Searight’s Tollhouse on the National Road

The National Road, a federal road, stretched from Cumberland, Maryland, into Ohio by 1831. The heavily trafficked road required maintenance that the federal government wanted to turn over to the states.

Pennsylvania adopted an act to build six toll gates along the National Road—also known as the Cumberland Road—in the Commonwealth.

Built in 1835, Searight’s Tollhouse is one of Pennsylvania’s two remaining toll houses on the National Road. It is five miles northwest of Uniontown.

William Searight was one of the wealthiest men in the area at the time. Searight’s Tavern stood at the junction of Searight’s Crossroads. He owned a general store, wagon shop, blacksmith shop, and a livery stable in addition to running the post office.

Political connections helped Searight to become the Commonwealth’s Commissioner of the Cumberland Road in 1842. Searight bore the responsibility for all operations and received $730 per year.

Pennsylvania’s other toll house still standing is the Petersburg Toll House. Located in Addison, it was the first toll gate after crossing into the Commonwealth. The toll keeper’s annual salary was $200 with free housing.

Toll rates in Pennsylvania were collected for all types of vehicles—chariots, stages, phaetons, chaises, coaches, coachees, carts, wagons, and carriages. Drovers of sheep paid a rate of 6 cents for every score (20).

Anyone who refused or neglected to pay their toll received a fine of $3.

Pennsylvania collected tolls to maintain the road from 1835 to 1905.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Sources

Day, Reed B. The Cumberland Road: A History of the National Road, Closson Press, 1996.

Edited by Raitz, Karl. A Guide to The National Road, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

“National Road Sculpture Tour,” National Road PA, 2017/04/22 http://nationalroadpa.org/touch-of-history/.

Schneider, Norris F. The National Road: Main Street of America, The Ohio Historical Society, 1975.

“Searight’s Tollhouse Historical Marker,” Exporepahistory.com, 2017/04/22 http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-F2.

“Searights Tollhouse, National Road,” Wikipedia, 2017/04/24  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Searights_Tollhouse,_National_Road.

 

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The La Vale Toll House on the National Road

Work on a National Road near the Potomac River in Cumberland, Maryland, to the Ohio River in Wheeling, Virginia (later became part of the newly created state of West Virginia during the Civil War) in 1811. This section of road was completed in 1818 though the road continued into Ohio after that.

High traffic caused lots of wear and tear on the road, making it difficult to maintain. The federal government turned over the maintenance of the road to the states in the early 1830s. To cover the cost, the states built toll houses to collect tolls.

Maryland built its first toll house, the La Vale Toll House, about six miles from Cumberland around 1833. This toll house is the state’s only one still standing on the National Road (also called Cumberland Road.)

Tollkeepers collected tolls there until the early 1900s. Included in their $200 annual salary were free living quarters.

It’s fun to read the toll rates. For example, horse and riders paid 4 cents for ten miles or 14 cents for thirty-five miles. Travelers paid 8 cents for ten miles or 28 cents for thirty-five miles for every sleigh, sled, chaise, or Dearborn “drawn by one horse or pair of oxen.”

Dearborn wagons contained four wheels generally drawn by a single horse. The vehicle usually had one seat, with top curtains and sometimes side curtains. From 1819 to 1850, truck farmers and peddlers used the affordable Dearborn.

Gateposts are all that remain of a second Maryland toll house outside of Frostburg. This one was located thirteen miles from Cumberland. There’s a nice photo of the toll house on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum site.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Sources

Day, Reed B. The Cumberland Road: A History of the National Road, Closson Press, 1996.

Dearborn Wagon.” Dictionary of American History.. Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017<http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Edited by Raitz, Karl. A Guide to The National Road, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

“First Toll Gate House,” The Historical Marker Database, 2017/04/22  http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=442.

Schneider, Norris F. The National Road: Main Street of America, The Ohio Historical Society, 1975.

“The La Vale Toll House,” The Historical Marker Database, 2017/04/22 http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=443.

“The National Road & Toll House near Frostburg, MD,” Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, 2017/04/22 http://www.eduborail.org/nps-1/image-1-nps-1.aspx.

