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Origins of the Northwestern Turnpike

By Jennifer Wilt




It was in 1834 that construction began on the Doddridge County portion of the Northwestern Turnpike, then known as the 8th Western Section, now U.S. Route 50. But because of financing issues and cultural differences, this vital link to the west almost never happened. Although a traversable route through the northwestern region of Virginia was desperately needed for commerce and migration, it took nearly eight years to get the project underway. In this series we’ll revisit a few friends I’ve featured in previous articles and their experiences with the Northwestern Turnpike. 


Ned Jones on Turnpike

The need for a major roadway from the large eastern cities to the Ohio River seems obvious to us now. But before the Northwestern Turnpike came about, much lobbying, pleading, arguing and arm-twisting had to be done to convince the powers-that-be to allow it to be built. First, let’s get the viewpoint of the droll and seemingly omniscient Ned Jones, who in his 1901 book History of Smithburg wrote:


“In view of the growing importance of the trading post at Clarksburg, and the rapid influx of settlers, it became manifest to the leading spirits of the past that some kind of a road, be it ever so villainous, must be made from some point east of the mountains, to Clarksburg. … So a petition was gotten up setting forth the necessity of an appropriation to be made by the House of Delegates to make the survey and construct the road. This was signed by everybody -- most of them made their mark -- and sent to the capital.”


“Prior to the construction of the make-believe Northwestern Turnpike to Clarksburg and its partial completion to Parkersburg, its terminus, the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Alexandria were so far off that anyone having accidentally strayed to our settlement gave up all hope of ever getting back, so were compelled to settle down willy nilly. …”


“The opening of this road led to a very great deal of teaming and heavy teams constantly on the road, hauling dry goods from the eastern cities to Parkersburg or Vaucluse or to both places and bringing salt and groceries. Besides all the cattle and hogs of the west were driven over it and had to be fed in route to the eastern market. And I have seen as many as one hundred and fifty cattle and eight hundred head of hogs in a single drove and have known ten thousand head to pass over it in one week, and the distance covered per diem varied from three to twelve miles, very seldom reaching the latter.”


“You must understand that the Northwestern Turnpike was at the time I write of [1840s] a beautiful road, wide enough for coaches to pass almost any place and they did so on the run. The road was kept in perfect order and there was no stone that would pass through an inch ring was allowed upon it.”


Origins of the Turnpike

To better understand how the turnpike came about, we have to go back to the original legislative petitions and surveys. On October 24, 1825, at a public meeting in Harrison County, which included most of present-day Doddridge County, a committee was appointed to ask the General Assembly of Virginia to pass a law “creating a joint stock company to construct a road from Wood County to Winchester.”


A portion of the request reads, “Your committee supposes also, that if such a road were constructed, that the state of Ohio would immediately construct a road from the mouth of Muskingum river to intersect the contemplated extension of the National road from Wheeling, through that State, and by this means, the road proposed would become the principal thoroughfare to and from the States of Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.”


At the same time, a committee representing "various counties in the North Western part of Virginia" submitted a request written by attorney Philip Doddridge to the General Assembly asking "that the public Engineer mark and explore a road connecting the town of Winchester or some other suitable point with some suitable point in the counties of Tyler and Wood on the Ohio River."


Surveys of Claudius Crozet

Two years earlier, Claudius Crozet had become the principal engineer for the Virginia Board of Public Works. In response to the above requests, Crozet was assigned in 1826 to investigate the feasibility of building a route through the proposed counties that would connect the eastern counties of Virginia with the Ohio River. When Crozet reached Clarksburg he made two surveys from there to the Ohio River: one via Sistersville, and the other via Parkersburg. 


I recently had the opportunity to view those early surveys on microfilm at the West Virginia State Archives & Library in Charleston. The surveys are very detailed, showing precisely where several well-known Doddridge and Tyler county settlers lived, including Charles Wells, William Underwood, Thomas Bond, Samuel Underwood, Gideon Roberts, Christian Ash and Joshua Allen. They also show locations such as Yankee Town, Riggins Run, Battle Fork, Robinson Fork, Skelton’s Camp and Elk Horn Gap.


Upon completion of Crozet’s survey, the General Assembly of Virginia on February 28, 1827 incorporated the Northwestern Road Company to build a road from Winchester to some point on the Ohio River between Muskingum and Little Kanawha rivers. However, when they were not able to secure enough stock subscriptions, the endeavor failed. 

