1854 Headlines: Penny a Mile for Your Horse on Toll Road from Battle Creek to Grand Rapids
Michigan did once have toll roads, but it was a very long time ago.
A news headline from 1854 told Michigan residents about the Battle Creek & Hastings Plank Road Company announcing tolls for a road, built by a private company between Battle Creek and Grand Rapids.
Here were the proposed prices for tolls on the road:
- Vehicle drawn by 2 animals = 2 cents a mile
- Sled or sleigh, 2 animals = 1 cent a mile
- All vehicles drawn by 1 animal = 1 cent a mile
- Each score of sheep or swine = ½ cent a mile
- Each score of meat cattle = 2 cents a mile
- Horse and rider = 1 cent a mile
Private road building had a wave of success and failure across the United States during the 19th century. The Economic History Association reports that between 2,500 and 3,200 companies, including several in Michigan, successfully financed, constructed their toll roads during three different eras. The turnpike era took place in eastern states from 1792 to 1845. The plank road boom occurred from 1847 to 1853. Finally, the toll road of the far West capped off the era from 1850 to 1902.
By the 1840s the major turnpikes were increasingly eclipsed by the (often state-subsidized) canals and railroads. Many toll roads reverted to free public use and quickly degenerated into miles of dust, mud and wheel-carved ruts. To link to the new and more powerful modes of communication, well-maintained, short-distance highways were still needed, but because governments became overextended in poor investments in canals, taxpayers were increasingly reluctant to fund internal improvements. - Economic History Association
Although few today have heard of them, for a short time it seemed that plank roads might be one of the great innovations of the day.
Except for most of New England, plank roads were chartered throughout the United States, especially in the top lumber-producing states which Michigan was a part fo at the time. In fact, Michigan ranked in the top five at one point.
Plank Road Incorporation by State by the mid-1800s:
- New York 335
- Pennsylvania 315
- Ohio 205
- Wisconsin 130
- Michigan 122
In 1880 many toll road companies continued to operate across the country, but by 1920 the private toll road was almost entirely stamped out. Later in the 20th century, toll roads returned in many states, especially in the 1950s.