For Whom the Toll Gates Tolled– Revised

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In the fall I wrote a small piece for my blog, but this has been revised and it’s new and improved as they say in the Cereal Box family.:)

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The old saying is: “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. That quote might not fit the bill if you had to endure our local roads in the 1800’s.  Roads, for longer than people could remember, were nothing more than dirt tracks that turned into mud in the winter and baked rock hard in the summer. Either way, movement along these ‘roads’ was difficult, and at certain times of the year, practically impossible–especially in Montague Township. Farmers suffered terribly due to bad road conditions. They were forced to maintain the roads that were adjacent to their property, by crushing stones and grading the roadway. If you didn’t agree to do this, there could be serious fines imposed.

Port Elmsley’s official name in the very beginning was “Barbodies” and in 1843 referred to as Pike Falls.  A crude road ran from their small military settlement to Perth, and part of it was made out of planks. It was kept up by forced labour and in extremely bad condition. Between Pike Falls and Perth there were two toll gates: one at Lester Polk’s side road, and one at Richardson’s side road near Perth.

The Perth Road was surveyed in 1852 in order to encourage settlement of the isolated areas lying between Kingston and Perth. Though passable over its 50-mile length as a winter road by early 1855, the road was still largely incomplete by 1859-60. Lawsuits resulted in the disposal of its property at sheriffs’ sales, and the maintenance of the road was taken over in 1874 by the provincial Crown Lands Department.

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This is the “Toll Gate House” located just south of the Village of Lanark on Hwy # 511.

They say the road to success is always under construction. The local governments decided that implementing a toll was a way to raise money to achieve better road conditions. Toll gates were established in which people and carriages had to pass before continuing on their journey. The public was given the opportunity to invest in these road companies. Any group of men with a minimum of 5 people could form a joint company as long as they built a minimum of two miles of road. There could be a toll gate every five miles, and the charge was a penny per mile with a half penny extra for animals. Most of the roads were laid with pine blanks, with most of the planks coming from the John Gillies sawmill.

As you can well imagine people began to object having to pay tolls.  Charges rose, and the costs for a team and wagon were now five cents; for a man and horse three cents; for anyone walking, there was no charge. But, if you went to church, or were a man of uniform, you could forgo all means of payment. Some braver souls would take a chance and jump over the toll gate to avoid paying fees. To lessen the chance of this happening, those managing the toll booths erected spikes at the top of the gates. In some parts of the area the toll gates were so unpopular, that they were destroyed by fire after dark.

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Photo– Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

As the public grew angrier throughout the counties The Lanark Era newspaper jumped into the fray, and informed the public in print where the secret non- paying roads were. By 1856 people had enough and refused to pay because the road planks were rotting away. Word up and down the line was that the roads had become so bad even the transportation of corpses couldn’t make it to their destinations. In 1904 tolls ceased to exist as the maintenance of the road was taken over by the county.

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About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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