answer the
needs of conquest and commerce, and the history of a particular
road should give some light upon the need for its existence. It
is with this idea in mind, as well as the view from the engineering
side that this paper is written.
The origin of the Baltimore-Frederick road cannot be
exactly ascertained. It is supposed that it was originally a
trail used by the war parties and hunting expeditions of the
Mono c a Indians who inhabited the territory about the Monocacy
River, in their raids on villages at tidewater.
The town of Baltimore was laid out in 1730, and
Frederick, or Freaericktown, was laid out fifteen years later.
Settlements had been made for some years, however, and communi-
cation between the towns was maintained either by pack-horse
over the trail, or by the "Monocacy Trail" to the Potomac River.
The settlements around Frederick were slow because *, difficulty
of communication with the settlements at tidewater. Ho settle-
ment inland from navigable water had been made until the Germans
settled in Western Maryland in 1710. The same conditions existed
in all the colonies on the Atlantic seaboard; Maryland was not
alone. The mother country provided no improvements that "cost
money" fas it was said), and forced the settlers to provide their
own methods of transportation. For the first hundred years of
American settlement, all intercourse was carried on by pack trains
With the gradual increase in population in the towns near
the bay on what is now the Baltimore Frederick Pike, the need for
better roads was keenly felt. As early as 1666 an act was passed
by the Assembly for making trails "passable for horse and foot".
Overseers were appointed, and taxes of tobacco or labor were placed
upon the taxable people of each county. People were required to
work a certain number of days each year upon improvement of the
trails. Substitutes might be hired by one. Heavy fines were
levied for non-performance of duties. The highways that the people
of this era worked upon were scarcely more than tracks through the
forest. Transportation by wagon was as yet unknown .
With the gradual increase of wealth and population of
the colonies the use of carriages was increased. As early as 1739
the inhabitants about the Monocacy River petitioned that a road be
cleared through the country to enable them to bring their grain and
other commodities to eastern markets. The original trackways were
cleared so as to allow the passage of vehicles. It has been as-
certained that sometime soon after 1745 and previous to 1760, a
semblance of a road was established between Frederick and Baltimore.
This road could not have been in elegant condition, since an early
writer states that Braddock upon leaving Fredericktown in 1755
"in a cumbersome chariofin which he thought to ride in great style,
discovered that the road was ill adapted to a conveyance of that
In 1774 "an improvement of the principal market roads
of the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore , and Frederick" was
considered necessary. Among the roads mentioned in an act passed
at this time was the road under discussion. Bills of credit were
issued by which money was loaned to the counties to pay for these
improvements. For repayment of these a tax of tobacco was col-
lected by the sheriff from each taxable inhabitant. Eight pounds
of tobacco per capita were collected in Frederick Oounty; twelve
pounds in Baltimore, and four pounds in Anne Arundel.
During the next decade many petitions were sent to
Maryland's legislative body requesting adoption of the turnpike
system. In many of the backward sections of the East, especially
in Virginia, old roads will be found still known and operated as
"turnpikes". The term "turnpike" was used because pointed gates
or "pikes" were placed at intervals along the roads and were used
to bar the travelers path. These "pikes" were lifted or turned
upon payment by the traveler of a certain sum or toll. The money
thus collected was used for road improvements, or, in the ease
of privately owned roads, to give a return on the investments of
These old# roads have their place in history because
connected with them are old romantic traditions of the glory of
the stage-coach days; and along their rights of way may be found
old dilapidated building^roarking the temporary stopping-places of
great men. These roads are also historic for the part they played
in the settlement of the West before the railroads and canals be-
came common carriers.
The turnpikes as existing in the latter part of the
eighteenth century were considered to have three characteristics;
namely, (l). a , system of .toll-gates placed at certain intervals; ( 2 J
a sysizvY) of fori- qaTci placed «t aLYrain mfe.r\/als j
(3) an incorporated company with shares of stock, furnishing capital
for the oonstruction of the road.
