We don’t usually like to acquire a single letter, primarily because it has lost its context. Well, we made an exception this time, because the letter was so interesting (dare I say fun?) and we have lots of other James Hillhouse papers in the Research Center.
The letter was written byJames Hillhouse from Washington, DC on January 24, 1804, to Dwight Foster. That is not the fun part. Hillhouse is writing about the Hartford and New Haven turnpike in which both men were investors. It seems they were having trouble collecting tolls. He writes:
On account of the vast multitude of cross roads, it has been found very difficult to fix on the places for erecting toll gates, so as to prevent their being shunned by Travelers, and we have been obliged to divide two of the gates, and four half gates, agreeable to the provisions of our Act of incorporation.
A group of six uncut tickets for the Hartford and New Haven turnpike with a black left the for the number of the gate.
Evidently their plan worked because the amount collected had been at the rate of $2400 per year. That was no small amount in 1804; it would keep the investors happy. The investors also voted a certain sum to be used to improve the turnpike, primarily the bridge abutments and the sluices which kept giving way. Too bad the state and federal governments can’t find money for infrastructure the same way today.
The Research Center has records of toll companies, but nothing with the kind of detail found in this one letter. When the content is like this, we bend our policy a bit and do indeed take the single letter. Please ask for Ms 101765 if you wish to see this document in person.
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 first page of the minute book of the Colchester & Chatham Turnpike Company lists the directors. Ms 101701.
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.
First page of the by-laws of the turnpike company. Ms 101701.