James Madison

Turnpikes were well established in Europe and the early colonists and settles of America were familiar with the concept of being charged to travel along certain roads. Turnpikes were originally toll gates that prevented passage along a road unless a toll was first paid. Over time in America the word 'Turnpikes came to mean a toll road rather than a toll gate. Turnpikes were extremely important to transportation in the 1800s.

Turnpikes for kids
James Madison was the 4th American President who served in office from March 4, 1809 to March 4, 1817. One of the significant events during his presidency was the
Construction of Cumberland Road that began in Maryland in 1811 and the widespread introduction of Toll Roads that were called Turnpikes.


History of Turnpikes for kids
People have been charged to travel on roads for thousands of years. A gate, called a turnpike, was set across a road to stop a travelers passage until a fee, or toll, had been paid.

History of Turnpikes for kids: Description
Early turnpikes consisted of a long, horizontal cross of timber that turned on a vertical pin

History of Turnpikes - Definition of the word
Definition: The word 'turnpike' was a combination of two words turn+pike. A pike was the name of a medieval pole-mounted weapon.  A sharp spiked blade was mounted on a long wooden shaft, or pole (between 4 and 14 feet long) - referred to as a pikestaff or pike. (picture on your left)

PikestaffEarly Turnpike

Early Turnpike

The Turnpikes: Toll House ( now Toll Booth)
Next to the turnpikes were toll houses, as seen in the picture. The toll houses came to be called Toll booths in America.

Turnpikes to Toll Roads
Turnpikes to Toll Roads: The first roads in America were developed by the early settlers. They traveled across the trails created by Native Americans and as horses and wagons were used the roads became more defined. Early Americans traveled along such roads and collected tolls from people who used that specific stretches of roads. Some turnpikes (gates) were erected.
After the American Revolution, the government began to realize the importance of Westward Expansion and the importance of trade in the development of the new Nation. George Washington appreciated the importance of transportation as did the leaders of the newly formed states. In 1791, the legislature of the Pennsylvanian Commonwealth approved a state wide transportation plan. An era of road building began that was marked by the development of turnpike companies.

History of Turnpikes for kids: The First Toll Roads
The first American turnpike road was a state enterprise, approved by a Virginia act of 1785. The first Important toll road in the United States built by a private corporation was the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. This Turnpike was built in the 1792 connecting Philadelphia and Lancaster in Pennsylvania. The Great Western Turnpike was started in Albany, New York State in 1799.

Turnpikes: The Turnpike Companies
The process of building roads was very expensive. The Boston-Newburyport Turnpike, was 32 miles long and cost approximately $12,500 per mile to construct. n an attempt to finance the building and maintenance of roads, without raising taxes, the state legislatures began granting charters to private turnpike companies. The turnpike companies built, improved, and maintained a particular section of roadway, and tolls were collected from users to finance the ventures. Turnpike companies sold shares of stock in order
to raise the funds in order to cover the cost of labor and materials. Once the turnpike road was completed, the companies charged tolls to those who traveled the road in order to make a profit and repay its investors. Many of these early toll roads kept the name 'Turnpikes' - it conveyed to people that a charge would be made for using the road. Turnpikes therefore came into common use and the term is used interchangeably with toll road in current terminology. Some of the Turnpikes were nearly 200 miles (320 km) long.

The Turnpikes: The Cumberland Road
The government made the decision to build a National road (the Cumberland Road) that would lead from the center of the US (Maryland), westward, to Ohio.
In 1824 a succession of private turnpikes were completed that connected the National Road (Pike) with Baltimore, Maryland and its port on Chesapeake Bay. In 1832 tolls began being charged on the Cumberland Road and Toll houses were built about every 20 miles.

The Turnpikes: The 'American System'
The building of the turnpikes was an integral part of the economic plan of
Henry Clay and the 'American System'. Part of the American System was based on creating new transportation systems connecting America.

The Turnpikes - The General Survey Act
The General Survey Act was a law passed by the United States Congress in April 1824 that was extremely important to the development of the Turnpikes. The General Survey Act authorized the president to have surveys made of important transportation routes.  The law specified that surveys were made for routes requiring roads and canals "of national importance, in a commercial or military point of view, or necessary for the transportation of public mail."

The Turnpikes: Turnpikes, Canals and Railroads
The road building boom continued across the United States. It was the era of the U.S. Industrial Revolution. Then Steamboats and steam trains were invented. The nation needed railways and canals to speed travel times. The Railroads of the 1800s were developed. The Erie Canal was constructed. Travel westward was encouraged by the belief in the Manifest Destiny of the United States. Some of the turnpikes were converted to canals and railroads.  The Lancaster Turnpike route was replaced first by a canal and then with a railroad.

Why were Turnpikes important? Importance and Significance of the Turnpikes in the 1800s
The development of turnpikes was one of the most important events of the U.S. Industrial Revolution. The importance and significance of the turnpikes was:

● The construction of the Turnpikes improved transportation across the U.S.
● Turnpikes played a Important role in the success of the American System
● Thousands of settlers utilized the turnpikes in the 1800s to move westward
● New cities and towns emerged along the routes of the turnpikes.  For additional facts refer to the
History of Urbanization in America
● The construction of the Turnpikes increased trade by providing the means for transporting products and manufactured goods across the country
● The private turnpike companies avoided the need for the government to increase taxes
● Turnpikes, canals and railroads contributed to the economic development of the United States  in the 1800's

Turnpikes for kids
The article on Turnpikes provides interesting information about these important construction projects that were established during the presidency of the 4th President of the United States of America.

Turnpikes - President James Madison Video
The article on the Turnpikes provides an overview of one of the Important developments of his presidential term in office. The following James Madison video will give you additional important History Facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 4th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1809 to March 4, 1817.


● Interesting Facts about the Turnpikes for kids
● The History of the Turnpikes
● The Turnpikes, a Important event in US history
● James Madison Presidency from March 4, 1809 to March 4, 1817
● Fast, fun, interesting Facts on the Turnpikes
● The Definition and Importance of Turnpikes
● James Madison Presidency and the Turnpikes for schools, homework, kids and children

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