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Tales Of Trail And Turnpike
The history of America is interwoven with the development of her highways. Indian trails guided the first scouts and explorers as they ventured forth into the wilderness surrounding their rude homes, but for more remote expeditions they made use of the pathways which nature had spread at their feet-the streams and rivers flowing from the mountains to the sea.
The first water conveyances were crude indeed-simply hollowed out trees which the venturesome pioneers paddled up the narrow, curving water-courses until they reached rich meadowlands where they might establish homes. Later, as small hamlets grew iip along the rivers, produce and merchandize were carried, either in canoes or sailing-vessels, up such streams as the Connecticut. As early as 1785, there were men whose entire business was transporting passengers and merchandize on this river. At a much later date river-navigation by means of steamboats was tried out, but the venture was not a financial success.
"In 1830, a small steamboat called the John Leyard, was built and was taken through the locks by the falls on the river from Hartford to Wells River," a town history tells us. "Hiram Wells of the latter place, an experienced river-man, was the pilot. Its arrival at Wells River was announced by the firing of cannon, ::nd a large crowd assembled to see the wonder. A poem 237 by some unforgotten writer commemorated the great occasion, the closing stanza of which is preserved:
'Tis gone, 'tis gone, the day is past, And night's dark shade is o'er us cast; And further, - further, further still, The steamboat's winding through the vale, The cannon roar, o'er hill through dale, Hail to the day when Captain Nutt Sailed up the fair Connecticut."
In the south, rivers served as highways even longer than in the north. It was easy to glide from one plantation to another in boats manned by black slaves. As late as 1850, Sir Charles Lyell in "A Second Visit to the United States of North America" describes such a trip taken in Georgia.
"The next morning," he says, "while we were standing on the river's bank, we were joined by Mr. Hamilton Couper. He came down the river to meet us in a long canoe, hollowed out of the trunk of a single cypress, and rowed by six Negroes who were singing loudly, and keeping time to the stroke of their oars. -For many a mile we saw no habitations, and the solitude was profound; but our black oarsmen made the woods echo to their song."
The first roads through the forest were called "trodden paths" and over them early Colonial governors, clergymen, and laborers walked. The women, too, used them if they went from home. For instance, Elizabeth Pool went from Taunton, Massachusetts to Dorchester with a pioneering party. She drove her cattle through the wilderness, and the court sent Captain Standish and John Brown to lay out for her a grant of fifty acres.
Occasionally it was necessary f or an early settler to set out through the unbroken forest with absolutely no path. At one time, Eleazer Rosebrook, the first permanent settler of Nash and Sawyer's Location in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, was compelled to go on foot to Haverhill, a distance of eighty miles through the tractless wilderness, with only the Connecticut River to guide him. His mission was to procure salt. He obtained one bushel, shouldered it, and trudged back over the same rude path to his home.
The old foot-trails of Massachusetts are associated with the early history of the state. The best known of all is the Bay Path, which was in existence in 1673. The old Plymouth Trail, connecting Plymouth and Boston, was the earliest. The Old Connecticut Path extended from Cambridge to Albany, New York, by way of Springfield, while the New Connecticut Path went to Albany by the way of Worcester. Other trails were the Province Path, the Nipmuck Trail, and the Kennebunk Path by the sea.
After horses were brought to the colonies, the footpath developed into the bridle-path. There were no bridges, and the traveler arriving at a river bank must find a ford or swim his horse across. Both men and women were expert in the saddle, and long trips through the wilderness on horseback were the portion of those who ventured from home. Women, as well as men, became expert in the art of riding. An octogenarian once told Washington Irving of the horseback journeys of his mother.
"Young ladies from the country," he said, "used to come to the balls of Annapolis, riding with their hoops arranged fore and aft like lateen sails."
