THE HISTORY OF THE TURNPIKE ROADS IN MARYLAND
BEGI1IKIWG OF ROaDS IB MARYLAND
A great philosopher once stated that, "The development
of a section of the country is told by the development of
its roads." A comparison at intervals of the development
of Maryland during the last three hundred years will make
evident the applicability of the above statement. The
sparsely settled almost impenetrable Maryland of yester-
day is replaced by many large cities bound together by a
network of roads, great and small, that are the channels
of intercourse of an advanced and prosperous commonwealth.
The main highway of early Maryland was the Chesapeake Bay,
and the earliest roads were mere paths from plantation to
river landings, or from the adjacent settlements to the
little capitol at St. Mary's, These paths were privately
owned and their upkeep was in private hands.
EARLY HIGHWAY LEGISLATION
As the colonial settlements gradually expanded to such
a degree that the arrangement of highways could no longer
be left in the hands of private concerns, there were two
sources upon which the lav/makers might draw for effective
The first source was the road laws of Virginia, which
left the regulation of highways to the discretion of the
Governor and Council or, the Commissioners of the monthly
courts. The other possibility was the system which pre-
vailed in England. The growth and the maintaining of roads
in that country depended upon the respective parishes.
The first road-law in frlaryland was passed in 1666.
This act ordered that the commissioners of each county
meet in order to determine which highways should be made.
After the establishment of the road-lav/ of 1666, little
progress was made and travel was very difficult until 1696,
The act of 1696 was the first important advance upon
the act of 1666. This act remained in use for nearly
fifty years. The ascertainments of the 17th century are
merited by the absence of highways and the fact that the
inhabitants saw the need for better roads and endeavored
to supply them.
About 1730, the colonies began to move westward and
coincident with this movement came the cry for better lines
of communication. Following the westward advance, the north
and south were gradually settled. The people soon became
aware of the fact that in order to bind the commonwealth
together an adequate road system was needed. Consequently
for ten years after the Revolutionary V/ar many laws concern-
ing the upkeep and erection of the highways were passed,
but no material progress was made. It was not until 1787
that the Legislature arrived at a policy of internal im-
provement which was steadily pursued and eventually proved
THE DEVELOPMENT OF TURNPIKES
The new system was the turnpike or toll system. This
system prior to 1787 had been used in England with good
results. A turnpike road is generally understood to have
1. An improved surface or road-bed,
2. A system of toll-gates placed at certain intervals.
3. An incorporated company furnishing capital for the
construction of the road.
By the legislature of 1787 commissioners were appoint-
ed to survey and construct a public road from Baltimore
towards Frederick in as straight a line as the nature of
the country would permit. Similarly other commissioners
were to lay out roads from Baltimore to Reistertown, from
Reistertown to Westminster, from Reistertown to Hanover,
and a road from Baltimore towards York to the line of Balti-
These highways possessed two of the three usual char-
acteristics of a turnpike road; special provisions were
made for the improvement of the road-beds, and the erection
of toll gates were ordered. The construction and subse-
quent management of these roads was entrusted, however,
not to a private company incorporated for that purpose,
but to numerous officials to "be appointed by the court
of Baltimore county.
This plan of turnpiking under county supervision was
upon the whole unsuccessful. Within fourteen years the
act of 1787 was amended no less than ten times. Finally
the influence of the legislation for counties led to a
law empowering the Commissioners of Review to appoint one
or more supervisors for the roads in question and permitt-
ing the substitution of personal labor for the payment of
the tax authorized in 1787. This, instead of reducing the
evils of the earlier law, merely increased the division
of authority that already existed; and finally in 1801,
provision was made for better keeping of the executive
part of the law. It was now decided to dispense with the
numerous officials of the earlier law, and the management
of the turnpike roads was given to a superintendent who
should be appointed by the court of Baltimore county.
Still no successful plan of turnpiking had been formulated.
INCORPORATION OF TURNPIKE COMPANIES
When the failure of the experiment of turnpiking
under county authority became apparent, efforts were made
to attract private capital to investment in the construction
of turnpike roads. For some time, however, these attempts
proved fruitless. The first turnpike company in Maryland,
incorporated in 1796, to build a turnpike road between
Baltimore and Washington apparently accomplished nothing
and those immediately following seemed to have "been no
THE TURNPIKES OF 1804-5
It was not until the session of 1804-5, 238 years
after the first act of 1666, that legislation was enacted
which had a permanent result. In that year two acts were
passed which laid the basis of the turnpike system in
Maryland. The first act was to incorporate several com-
panies to make turnpike roads through Baltimore County and
the second act comprised important provisions relating to
the construction and upkeep of roads.
