In the 19th century, turnpikes were private business corporations with stockholders and directors. They built and maintained roads in particular areas in exchange for the right to collect fees from travelers. In 1809 a group of men from Colchester, Connecticut, gathered to create a turnpike company. The road was geographically divided into 100 shares sold at $66.00 each and there was a total of 60 stockholders. The Directors were Henry Champion, Lemuel Storrs, John Isham, John R. Watkinson, Jabez Comstock, Samuel Wetmore and Jesse Hurd.
Two volumes of records of the Colchester & Chatham Turnpike were recently donated by a descendant of the last clerk to serve the company. The books are in excellent condition and the handwriting remains very clear. The details in the account book, although it is entitled dividends, illustrates how much time and labor was needed to build and then keep the road in repair. It appears that if the road passed through a gate, the the gate owner collected a fee from the company. Everything came down to money. I know there are more interesting tidbits just waiting to be discovered.
The most remarkable thing about these record books is that they document the entire life of the company, from its founding in 1809 to the day in 1856 the directors voted to sell the company’s assets. Such complete documentation is rare.