The Virginia planters were exceedingly fond of riding. Hugh Jones in telling of life in Virginia in 1722, says, "The saddle horses, though not very large, are hardy, strong and fleet, and will pace naturally and pleasantly at a prodigious pace. They are such lovers of riding that almost every ordinary person keeps a horse; and I have known some to spend the morning in ranging several miles in the woods to find and catch their horses only to ride two or three miles to church, to the court-house, or to a horse race, where they generally appoint to meet upon business, and are more certain of finding those that they want to speak or deal with, than at their home."
In fact, one of the favorite forms of amusements of the young people of this colony was hunting wild horses, which had been born in the woods of the uplands and were as shy as savage creatures.
The settlers living in the wilderness of the northern colonies were at the mercy of the Indians, and the people of Methuen and Andover, Massachusetts, maintained a band of trained snow-shoe men ready to march at an instant's notice against the savages when the bridlepaths were filled with snow. It was down one of these snowy cart-roads that the Indians dragged Colonel Bradstreet and his family and released them at the request of an Indian who had, as a boy, been sheltered by the colonel's mother.
For the first century or so after the settlement there were no inland roads for carriages, except where the bridle-paths had widened slightly to accommodate rude carts. The introduction of the first private traveling carriages- necessitated better roads. In New Hampshire they were usually laid out four rods wide and skirted the river banks. Many of the cross-country roads were first built for hauling masts and ship-timber.
The old roads rambled lazily on, avoiding natural obstacles even though by so doing it added length to the journey. Many of the first roads were of the type known as "corduroy." Depressions and marshy places were filled with saplings and sometimes the entire length of the proposed road was made of logs. The improvement of roads in the interior of the country was slow and traveling was tedious and tiresome. At the time of the Revolutionary War it took travelers six days to go from Hanover, New Hampshire to Boston.
In 1832 when Fanny Kemble, the English actress, toured the cities of the United States, she found traveling a burden, and the roads in New Jersey beyond her worst expectations.
"Away galloped the four horses," she wrote in her journal, "trotting with their front and galloping with their hind legs: and away went we after them; bumping, thumping, jumping, jolting, shaking, tossing, and tumbling over the wickedest road, I do think, the cruellest, hard-heartedest road that ever wheel rumbled upon. Through bog and marsh, and ruts wider and deeper than any Christian ruts I ever saw, with the roots of trees protruding across our path, their boughs every now and then giving us an affectionate scratch through the windows; and, more than once, a halfdemolished stump lying in the middle of the road lifting us up and letting us down again, with awful variations of our poor coach body from its natural position. Bones of me! What a road!"
In making the trip below the Mason and Dixon Line in 1842, Charles Dickens found roads which were a series of alternate swamps and gravel-pits. This is his account of the journey, "The first half mile of the road is over bridges (this was near Potomac Creek) made of loose planks laid across two parallel poles, which tilt up as the wheels roll over them, and in the river. The river has a clayey bottom and is full of holes, so that half a horse is constantly disappearing unexpectedly and can't be found for some time."
Postroads developed from the early cart-paths, and the mail was carried over them by riders. The first postoffice was established in New Hampshire before 1695 and did business for the entire province. In 1791 a law was enacted which established four post routes. Two of them started from Portsmouth and two from Concord, and every three weeks a postrider carried mail from Portsmouth to Dartmouth College. The cost of sending letters was great-sixpence for forty miles; twenty cents for over three hundred miles; twenty-five cents for over five hundred miles. The arrival of the postrider with his saddle-bags filled with news from the outside world was an event eagerly awaited by the inhabitants of the outlying districts.
Virginia boasts of the first American turnpike, but the most important turnpike was made by the government and was known as the National Road. The old Bay Path in Massachusetts developed into The King's Highway, or as it was called later by patriotic Americans, The Great Road. The new turnpike, built in 1808, between Boston and Worcester, proved a formidable rival to the old road. It was called The Worcester Pike. It was over the King's Highway that Israel Bissell carried the war-news to New York on the nineteenth of April in 1775. His horse dropped under him at Worcester, but he remounted and rode on to Brooklyn, Connecticut.