Acting upon the petitions sent in^the Legislature of
Maryland appointed commissioners to "examine*, survey, lay out,
and mark a public road from Baltimoretown to the Baltimore county
line in the direction of Fredericktown in Frederick County."
This road was to be "sixty-six feet wide, and on as straight a
line as the nature of the country* would permit. This improvement
was considered expedient because of the impassable condition of
the road in winter. It was thought that building up the turnpike
would increase commerce safe raise the value of the land.besides
greatly reduce the price of the carrying of freight by land.
This road had two of the characteristics of a turn-
pike since it ivas to be improved and toll gates were erected. It
was not, however, operated by a corporation. The construction,
maintenance, and management was given over to officials appointed
by the court of Baltimore County. This road was to be cleared
the total width of the right of way; the bed^was to be forty feet
wide with a crown of eighteen inches at the center. There necessary
the bed was to be covered with small stones or coarse gravel. Mile-
stones, and guide-posts were to be set up.
Two means were provided for meeting expenses of con-
struction and management. One method was by means of the toll col-
lected. The other way was by a property tax of three shillings nine
pence per hundred pounds the first year, and two shillings sixpence
for every year following for Baltimore County. Provisions were made
for "Commissioners of Roads", "Commissioners of Review", a "Collector
of Tolls", and a "Surveyor".
The Jjenal statute of 1788 gave the Commissioners a means
of obtaining laborers. This law authorized them to put convicts on
the road gangs. The accounts show that the labor of these prisoners
in a large measure constructed the Baltimore County section of the
Baltimore-Frederick Turnpike. Further labor was furnished by the
Act of 1790 which allowed personal labor in payment of the tax levied
by the Act of 1787. In these early ti"nes the improvements consisted
mainly of filling holes with brush and covering ^^over with clay.
In Chapter XIX of the Acts of Assembly (1798) the entire
road existing from time immemorial from Baltimore to Frederick by
way of Dillon's Field's, Ellicott's Upper Mills, Cummings new build-
ings. Fox's Red Horse Tavern, Cook's Tavern, and Poplar Spring was
definitely established as a public road.
The plan of operating turnpikes under county authority
was almost entirely unsuccessful. Frequent amendments were passed
in the years around 1800, but no improvement was gained, ffhen it
became evident that the experiment with this arrangement was a fail-
ure, the Legislature tried to find private capital which would be
willing to invest in turnpike roads.
An act passed in 1804 incorporated "companies to make
several turnpike roads through Baltimore County." Three corporations
were formed under this act; they were: (1) the Baltimore-Frederick-
town Turnpike Company ;($the Baltimore-Re isterstown-fianover Company;
and\%he Bait imore-Yorkt own Company. These corporations required
several years to complete their building programs. Baltimore County
reserved the right to collect toll through its Levy Court until the
Turnpike Companies had built their^ roads ten miles from the city of
When Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury,
investigated the turnpike conditions in 1807 in complying with a
resolution by the United States Senate, he reported favorably on
the Frederick Pike.
The capital stock of the Baltimore and Fredericitown
Turnpike Company was $500,000. The company secured a further privi-
lege of extending its pike to Boonesboro beyond the Blue Ridge,
sixty-two miles from Baltimore. Specifications were furnished the
company concerning the building and maintenance of way. All angles
of ascent were to be less than four degrees; the road must have a
convexity of nine inches; and on a breadth of twenty-two feet was
to be covered with a stratum ten inches thick of pounded stones
not exceeding three inches in diameter over which were to oe spread
two inches of gravel and coarse sand. The first twenty miles on the
Baltimore end cost at the rate of nine thousand dollars per mile.
The next seventeen miles were contracted for at a rate of seven
thousand dollars per mile.
The true history of the Baltimore-Frederick Turnpike
cannot really be given without tracing its history above Frederick,
because this pike became the easterly end of the Great national
Turnpike which extended from Baltimore to Ohio.