Accordingly three companies were incorporated to
make roads from Baltimore through New Market, Frederick
and from Middle town to Boons borough. Roads were also to
be made from Baltimore through Reistertown towards Hanover,
through Westminster to the Pennsylvania line, towards
Peters burgh, and from Baltimore toward York to the Penn-
sylvania line. Various extensions of these lines were
The text of the second act was very lengthy. Some
of the most important provisions are as follows:
The roads are to be made over, and upon the beds of
the present roads as laid out and confirmed by the Commission-
ers of Review.
The companies are to erect posts and index hands,
mile-stones and the distance between gates shall be mark-
ed on the gates.
Persons living on or adjacent to the roads and with-
in three miles of a toll-gate are to pay toll but once
in twenty-four hours .
In the year 1804, the Falls Turnpike Company was in-
corporated. This was run from the cross-roads near Richard
Caton's limekiln in Baltimore County, nearly along the
line of Jones' Falls to the city of Baltimore. Special
provisions were made against the York road trade being
diminished by the Falls turnpike.
REPORT ON TURNPIKES
In the year 1807 a resolution of the Senate was
adopted to the effect that the Secretary of the Treasury
prepare a list of questions to acquire information con-
cerning the turnpikes. These questions were distributed
in the states through various federal officers. From the
answers to these Queries much may be learned concerning
the exact status of the Maryland turnpikes in 1807. A
summary of the Falls Turnpike report is as follows:
"The Falls Turnpike is expected to unite the trade of the
North with Baltimore. It is in a direct line to Hanover
and Carlisle. The road is not yet completed; the cost is
estimated at $7,500 P er mile, including bridges, and the
whole length is somewhat over nine miles. Other similar
reports of turnpike roads were received.
THE BANKS AHD THE TURNPIKES
A far-reaching step in the turnpike construction in
Maryland was taken in the years 1812-13. The president
and directors of the several incorporate banks in the
city of Baltimore, the president and directors of the
Hagerstown Bank, of the Conococheague Bank, and of the
Cumberland Bank were incorporated for the purpose of sur-
veying, locating, and making a turnpike road from some
point on the west bank of Big Conococheague through Han-
cock to Cumberland. The Company was invested with all
the rights of those incorporated in 1804. This assistance
rendered to turnpike construction by the tofa s marked the
beginning of a more successful turnpike era. Later other
banks v/ere incorporated for the construction of roads.
INCREASE OF TURNPIKE COMPANIES
Meanwhile the incorporation of turnpike companies in-
creased. Many schemes that had previously failed were
taken up again. For example, the unsuccessful Baltimore
and Washington Turnpike Company of 1796 was succeeded by
a new company. Two years later, in 1815 f the Baltimore
and Frederick Turnpike Company was authorized to open sub-
scriptions for additional stock to the amount of ^160,000
to construct a road from Bo onsbo rough to a point on the
west bank of the Conococheague, at which the Cumberland
Turnpike Road began, .at the same time the control of the
Harper's Ferry road was taken from them.
GOVERUOR GOLDSBOROUGH'S ADDRESS
Three years later in 1818, Governor Charles Golds-
borough made an address to the assembly on the subject of
turnpike roads. A summary of the report follows: "The
aggregate capital invested in turnpike roads is valued at
,$2,000,000 the great part of which is owned in Baltimore.
The stock owned by the state is yl0,000 in the Frederick Road
and v 'o,000 in the York Road." He also stated that the turn-
pike companies sustained a great loss from parallel roads
which were not turnpiked or closed. He suggested that
tolls be regulated according to the weight and according
to the season of the year. The outcome of this communica-
tion was a resolution authorizing the Governor and Council
to ascertain the best terms upon which the possession of
the road might be obtained from the state , also upon what
terms the banks would consent to release from toll all
wagons having tires of a certain width.
