Because roads are expensive to maintain, and because the railroad became a better way to move goods across this young nation in the mid-1800s, the government became anxious to hand the National Road over to the states through which it passed. As that happened, the states pretty shortly erected toll houses and collected tolls to pay for maintenance. A few of those toll houses still stand: LaVale, Maryland; Searights, Pennsylvania; and this one, in Addison, Pennsylvania, just 2.5 miles west from where the road leaves Maryland.
Just left of the toll house’s door is a sign listing the toll rates. Toll roads charge by the axle today, but in those days you paid for every living thing that walked on the road and for every carriage, wagon, or cart that rolled over the road. So if you were driving a herd of cattle along the road, you paid 12 cents for every 20 head. Hogs and sheep were less expensive at six cents per 20. The toll for wagons depended on the width of the wheels, with wider wheels generally leading to a smaller toll. If your wagon’s wheels were eight inches or wider, it and the attached horses passed for free! Maybe they thought that wheels that wide would help compact the road, a maintenance task that had to be done anyway.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
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