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trenton and 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.” Unquote.

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 cover expenses.

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 expenses.

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 turnpike.

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 1903

View is from a real photo post card in the collection of Robert Yuell