Since the turnpike is a thing of the past, it may be well briefly to describe just what was meant by the term. It was built by a company of men, by an act of incorporation. It used a given amount of capital, raised in equal shares.
A town history says, "The term turnpike signifies a pike or set of pikes, fixed to a bar or pole, that is made to swing on a pivot or pin, so as to obstruct the passage of carriages. A turnpike road is one with pikes or gates, erected for the purpose named. As the benefit to the builders of this class roads is derived from specified tolls to be paid by those who pass over the roads, the company is authorized to stop travellers and require payment."
The Newburyport Turnpike was a once famous colonial road from Boston to the east. On it is one of the three New England bridge sites, aged two hundred and fifty years, "built by Richard Thorley at his own cost, he hath liberty to take 2d, for every horse, cow and ox."
Bridge making naturally followed road building. The first bridges were crude affairs, and ferries were in constant use for crossing rivers. The "Mistick" bridge in Medford was the first toll bridge in New Hampshire. The last one across the Connecticut River has recently been discarded. One of the old toll-bridges on a highway from New York to Massachusetts still bears the ancient sign:
Rates of Toll
For a score of catteh and in the saine proportion for a greater number, 9 cents. For every stage-coach or stage-wagon, 8 cents. For a horse and rider, led or driven, 2 cents. For a coach or chariot, 10 cents.
The rates of toll permitted by the terms of a charter of a toll-bridge built in Salisbury, New Hampshire were
For a person on foot............................... 1cent For a horse and rider...... . . .... . ............... 3 cents For a horse and chaise or other carriage drawn by one horse, 10 cents For a sleigh, and one horse .............10 cents For a sleigh drawn by hors
e than one horse.............. 6 cents Sheep or swine................. . ................. 1/2 cent
The Piscataqua Bridge on the first turnpike in New Hampshire was one of the wonders of New England. The cost was $65,947.34, and a half century later it was sold for $2000. There were eighteen toll-bridges in New Hampshire in 1819. The free bridges built by towns were covered to protect them from storms. They are fast disappearing and are now found only in remote sections of New England.
Caravans of teams traversed the turnpikes of a century ago. In "Lizbeth Wilson" Mrs. Blair describes the commercial activities of the period. "Teams were made up of oxen alone, horses by themselves, or of oxen hitched to cart and sled tongues, horses leading.
"Those going `down below' dragged pine masts to the coast, hemlock to tan-vats, and the `truck and dicker' from country stores to exchange for merchandize. Traveling buyers, who went from farm to farm, picked up produce, flaxseed, small peltry, the overplus of looms, home-made hose, called `feeting,' and whatever was buyable, and carted it `down below.'
"Every few miles that serious drama of the road was brightened by merry andrews on red carts, the wags of musterfields many times multiplied. They halted, jesting and gossipy at hill farmhouses, exchanging blue calico, beads, combs, and what not for rags, eggs, or odd yards of linen, and wore the jester's cap and bells down the turnpike to market.
"Returning teams brought sugar, lamps, oil, dyestuff, school-books, tobacco, snuff. Everything, from crewels to powder-horns and ploughshares, was hauled over the drifts in winter, through dust in summer, along these rugged lines of commerce. Teamsters were resolute and trusty men. Lawyers journeying from one county-seat to another, people paying visits, those going down to factories or returning from them made a large part of travelers by stage, chaise, or on horseback." This was the drama of the road! Along swept the rumbling stage-coaches, bearing their passengers to the business centers. The stage drivers were men of parts, shrewd observers of human nature, and fearless and expert in handling the lines. The blacksmith and the wheelwright were no less important, for without their aid traveling was impossible.
The romance of trail and turnpike days ended with the development of the steam railway. The rumbling coach ceased its rattling over pebbly roads, and the oldtime tavern with its roaring open fires and its genial host became one of the memories of homespun days.