Regional Animosity Emerges

By 1828 Virginia’s northwestern counties were becoming increasingly impatient with the seeming indifference of the Virginia General Assembly in faraway Richmond. Harrison, Hampshire, Preston and Winchester counties submitted a petition to the General Assembly expressing their frustration with the ever-widening cultural and economic divide that existed between northwestern Virginia and its southeastern counterpart. The animosity that was brewing then between the two regions of Virginia was destined to continue, eventually resulting in the creation of the state of West Virginia in 1863. The 1828 petition reads:


“Your memorialists hope that this indifference to their just claims has not proceeded from any premeditated design on the part of their Southern and Eastern brethren to oppress and impoverish them, but from a want of knowledge of the interests and wishes of the North-Western section of the State. Your memorialists will therefore request your attention to this, their petition, which has the recommendation of the governor of the Commonwealth and the distinguished Engineer of the State who made a survey of the country between the valley and the river Ohio under the direction of the Board of Public Works to sustain it. 


“... But without the means of interchange of thought or a political or commercial intercourse, how can the people living west of the mountains ever feel towards those on the East as brethren; they never will and never can, but they must feel themselves as they pretty generally do, offcasts and aliens. 


“As the matter now stands they are drawn to Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio where they are daily forming connections which must eventually prove highly prejudicial to the interests of Virginia, unless as a mother, she extends to them that protection and patronage they have a right to expect. ... 


“Another great evil resulting to Virginia from the want of this road is evident to all who pass through our country and distressing to those who inhabit it. It is this, our country is depopulating every day and our western neighbors increasing in strength and wealth at our expense. Your petitioners deem it needless to say more, and trusting to the patriotism and high-minded liberality of the Legislature of the State, pray that provision may be made for the completing of the road... At any rate it will have a happy effect of allaying sectional jealousies and making us a united and happy people.”


After languishing for four years, the Assembly finally came up with a creative way to move the project forward. In 1831 the General Assembly made the road a public affair and undertook the construction of the road, which they called the Northwestern Turnpike. The Governor was appointed President of the Northwestern Turnpike Company, which was vested with the power to borrow money on the credit of the State.


Randolph County Rebuffed

Not everyone was happy with the planned route of the Northwestern Turnpike, which ran through the present-day counties of Frederick (VA), Hampshire, Mineral, Grant, Garrett (MD), Preston, Taylor, Harrison, Doddridge, Ritchie and Wood. On December 10, 1831 Randolph County begged the Virginia Legislature to rethink the proposed route because they feared there was a plot afoot to promote the interests of northwestern Virginia and Maryland at the expense of eastern Virginia. It reads:


“The present location, it will be seen, is very considerably north of a direct line from Winchester to Parkersburg, the contemplated point on the Ohio River. ...That the location is impolitic and only calculated to benefit a few of the counties through which the road will pass, to the injury of the balance of the Northwestern counties and even the whole state, is manifested in this; that the present location is through a portion of the state of Maryland, thereby making a turnpike road exclusively to benefit another state at the expense of our own.


“And what will be the consequences? Why as soon as the road is made, the people or legislature of that state will intersect it with roads well made and turnpikes leading and directing the western and Ohio trade to their commercial cities or towns. And is Virginia then to be duped? No, we trust not. … But it will at once be seen that if the road should pass through any part of the state of Maryland that the great object the Legislature had in view in appropriating a large sum of money for the purpose of making said road is entirely defeated; we mean the uniting or connecting the Northwestern counties with the middle counties or the great Shenandoah Valley by the intervention of a good turnpike.


“It is perhaps known to every member of your Honorable body that the North-western Counties for a length of time have almost considered themselves as alienated from the state. They have either sent their produce down the Ohio River at a great risk or to the Northern markets at a vast expense, and all because there was no means by which they could get to any of the principal places of Commerce in Virginia. But now that the effort has been made, it seems that we are to be gulled and a considerable sum of money to be expended in making a road through another State; and for what? Why for the purpose of now effectually severing the ties that unite us; and to identify ourselves and interests with Maryland.“


But Randolph County did not  prevail. I assume the Assembly saw it for what it really was, an attempt by Randolph County to get the route changed so that the turnpike would run through their county and they could reap the benefits and prosperity that a new road brings to a community.


Next week I’ll tell you more about the construction of the Northwestern Turnpike through Doddridge County and the many pitfalls along the way. Three men who became intimately knowledgeable of our tricky terrain were chief engineer Claudius Crozet, engineer Charles B. Shaw, and the down-on-his-luck general contractor from Clarksburg, Phineas Chapin.


