A Case to Vote for County Takeover of Toll Roads

Back in February 2019, I did a blog entry about the fact that the most of the original state roads in Indiana were turned over to toll road companies for their maintenance. That post is available here. In the late 1880s to the late 1890s, each of the 92 counties had the right to have their citizens vote on whether or not those counties would take back the toll roads. This would make them free county roads. Well, sort of. Today I am going to focus on a newspaper editorial piece from the Hagerstown Exponent of 02 April 1890 making the case for the county buying the roll roads.

And it all starts with the line “next Monday the regular township election will be held, and in addition to the election of regular officers the question of buying the toll roads is to be voted upon.”

The preliminary work necessary for the purchase had already been done. In order for the county to buy the toll roads, there had to be an appraisement of the road property. The sum of money to be paid by the county had to be agreed upon by both the county and the shareholders of the toll road company. This, in itself, was never a guarantee. After all, let’s face it. Even the National Road was privately owned at this point. This was not a case of eminent domain. These were companies to be purchased and, basically, put completely out of business for the sake of free transportation.

The next point made is that the money used to buy the toll roads would be paid for by a tax on all the people of each governmental township. It is also mentioned, in the editorial, “that it will not cost the average property holder as much to help buy the roads as it will to pay toll.” The argument is made that for the people of Hagerstown, this expense is a no brainer. “And so far as the interests of Hagerstown are concerned, there can be no doubt as to which way would be best. Nearly all the people who live around us a few miles out, can go to other towns free of toll, while if they come here they must pay toll of go a considerable distance out of their way, and often over bad roads.” With the removal of the tolls, the argument is that an increase in trade will follow.

Hagerstown is in Jefferson Township, Wayne County. In 1890, at the time of this editorial, the taxable property of the township comes to $1 million. The estimated cost of the toll roads in the township comes to $4,000. This puts a tax increase for the purchase at four mills, or 40 cents for each $100 of assessed value. But, according to the article, that cost is paid over a five year period. So each year, the tax paid for the roads would not by 40 cents yearly, but eight cents yearly. This value is far below the cost of paying the toll road for use. For farmers, with more taxable property, and hence more tax, the estimated cost of the tax increase over five years is less than the cost of using the toll road at only one toll gate. And that is without bringing any kind of freight, or even livestock, along for the trip.

The case is then made that Jefferson Township has to vote for the purchase, if for no other reason than the fact that the surrounding townships in Wayne County also have the right to vote for the buying of the toll roads. (Those townships: Dalton, Perry, Clay, Harrison, and Jackson [in Wayne County], and Liberty Township in Henry County.) If, for some reason, Jefferson Township residents vote not to buy the roads, but another connecting township does, then people will simply go around Jefferson Township. This takes trade away from Hagerstown, and money away from the township. Also, because the tax to pay for the toll roads will be assessed county-wide, Jefferson Township will be paying a tax for free pikes surrounding them, and still paying a toll to use the local roads.

Not only would the township be responsible for the upkeep of the newly purchased roads, the incorporated towns along the route would be as well. This allows the farmers along the route to not be the only ones responsible for the upkeep of the roads if they stay toll roads. “Under present law farmers must keep up their roads without any help from towns, cities or railways, and if they travel on the pikes, they must pay toll.” So, not only are the residents along the road responsible for maintenance, they are responsible for paying to use the very road they keep up.

Images of a street sign west of Hagerstown, Indiana, at SR 38
and Turn Pike Road, the original Richmond-Crawfordsville
State Road. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Needless to say, the editorial staff of the Hagerstown Exponent is all for the purchase of these roads. The major road connecting Hagerstown to the rest of the state was the Richmond-Crawfordsville State Road, connecting Richmond, Hagerstown, New Castle, Pendleton, Noblesville, Westfield, Lebanon and Crawfordsville. Part of this road was covered from a Pendleton point of view here. To this day, the road west of Hagerstown is still called “Turnpike Road.”

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