Hometown History #57: From Better Roads to Better "Toll House" Cookies...


From not long after the American Revolution until around 1830, when it became plain to everyone that steam-powered railroads were the future, Americans, and especially New Englanders went turnpike mad.

With a need to better connect the growing hinterland and to support economic development, more and better roads were a clear necessity. But post-Revolution Americans abhorred taxes. Turnpikes, privately built and operated roads, were embraced as the answer. As the name implied (and as illustrated above) access to turnpikes was controlled with a barrier – a length of wood being known as a pike, from its earlier military incarnation. And, said pike would be lifted or “turned’ out of the way to let pass those who paid the necessary toll.

Massachusetts was all in on the concept and the names of many former turnpikes of 200 years ago are retained by the modern highways that follow their approximate alignment; Middlesex Turnpike and Newburyport Turnpike being two well-known examples.

The turnpikes that were proposed and eventually came to the area followed, generally, existing paths of commerce but, always, much improved.

A history of the Town of Medway details one near miss for Franklin, the Hartford and Dedham Turnpike.

“In 1803 there was a petition by Captain Ezekiel Plimpton and others to the selectmen of the town as follows:

“April 6 1803 "

“To The SELECTMEN OF MEDWAY; - Gentlemen:

“Please to insert the following article in your warrant for your next Town meeting, viz: To see if the Town will give their suffrage for a Turnpike road now contemplated by government to be laid out through our Town of Medway, on the most convenient route, that may best accommodate the Public, or act anything on the matter as may be thought best.

In doing which you will oblige your

Humle. Servts :

Ezekiel Plimpton, Stephen Clark, Simpson Jones, Elihu Fisher, Elijah Bridges, Sylvanus Adams , Nathaniel Lovell . ”

‘This article was duly inserted in the warrant, but dismissed by the vote of the town.

“The next year a petition , dated January 23 , 1804, and signed by sixty -nine citizens , largely from the easterly part of the town [which would eventually become Millis] , was presented to the State Legislature of that year , asking that a turnpike road might be laid out and established , extending from near the house of Dr. Scammel, in Bellingham , through Medway, and Medfield to Dedham , to connect with the Dedham and Boston Turnpike. The company to be called "The Hartford and Dedham Turnpike Corporation."

THE Petitioners for the Hartford AND Dedham TURNPIKE , IN 1804.

Lewis Wheeler, Jeremiah Daniell, Jr. , Nathaniel Lovell , Timothy Hamant, Joseph Lovell, Hope Lovell, Michael Lovell, Jasper Adams , Joseph Richardson , Moses Adams , Jr. , Micah Adams , Silas Adams, Horatio Adams, Theodore Harding, Theophilus Harding , Phillips Clark , Sylvanus Adains , Benjamin Parnell , Stephen Harding , Bernard Partridge , Ezra Richardson , John Bullen , Josiah Blake , Thomas Harding, Abijah Richardson , Jr. , Jeremiah Daniels, Oliver Ellis , Stephen Clark , Abijah Richardson , Silas Fairbanks , Timothy West , Jeremiah Curtis , Amos Rockwood , Elijah Bridges , Lewis Hill , Marcus Richardson, Nathan Jones , Abner Mason , Joseph Newell , Adam Bullard , Joshua Gould , Elihu Fisher , Hazeltine Taft, Darius Blake , Nahum Thayer, Benoni Morse, Jeduthan Bullen , Lemuel Daniels , Amos Daniels , Joseph Daniels , Joshua Whitney, Israel Daniels , Samuel Clark , Elisha Richardson , Zebina Kingsbury, Sabin Daniels , Moses Rockwood , Moses Rockwood , Jr. , Simeon Partridge ,

Aaron Rockwood , John Hunting, Jr. , Aaron Adams , Eliakim Adams, Moses Adams , Thaddeus Lovering , Elijah Partridge, Malachi Bullard .

There was a competing line from the same point in Bellingham through Franklin, North Wrentham, and Walpole, to Dedham, petitioned for at the same time, but the Medway petitioners were successful, and “The Hartford and Dedham Turnpike Corporation " came into existence by an act of incorporation passed March 9, 1804. Among the corporators were Abijah Richardson, M. D., Joseph Lovell, Willard Boyd, Elias Richardson, Jr, Benijah Pond, Abner Morse, and Artemas Woodward.

An engineer's plan of the road, dated 1807, is filed with the papers in the office of the Secretary of State. “The Hartford and Dedham Turnpike” was constructed and opened to public travel in 1807. A toll -gate was placed near the “Hammond Place,” afterward the railroad crossing in East Medway, and tolls were collected for many years. The stock in this road sold in 1808 for fifty dollars per share, but in ten years it had declined to about ten dollars.

The turnpike at length came to need expensive repairs, and the corporation decided to relinquish the care of it to the town, and accordingly, the County Commissioners were petitioned to lay it out as a public highway. After two or three years spent in negotiations, the town paid one hundred and sixty dollars into the county treasury, and the Commissioners, June 4, 1838, established the turnpike as a public highway. The road was at once repaired, and that portion of it lying through Black Swamp was placed under the care of William La Croix, Esq., as agent for the town, the other portions were assigned to the several highway districts. It is the longest highway in the town, and is called Main Street.”.

And then...

On March 16, 1805, the Massachusetts legislature passed a new, comprehensive turnpike statute, replacing older, haphazard “charters.” This legislation placed a higher bar for promoters. Roads had to be a specific width, tolls were regulated, and an inspection of the proposed route by a committee of legislators at the expense of the entity proposing the turnpike, was a prerequisite. And, if the turnpike went into disrepair, all its land would be forfeited to the original owners, even if they had already been fully paid!

The above noted proposed route through Franklin, called the Winsocket Turnpike Corporation, was incorporated only 24 hours after the passage of the new legislation. However, as the author of a history of New England turnpikes explained, “since the other road [through Medway] was built, courage was lacking for this, and the franchise was never used.”

To the south, another important Turnpike was proposed even earlier, in 1800, to link Dedham to Pawtucket, RI, but effectively a road to connect Boston and Providence. A veritable who’s who of leading Massachusetts men was involved with this, including Dedham’s Fisher Ames. And the road was completed by 1806, passing through Wrentham. This, and most other turnpikes, were remarkable for being very straight, at least in comparison to the meandering roads typical of New England.

One of the other ‘modern’ legacies of the region’s turnpikes is the famous “Toll House Cookie” [otherwise known as the chocolate chip] concocted by Ruth Wakefield at her Toll House Restaurant in Whitman in the 1930s, built from the site of an actual, earlier turnpike toll house.

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