We left off last week in 1831 when the Virginia General Assembly organized the Northwestern Turnpike Company to build a turnpike from Winchester, Virginia to the Ohio River, roughly following the path of present-day U.S. Route 50. After much debate, it was determined in 1833 that the terminus of the turnpike would be on the Ohio River at Parkersburg. Since my current focus is on the turnpike as it pertains to Doddridge County, I will only be writing about the construction of the 8th Western Section, which was started in 1834 and ran directly through the center of present-day Doddridge County. 


You may recall a character from another of my articles, Phineas Chapin of Clarksburg, a good-hearted soul who had a propensity to get himself into financial difficulties. We will now revisit Phineas and investigate his role in financing and overseeing the construction of the 8th Western Section, an ill-advised undertaking that eventually led him to debtors prison. 


Family Connection in Richmond

When Phineas Chapin learned that the Northwestern Turnpike Company was seeking bids for building various sections of the turnpike, he turned to his wife’s influential nephew, Charles S, Morgan, for help. Charles S. Morgan was elected to terms in the Virginia House of Delegates (1821-1824) and Virginia Senate (1824-1831) before serving a 27-year tenure as Superintendent of the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond. The following is from a letter written by Phineas Chapin and John Sommerville to Charles S. Morgan, dated July 1, 1834, asking Charles to recommend them for the turnpike contract:


“We take the liberty to address you on a subject of no small importance to us, and one in which we are extremely anxious to engage your friendly services. Your familiar intercourse with the Executive and the other members of the Board of Public Works will enable you, if you feel a freedom to do so, to render us material aid in the accomplishment of our object. …


“Our allusion, you will no doubt have anticipated, is to contract on the N.W. Turnpike Road through this county. We need not say anything to you touching our habits of industry, perseverance and undertakings, qualifications, etc. Your knowledge of us will dictate everything necessary to be said or done on that branch of the subject.”


Phineas Wins Contract

That is the last mention that I found of John Sommerville regarding the turnpike, so I’m not sure if he had a hand in building the turnpike or not. But Charles must have been successful with his pleas to the Board of Public Works, because Phineas Chapin did win the bid. This was his first foray into such a project, and he wisely subcontracted the actual construction of the 8th Western Section of the Northwestern Turnpike to Richard B. Farr and Franz Kidwell.


But as with most everything that Phineas touched, things soon turned to chaos, and he once more sought the help of the well-connected Charles S. Morgan. In a letter from Phineas to Charles, dated November 21, 1835, we learn that not everyone was pleased with the quality of the work being done on the turnpike’s 8th Section:


“I understand that Mr. Brown, Engineer from Richmond, who was out on our section a short time since, found a great deal of fault with our road. I did not learn what were his objections to it, but would like to know. Mr. Brown is a man I respect, but I do think he has either harbored some unfriendly feeling towards those who are engaged on the 8th Section or else he has labored under a weight of erroneous impressions received through improper or unfriendly channels. All other persons except Mr. Brown, whose opinions I had an opportunity of knowing, have spoke of our road as being equal, if not superior, to any part of the turnpike that has yet been completed. We are progressing as well as could be expected, considering the scarcity of hands.”


We will soon learn the nature of the problems identified by the engineer from Richmond.


In a letter written by Phineas Chapin on January 9, 1836, he made a reference to the bridge over Middle Island Creek, so we know that the West Union bridge had already been built prior to that date. But that bridge was destined to be washed away in November 1837 by a flood that also destroyed Squire Sayre’s grist and saw mill. It was soon replaced by the iconic covered bridge that remained a West Union landmark until swept away in the Flood of 1950.


Phineas Broke, Threatens to Quit

By August 1836, unforeseen complications left Phineas Chapin in financial straits and seeking compensation from the Northwestern Turnpike Company. In a letter to Charles S. Morgan, he asked that Charles lobby on his behalf, even threatening to abandon the project if he did not receive the help he needed.


“I must thank you to lay the matter before the Board and procure their action thereon, and if you please, procure their answer to be delivered to you. When they have done so will thank you to forward it to me by the first mail.


“If they do not take some measures calculated to aid or facilitate my operations on the 8th Section, you are authorized to state to them that the work will be abandoned. Whereas if they will consent to do what is reasonable and proper, the work can be carried on and finished as soon and perhaps sooner than the other sections.”


