Historical Markers
Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Historical Marker
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Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Business Rte 30, Caln Twp

Dedication Date:
November 20, 1999

Behind the Marker

"I am aware, Gentleman, that the want of a good, permanent road is, at present, the principal defect in the communication between the middle counties marker and the metropolis "

Image of the toll gate in Bedford, Pennsylvania
Image of the toll gate in Bedford, Pennsylvania

At the time that Pennsylvania Governor markerThomas Mifflin made this statement in 1791, residents of eastern Pennsylvania had been pressing the state government for a better road connecting Philadelphia to Lancaster for more than sixty years. As early as 1714, a patchwork of roads linked Philadelphia to the rich agricultural lands in what is now Lancaster County. These early roads were often in terrible disrepair - with ruts, gaping holes and tree stumps that made them at times impassable.

The colonial government received its first petition for a more permanent road between Lancaster and Philadelphia marker in 1730.  It was not until April 9, 1792, however, that the state legislature voted to permit the governor to incorporate a company for the construction of a turnpike. This private company, the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road Company, raised the initial capital for the project by selling stock in the project.
Map of Toll Roads and canals.
Pennsylvania Toll Roads and Canals, 1790-1850.

Completed in 1794, the Philadelphia and Lancaster turnpike was a monumental and innovative achievement. Impressed that it was "paved with stone the whole way, and overlaid with gravel, so that it [was] never obstructed during the most severe season," one observer hailed the new road as "a masterpiece of its kind." The sixty-two-mile turnpike cost more than $450,000, a staggering sum for the time.

To recoup its investment and generate revenues, the Company charged travelers tolls, paid at toll gates located every ten miles along the route. Soon, inns and taverns conveniently located along the route–as many as sixty at one point in time–offered comfortable lodging and food for weary travelers, and often charged more to board a horse for the night than a person.

At the height of summer, more than 1,000 markerConestoga wagons traveled the turnpike each day, carrying apples and bacon, beef and beer, biscuit and butter, cheese, cider, corn, flour, leather, lumber, pork, wheat, whiskey, and other products of the surrounding farms to the city. Herds of livestock walked the turnpike to market. The turnpike company charged a toll of "1/4 dollar" for "every score of Cattle," and "1/8 dollar" for every score of hogs or sheep.

After its completion, the stone and gravel roadway became the main artery for commerce and communication between Philadelphia and Lancaster. Although originally designed to move agricultural goods east, the Turnpike also carried travelers heading to western Pennsylvania and beyond. Despite the enormous cost of construction, the turnpike turned a profit for its investors and inspired the formation of other companies to construct paved roads.

By 1804, Pennsylvania had two new turnpikes and the Lancaster turnpike extended west all the way to Pittsburgh. Over the next three decades, the state chartered more than 200 turnpike companies, which built more than 3,000 miles of roads. By the 1830s, however, the Lancaster Turnpike had to contend with new developments in transportation - canals and railroads. Soon the turnpike was overshadowed by the railroad, which could move freight much faster and much more efficiently than a horse-drawn wagon on a paved road.
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