As the settlers moved west into Ohio, the need of roads
connecting to navigable waters was again keenly felt. Federal aid
was given to build a road from Cumberland to Wheeling. This was the
first time Federal assistanoe had been given to highways.
A movement was started to open a road from Philadelphia
to Wheeling via Hagerstown. To combat this and save the freight
for Baltimore export, the Baltimore-Frederick Company secured per-
mission to extend its road to Big Conococheague, but was unable to
do so because of insufficient funds.
The leanness of the company's treasury was caused by
the immense drain of building the bridge over the Monoeacy Creek.
The company was refused permission by the Assembly to charge extra
toll for passage over the new structure.
The Banks of Hagerstown and Baltimore in 1822 built an
extension to Hagerstown under tte name of the Boonesboro Turnpike
Company. The completed Cumberland or National Road was made up
further of the Hagerstown and Conococheague Turnpike Bridge and
Road Corporation, extension to Big Conococheague, the section built
by banks to Cumberland, and the federal aid road to Wheeling, Ohio.
An enormous amount of traffic passed over this road
almost from the opening day. This was the first all land connection
with any large seaport. The through freight wagons from Baltimore
to Wheeling were able to make the hitherto unheard of average time
of ten miles per hour. The largest of these were mammoth affairs
capable of carrying ten tons and drawn by twelve horses. They had
rear wheels ten feet high with tires one foot wide to prevent sinking
in the soft ground. About 1850 a contemporary writer states that about
sixteen coaches passed each way per day, while droves of cattle, sheep,
and canvas-covered wagons were hardly out of sight of each other.
Within a mile of the pike the country was a wilderness, but on the
highway the traffic was as dense and as continuous as a main street
of a town.
The turnpike prospered until the Baltimore and Ohio Hail-
road tapped Frederick December 1, 1850. With the completion of the
G. & 0. Canal and the extension of the B. & 0. to Cumberland in
1853, the through traffic on the pike dropped considerably. The
importance of turnpikes dwindled, and they became mere feeders to
the railroads and canals.
Toward the latter part of the nineteenth century consid-
erable feeling was raised against the toll roads. In 1896 a bill was
passed giving the State Geological Commission the Job of investigating
the subjeot of road building and the advisability of assuming control
of the turnpikes.
Letters were sent to those who used the pikes as well as
to the presidents of the companies owning them ? as^mj opinions.
The Report made in 1899 favored State control of these
pikes, since continuing under private ownership was not desired by
the people. They called attention to the fact, however, that the
private rights and property values of the turnpikes should be con-
sidered, and a fair compensation should be paid to the private
interests for the property assumed.
A State Roads Commission was created by an act of the
General Assembly in 1908, This commission was authorized to begin
negotiations for buying the turnpikes and abolishing the toll-gates.
The purchase of the Baltimore and Frederick turnpike was made in
i * erf
1911 «T A Gost ^ about .#90,000. including preliminary surveys. This
consisted of sixty miles of improved road. Money was provided for
the operation of the State Roads Commission from three sources;
(1) the State appropriations; (£) by automobile Registration Law
(1910); (3) by Federal Aid (50;I by U.S; 40% by State; 10% by resi-
dents near improvement). In the beginning. a bond issue was floated
and §3,500,000 worth had been sold before the end of the year 1911.
The pike has been constantly improved since the control
by the State. By 1915, it formed part of an improved highway ex-
tending across the State from Oakland in the West to Crisfield in
the East. In 1915, part of the pike had to be resurfaced with five
or six inches of hard stone and macadamized. Considerable resurfacing
was done in 1918 after the Great War, because of the wear by the
heavy traffic, mainly the large trucks. The increased production of
the automobile showed the pikato be inadequate. It was found that a
great number of accidena* occurred due to the excessive crown and
narrow width. From 1918 to 1921, three foot concrete shoulders were
placed on each side from Frederick to a point nine miles east at a total
cost of ^90,000. This widened the road from fourteen to twenty feet.
