new brunswick turnpike
Let’s start with a definition of
a 19th century turnpike. They were toll roads built in the early
to mid 1800’s by private stock companies under charter from
the state of New Jersey. A “pike” or bar was used
to block passage until the toll was paid. Then the tollgate attendant
would turn the “pike” to permit passage. Hence, it
was named turnpike. These were hard gravel roads.
In 1795, a private company was formed to build a turnpike Philadelphia
to New York that would cost an estimated $300,000. The money was
to be raised by selling 75,000 shares at 4 dollars each and then
to secure charters of incorporation from New Jersey, New York,
and Pennsylvania. Although originally backed by New Brunswick
interests, the plan did not obtain sufficient support as only
25% of the stock was subscribed and the plan lapsed.
On November 14, 1804, near the start of the turnpike movement
in New Jersey, the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike was chartered
by the state of New Jersey. This turnpike is now the section of
US Route 1 between Trenton and New Brunswick. This charter said
that the turnpike was to begin at the head of Warren or Green
Streets at the northeast end of Trenton and running to New Brunswick
and it was to be for a term of 99 years. Subscriptions were to
be 2,000 shares of $100 each, or, $200,000. The road was to be
66 feet wide and a survey map was to be filed with the state.
Tolls were to be from ½ to 2 cents per mile. An example
was: for every carriage drawn by 1 beast equals 1 cent.
On November 26, 1804 the first notice for stock subscriptions
appeared in the Trenton Federalist newspaper. Books were opened
at Scott & Herbert in Trenton and at James Drake in New Brunswick
on December 20, 1804.
On June 19th, 1805, an article in the Trenton Federalist said,
and I quote, “Notice is hereby given that the Trenton and
New Brunswick Turnpike will receive proposals for forming and
grading the road from Trenton to New Brunswick, about 24 miles,
on Tuesday the 23rd of July, 1805. The road will be contracted
for entire, or in part, as may be agreed at the time when it’s
width and form will be made known for those who decide to compete.”
On August 9th, 1805, a meeting was held in Kingston by the commissioners
of the turnpike to choose officers and act upon laying out of the
road. Enough shares had been subscribed, 640 shares of $100
each. This was largely by New Brunswick and Trenton interests.
A survey map of 4 inches to the mile was approved by the commissioners of the turnpike.
Sometime in 1806, the turnpike started to collect tolls, since
they had expended $65,000, that being more than the rate of $1000
per mile for 25 miles.
A supplement to the original charter was passed on November 28,
1806 that made it a penalty of up to $20 for anyone to avoid the
toll gates or deface property and also that all the traffic was
to keep to the right. The road was completed sometime in 1807.
On April 12, 1808 Henry Gallatin (the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury)
produced a documented called the Report on Roads and Canals. He
described the road as, and I quote, “In New Jersey, a turnpike
road has lately been completed from Trenton to New Brunswick.
The distance is 25 miles, the greatest angle of ascent 3 degrees,
and the road is nearly in a straight line, the only considerable
obstruction being the ‘Sand Hills’, through which
it was necessary to dig at the depth of 30 feet, in order not
to exceed the angle of ascent. The road is 36 feet wide, 15 feet
of which are covered with about 6 inches of gravel. A few wooden
bridges with stone abutments and piers have been erected across
the intervening streams.” Unquote.
It was a heavily traveled throughfare, accommodating all forms of traffic known at the time including men on horseback, horse
drawn wagons, carriages, buggies, and cattle on the hoof. This
included stages owned by the stagecoach companies. There were
at least 3 tollgates. One about four miles from Trenton, one in
South Brunswick between Ridge Road and Stouts Lane, and one in
North Brunswick just north of where the railroad goes under Route
1. Sometimes the toll collector was confronted with a problem
when droves of livestock raised clouds of dust and blocked the
way as he tried to count their numbers.
During the War of 1812, the British blockade of ports along the
Atlantic Coast made it necessary to move goods overland. Between
Philadelphia and New York, thousands of wagons drawn by teams
of horses and oxen formed a near continuous stream hauling goods
previously transported by coastwise vessels. Freight rates and
commodity prices soared. This would be the heyday of the turnpike.
There was a record use during the war.
A supplement to the original charter was passed on January 28,
1814 to have the company upgrade the road within 18 months and
to keep it in good repair. If not, the tollgates would be eliminated.
During 1827 the turnpike company improved and upgraded the road,
but the 25 miles was still a tedious journey for passengers and
expensive for hauling freight by wagon.
