Driving it

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The First Turnpike Age
An Early Solution

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If you think tolls are a recent phenomenon, guess again. They were around even when wagons, horses, and sleds plied the roads, as this early 19th-century sign suggests.

Road conditions worsened during the economic depression that followed the Revolutionary War. Strapped for cash, states turned to privately owned and state-chartered turnpike companies to create and care for vital transportation routes. The first privately owned and maintained toll road opened in Pennsylvania in 1796; in New Jersey, the Morris Turnpike Co. was the first to be chartered (1801). It ran from Elizabeth through Morris and Sussex counties to the Delaware River at Milford, Pennsylvania. By the 1830s the first turnpike age was ending, as railroads and canals became a more economical means of transporting people and goods. Early turnpike routes, though, would later provide the basis for the network of automobile highways that eventually criss-crossed the state.

Tollgate sign, "Legal Rates of Toll," early 1800s
Collections of The New Jersey Historical Society