 

 

 

 

Macadamized Roads

John Loudoun McAdam, a Scottish inventor, traveled almost 19,000 miles from 1798—1814 to form a method of making roads less susceptible to water.

Stagecoaches and wagons got stuck on muddy roads, adding to the difficulty of traveling. As surveyor general, McAdam devised a way to greatly improve roads and wrote of it in his Remarks on the Present System of Road-Making (1816).

To aid in water drainage, McAdam first recommended that roads be higher than the ground beside it. A layer of large broken stones then covered the road. Smaller stones were then laid over them. A fine layer of gravel was the last component.

This design reduced wear and tear on the road. Water drained to ditches on the side.

His recommendation was a great improvement over traveling on muddy roads. His idea spread to the United States.

Construction started in 1811 on the National Road, which began in Cumberland, Maryland, and wound through Pennsylvania and Virginia into Ohio. McAdam’s principles weren’t yet known.

His methods grew in popularity so that road makers used it on a new section of the National Road between Canton and Zanesville, Ohio, in 1825-1830. They broke stones small enough “to pass through a two-inch ring.”

At a width of twenty feet, the road contained the three layers of stone suggested by McAdam. Each layer was compacted with a cast-iron roller. This created the Macadamized road, making travel easier and safer for the pioneers settling in Ohio and farther west.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Sources

Bellis, Mary. “John Loudon McAdam – The History of Roads and Asphalt,” About.com, 2017/04/20 http://theinventors.org/library/inventors/blJohnMcAdam.htm.

Edited by Raitz, Karl. A Guide to The National Road, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

“John Loudon McAdam”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2017. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

McAdam, John Loudoun.” The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Apr. 2017<http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

“Macadam”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2017. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

 

Conestoga Wagons

The first major highway built by the United States federal government was the National Road. Construction began in 1811 on the road also known as the Cumberland Road because it began in Cumberland, Maryland. By August 1, 1818, the road reached to Wheeling at the Ohio River. (Wheeling was then in Virginia but is now part of West Virginia.)

Settlers moving westward quickly utilized the road through Pennsylvania and Virginia to the new state of Ohio. Their wagons toted all their worldly goods to a new land.

Conestoga wagons were first built by Mennonite Germans near the Conestoga River area of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the early to mid-eighteenth century. Skilled craftsman created a unique curved bed, designed to prevent freight from shifting while climbing steep hills. Chains held the back gate in place while traveling.

Early wagon covers were hempen homespun. Canvas was used later. They soaked the canvas in linseed oil to waterproof the fabric. This covering was stretched over several wooden hoops.

The builders took great pride in their work. They painted the wagons blue, trimmed with red.

Built with broad wheels, four to six horses pulled five-ton loads over dangerous Pennsylvania roads. Conestoga wagons hauled products from the eastern states to settlers in Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley and returned with frontier goods like flour, tobacco, coal, and whiskey.

Strong Conestoga horses bred in the Conestoga area of Pennsylvania could pull these loads about twelve miles per day.

Wagoners made their living by hauling freight from the east to the western frontier and back again. These colorful characters made a journey of 250 miles in about three weeks.

Drivers of Conestoga wagons didn’t sit on a bench and hold the horses’ reins. Wagoners rode the left rear horse or walked alongside the horses. When the wagoner tired of walking, he pulled out a lazy board—a wooden board attached to the side of the wagon—and sat on it.

Railroads had slowed the heavy traffic on the National Road by the 1850s. Conestoga wagons were no longer in demand. Wagoners found new ways to make a living.

But what stories they had to tell to their children and grandchildren.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Sources

“Conestoga Wagon,” History.com, 2017/04/19 http://www.history.com/topics/conestoga-wagon.

“Conestoga Wagon,” Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 2017/04/19 http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_842999.

“Conestoga wagon.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/conestoga-wagon.

Edited by Raitz, Karl. A Guide to The National Road, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

“National Road,” Wikipedia, 2017/04/20 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Road.

White, Roger B. “Covered Wagons and the American Frontier,” Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 2017/04/19 http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2012/10/conestoga-wagons-and-the-american-frontier.html.