From 1808 to the early 1830’s a large portion of the profits
were collected from the various stage companies that used the
route. As many as 6 different lines competed for passengers. It
continued to be a great thoroughfare and was successful and quite
profitable until the early 1830’s. The dividends were 6%
annually on capital but after the advent on Camden & Amboy
Railroad and the Delaware & Raritan Canal, it was not able to
On February 23, 1832 the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an Act
incorporating the Philadelphia and Trenton railroad to build a
line of about 27 miles between those two cities. Authority was
also given the company to purchase the turnpike between Trenton
and New Brunswick or in effect to acquire a through route between
Philadelphia and New York Bay.
On December 15, 1832 an overture was made by the Philadelphia
& Trenton to unite with the turnpike for converting the road
to a railroad.
On February 11, 1834 the turnpike requested the New Jersey General
Assembly for an amendment of their charter. They wanted to build
a railroad on their turnpike road. The Camden & Amboy Railroad
and the Delaware & Raritan Canal monopoly were opposing the
turnpike company in its expansion plans.
By mid-1834 the Philadelphia & Trenton Railroad secured controlling
interest in the turnpike company and hoped to use it as a right-of-way
for a railroad. The Philadelphia & Trenton Railroad petitioned
the New Jersey Legislature for authority to lay a railroad atop
the turnpike. They lost by 3 votes, 24 to 21. Sometime during
the proceedings it developed that the turnpike could probably
lay a railroad without legislative authority, which they commenced
to do. Contracts for grading were awarded and this work was well
advanced. Culverts and bridges were built and crossties were laid
on the roadbed.
In 1834 the Camden & Amboy saw that such a project would prove
disastrous to its railroad. They took the offensive. They secured
a controlling interest in the Philadelphia & Trenton Railroad
and demanded the protection of the monopoly provisions of their
charter. They succeeded in keeping their railroad monopoly.
On November 1, 1835 a secret truce was concluded. Construction
of the railroad was stopped by common consent. With that the controversy
ended. The turnpike continued to be a road.
With the shift of passenger traffic to the Camden & Amboy
Railroad, stage lines was forced to liquidate. By 1835, the Peoples
Stage Coach Line had no competitors on the turnpike route but
shortly afterward it ceased operations entirely. The collapse
of the stagecoach business destroyed the chief source of revenue.
The only advantage to the Joint companies in operating the turnpike
was to prevent its use by other railroads, for it barely paid
On September 28, 1858, the Trenton Daily State Gazette said, and
I quote, “A large number of workmen are at work on the Trenton
and New Brunswick Turnpike, and it is already completed to Clarksville,
about 7 miles north of Trenton. This road, which was built 50
years ago… was originally a very fine road, but since the
stages and mercantile wagons have been superseded by locomotives
and canal boats, it has gotten much out of repair, that tolls
have not been charged on it for several years, except at the first
gate about 4 miles from Trenton. The grades were already established
and required little alteration and the workmen have been engaged
in rounding up and graveling the road bed.
In 1867 the Camden & Amboy and the United New Jersey Railroad
merged to become the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company.
The United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company now owns the turnpike.
In December 1871 the United New Jersey Railroad becomes part of
the Pennsylvania Railroad with the line through Plainsboro becoming
their New York Division. The Pennsylvania Railroad now owns the
In 1899, people along the pike between Trenton and Penns Neck
held a meeting to consider the improvement of the road. A committee
was formed to ask the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) to pass title
of the roadway. Apparently nothing came of it, as the road was
not ceded to the townships until 1903.
On May 14, 1903, the Pennsylvania Railroad ceded the road to the
townships through which it passed. It is now under the public
control and no longer a toll road. It was still a very narrow
dirt/sand rutted road.
Trenton and New
Brunswick Turnpike Stock Certificate
"no. 118 Trenton and
New brunswick Turnpike Stock 4 24/100 shares. John Neilson is
entitled to a 4 24/100. Shares in the Trenton and New Brunswick
Turnpike Road, transferable by him or his Attorney, at the Treasurer's
office. Given under the seal of the Company, the second day of
August in the year of Our Lord, eighteen hundred and twenty.
Henry Dunham, President
John Neilson, Treasurer
A 1904 view of a road repair crew on the
"straight turnpike" (now US Route #1) at the intersection
with Plainsboro road, looking south. This is the year after the
road was ceded to the townships through which it passed. It had
been owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Williamson Shops On The "Straight
Turnpike" (now US Route #1) at Plainsboro Road,
looking south. The brick building is the blacksmith shop while
the wooden building behind is the wheelwright shop. This road
was chartered in 1804 as a private toll road. Photo circa
View is from a real photo post card in
the collection of Robert Yuell