THE RISE OF THE RAILROADS
From 1800 to 1840 the turnpikes reached the height of
their importance. The turnpike system, after many faults
and obstacles, had arrived at a high place of perfection.
But hardly had the turnpike arrangement been perfected, how-
ever, when its adequacy began to be threatened by another
system, namely, the use of the steam railways. The above
statement must not be understood as indicating that the era
of turnpikes was thereby terminated. On the contrary
very many turnpikes were afterwards constructed. But with
the introduction of the railway system, their character was
changed, and instead of being leading lines of communication,
they became feeders to the railroads.
LATER TURNPIKE LEGISLATION
All turnpikes were incorporated by special acts of
Assembly until the year 1868, when a general incorporation
law was provided. This was modified by the act of 1882 and
continued in operation until 1907. The conditions of the
act may be found in "The Public General Laws" (art .xsiii-233) .
In the course of time many of the turnpikes became unprofit-
able. The companies allowed them to lapse into the hands
of the various counties. But it was not until the report
of the Geological Survey for 1906-07 that the death knell
of the turnpikes was sounded. In its report the Geological
Survey Commission recommended the following: "That the
present conditions have shown the importance of many of the
turnpikes as sections of the general system (system of state
roads) . While undoubtedly the operation of these highways
has contributed in the past to the development of the State,
conditions are rapidly approaching the point where their
future existence as toll roads is entirely undesirable. Any
legislation looking to the abolishment of the turnpikes as
toll-roads should recognize the private rights and property
values in the turnpikes themselves, and in all cases of assump-
tion by the State or counties of the turnpikes, fair com-
pensation should be made to private interests for the pro-
perty taken from them".
This plan was taken up and carried to a successful
issue by Governor Crothers during the four years of his
administration. Thus with the organization of the state
roads Commission on April 30, 1908, the turnpike system
was practically terminated. The remaining turnpikes were
gradually obtained by the state, and now the last toll
road has dissapeared.
IMPORTANCE OF TURHPIKES
The development of the IPurnpike system in Maryland
served a two -fold purpose. First, it had a marked influence
upon the commercial welfare of the state, and secondly, the
turnpike roads pointed out in almost every instance the
general direction for the railroads that succeeded them.
With the completion of turnpikes radiating from Bal-
timore, Maryland became more and more prosperous. By these
channels a stream of wealth rolled down to Baltimore to be
shipped to Europe, South America, or the West Indies. The
description of Baltimore's prosperity in the last thirty years
of the 19th century is told by Mr. Sparks. "Within the last
thirty years, he states, "the population of Philadelphia has
increased to a number three times as great as it was at the
beginning of that period; Hew York to a number four times as
great, and Baltimore to a number five times as great. Among
all the cities of America, there is no record of any
one which has sprung up so quickly or to so high a degree
of importance as Baltimore." In ascribing causes for this
rapid development he says that the energetic spirit of the
people in the construction of highways has added materially
to the advance of Baltimore. He refers to seven turnpikes
entering Baltimore city, namely, the Reistertown, York,
Frederick, Washington, Bel Air, Havre de Grace and Wheeling.
From the records of the turnpike roads interesting
details of the commercial activity of the time may be ob-
tained. Large droves of live stock were driven every year
over the roads to Baltimore. Large wagons carrying enormous
amounts of flour, butter, etc. arrived daily in Baltimore
to be shipped. Thus the turnpikes served as links that con-
nected the products of Ilaryl&nd to the outside world.
FURTHER IMPORTANCE OF TURNPIKES
When the steam locomotive came into operation, the
utility of the turnpike roads was in no way terminated. The
tracks of the railroad had to be laid upon routes that were
the most direct and economical. In this case the toll roads
rose to utmost importance. They performed a much greater
service than the mere transportation of goods, as they
pointed the direction for the railroads which succeeded them.
Thus, with the advancement of turnpikes, we find in the
history of Llaryland't; commercial welfare a coincident devel-
opment. The turnpikes were the magic that facilitated the
miraculous growth of Maryland.
"Reports of the State Roads Commission of Maryland"
"The Public General Laws" (art. xxiii-233)
"Governor Charles Goldsborough's Report to the Assem-
bly" (1818) .
"Maryland Geological Survey" Volume III (1899)
"Historic Highways" by k. B. Hulbert,
"The Turnpikes of New England."