This will make an adequate two -lane road for the wide busses and large
trucks engaged in long distance hauling. Widening and banking of
several sharp curves were planned, "but the plans miscarried because
of lack of funds. £0" x 30" signs have been placed as guide posts
for tourists and warnings have been built at sharp curves. The
white lines in the road centers at curves also dttt a decided factor
in the prevention of accidents. It is hoped that this Improvement
will continue the entire length of the pike.
AST of Frederick, along the National Highway), about flood, "Jug Bridge" was the only one that withstood the high waters,
three miles out, there is an interesting old bridge, well From the standpoint of masonry and expert bridge building it has been
known as the Jug Bridge, and so-called from the huge said not to hawe an equal anywhere. Built under most adverse con.
demijohn that guards its entrance. It spans the Monoc- ditions it stands today as a monument to its builders, who have long
acy River, whose dangerous but alluring waters are so closely associated since passed into that land whence no man returneth.
with one of the big battles of the Civil War. During the Johnstown
The history of the bridges along this pike also is in-
teresting because it really is a history of the development of high-
Probably the most interesting structure is the old bridge
oyer the Monocacy River familiarly known as "Jug Bridge" because
of the huge monument at the end of the easterly span. This jub
bears an inscription "Built in the years 1608-1809. Jonathan
Elliot first produced a bold plan of this bridge." The four sixty-
five foot arches make one of the finest examples of stone arch con-
struction in the world. The bridge has at last shown traces of
weakness and disintegration. According to a report by A. H. Johnson,
highv/ay engineer, moisture has penetrated some of the joints and
crevices and caused bulging and cracking with frost. The bulging
of the sldewalls is particularly noticeable on the east end.
The old wooden structure built over the Patapsco River
at Ellicott City was washed out by a flood July 24, 1868. A hew
white pine bridge was then built with an old shingle roof and
weatherboarded sides. Pire destroyed this in June 1914. A make-
shift was thrown across, however, and traffic was opened again
within twenty-four hours. The site was changed to decrease the
angle of approach by about thirty degrees, and two fifty-six foot
span concrete arches were poured. The total cost of this replace-
ment was about $17,000.
The bridge at Gwynn's Palls was also rebuilt three times.
The original was of timber, and withstood the traffic till 1899,
when it was reconstructed with steel and the grade raised ten feet.
Up to this time the bridge had been at right angles to the channel.
In 1904 another span was added by the 'Western Maryland R. R. to
bring the pike across its Tidewater Branch trades which were along
In 1913 the alignment was straightened and two one hun-
dred foot span concrete arches were built forty-seven feet above
the stream bed and with a clearance of £l'-9" above the Western
Maryland tracks. This arch also was 14' above the old grade and
lessened the drop on each side. The architecture of this bridge
fits well with the beauty of Gwynn's Falls Park.
The assistance of the Baltimore-Frederick Turnpike
in the settling of the western territories is beyond computation.
Squally so is its value today in this era of transportation by
tory of Travel in America. Vol, III
•nts of . sf of the Iroquois — bsfore the Nsai Yor*. Hi
©rical Society — 184?. Peter Wilson.
History of the * r j.lley of the Mississippi.
it Qui is" —18
■yland Geological Survey reports on Highway Construction.
arte of the States Po^ y] .....
The '"i 1 rr,^ii.;3 cf i- T e« England
;cr Frederic J.Wssd, C.E.
Albert Gallatin's Fepsrt as Secretary of the Treasury,
3.rch ?,,l* r ' 7 . (Investigation by resolution of the r J.s. Senate)
01 '" t1 I onal Pike
Harper's M»nt f»Y.1879.
Acts of . Dly— Chap.XI . T " T , XXXII.
M . 3.Shaler.
tcric Highways c~ *ri.2^
The Old Turnpike
A. 7., fitmer.
The First Long T '.e in the Units! States
arles T. Landis.
New England Magazine May, I ' 1 ?
" ' ' it - tern Maryland