There was a point in Indiana transportation history when the majority of “improved roads” in the state were toll roads. The National Road, for instance, originally built across Indiana in the 1830’s, fell, by 1842, into the maintenance responsibility of the counties through which it passed. Congress turned over the National Road to the state in 1848. In 1852, the entire road was let to a toll road company.
The National Road wasn’t the only one. Almost every major road in the state went through the toll road treatment. It wasn’t only the “state” roads that ended up being made into turnpikes. Land owners could, and did, by law create their own toll roads.
In 1883, a law was passed by the Indiana General Assembly that allowed for the “Appraisement, Purchase and Conversion of Toll Roads into Free Roads, and for their Maintenance as Free Roads.” This allowed counties to purchase toll roads when :they have been petitioned to do so by a majority of the land owners and stockholders in said toll road.” Often times, it would be put to a vote by the residents of the county. From what I have seen in newspapers, Cass County (Logansport) tried at least three times to get a positive vote. It would take several years for this law to become fully used by the counties of the state.
The Richmond Item of 10 February 1893 reported that the county had issued its list of purchase prices for toll roads in Wayne County. (For instance, The National Road was appraised at $12,000. This would end up not being the original road east of Richmond, having been replaced by the Richmond-Eaton Pike. That road is now called “Old National Road.”) The Fort Wayne Daily News of 13 December 1897 reports that Allen County has finally appraised the Fort Wayne and Little River Turnpike, the last toll road in Allen County.
The purchases were going on all over the state. Looking through newspapers.com, with a search of “toll road” from every available newspaper in Indiana, the number of newspapers is fairly large. That only includes entries between 1800 and 1940.
The attached snippets show the toll and free road situation in Marion County in October 1889. The bottom of the picture to the left shows that, at this time, Marion County contained 215 miles of gravel road, 70 being toll roads. Looking at a map of Marion County of that period, this is just a very small percentage of the roads in the county.
Until the counties started taking over the turnpikes (or toll roads, you decided which to use), toll houses were not only a common sight all around Indiana, they were basically landmarks. There is still one in existence along the old Michigan Road northwest of Indianapolis. Another Jim Grey entry, “For sale: Michigan Road Toll House” covers this quite well.
Now, the only toll road in the state is the Indiana Toll Road that runs across the top tier of counties. It is basically an extension of one toll road (or turnpike in Ohio and Pennsylvania) from Chicago to Philadelphia. This may change in the future. No one can ever be sure.