Legislative Petition by Phineas Chapin

When Phineas did not get the relief he needed from the turnpike company, he took matters to the next level. A petition to the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond was written by Phineas Chapin on October 17, 1836. The petition described a myriad of problems and grievances, including that he had been misled as to the true cost of doing the work, due largely to the hilly terrain requiring deep side cuts that resulted in many slips requiring repair; that the contract stipulated the width of the roadway to be 18 feet, but that he was required to increase it to 21 feet; and that the unexpected work and expense had caused him to go deeply into personal debt and to utilize, without compensation, his own equipment, animals and slaves. Phineas clearly had the local populace on his side. An astounding 584 men from Harrison County, many from present-day Doddridge County, signed the petition, which reads in part as follows:


“...Your petitioner in the year 1834 was induced to undertake the construction of the 8th section of the N.W. Turnpike Road. It was represented to your petitioner by those who had examined the ground and who were well skilled in the business of road making that thirty hands with a suitable proportion of teams could make a mile each month on an average, and that taking one mile with another, the whole section would cost no more than $400 a mile. Your petitioner… undertook the said 8th section at the price of $564 per mile.


“At the time your petitioner commenced this work wages were low, provisions cheap and everything seemed to promise a fair compensation to the contractor. …your petitioner believes he could have finished his contract in a reasonable time at a fair compensation if it had not been for the slips hereinafter mentioned. Your petitioner was aware that the first mile would be a heavy one. That it would cost more than the average price for making a mile, but he had no conception that it would cost as much as it actually did. It being for a considerable distance a deep cut through solid rock. The presumption was, from the best estimates he was able to make, that it would cost not less than $1,000. Your petitioner is now convinced, and he thinks it will appear evident from the papers accompanying this petition, that the first mile was not finished for less than $1,500. It was commenced in December 1834 and was not finished ...until in July 1835. During all that time, it will be seen by reference to the check roles, that your petitioner had a strong force of hands up to the 4th of July 1835. ...There may have been some considerable work done on the second mile previous to the 4th of July, but it must be recollected that wages and provisions had before that time taken a rise ...almost all other kinds of provisions had nearly doubled in price. 


“...It is true that the succeeding miles were none of them as heavy as the first, but your petitioner can safely say that he has made no mile on that section at an expense of less than between $800 and $900. He has finished nine miles, and five of those nine exclusive of the first, have cost him from $1,000 to $1,200 each per mile.


“Independent of the difficulties which your petitioner had to encounter from the rise of wages and provisions, he was put to great expense and labor from a source which he had never contemplated and which could not have been foreseen or taken into the calculation in forming an estimate of the work beforehand. Much of the road made by your petitioner was in deep side cuts. When the road is finished in these places the bank gives way frequently, nearly fills up the road again. It is much more difficult to remove the slips than it was to remove so much earth in its natural state. It would require as much labor to remove one cubic yard of slipped earth as it would be to remove two or three of the natural earth; and your petitioner has no hesitation in saying that he firmly believes that on some of the miles he finished the taking out of the slips cost him more than half as much as the making of the mile in the first instance. The labor of removing these slips was never taken into the estimate in forming the contract. It never could have been. The fact is obvious from the very nature of the case.


“Your petitioner continued to progress with the work until he exhausted all his means. He has been compelled to go deeply in debt to procure the funds necessary to carry on the work. In order to secure those debts, he has been under the necessity of pledging all his property, which must be sold at a great sacrifice under the hammer unless your honorable body will grant relief.


“Your petitioner continued the work as long as his funds and credit lasted. Unwilling that the laborers should go unrewarded, he borrowed money to pay them off and gave a lien on all he possessed to secure the sum borrowed. He has other debts to a large amount, which have grown out of his construction of the 8th section and his property, if sold at public sale, will not be sufficient to pay them. He will not only lose the difference between the cost of making the road and the amount of the contract price, but also the 15% retained in the hands of the Board.


“...Your petitioner has sustained an actual loss of $611.61. In this estimate he has charged nothing for his own or his son's services, both of which have been exclusively engaged in the business a great portion of the time. In the above estimate your petitioner has not taken into the account anything for the use of horses, oxen, tools, etc. He has had from eight to ten horses, five yoke of oxen, an ox cart, 2 one-horse carts and two waggons generally engaged, not always in employment, but in readiness whenever needed on the road. If any charge at all was to be made for the horses and oxen, it could not be reasonably less than 6 cents each a day for every day they were employed and your petitioner is confident that during the two years they were employed 500 days each, at the least calculation.


“Your petitioner has not in the above amount taken into the estimate the labor of his own slaves, four and sometimes five of which have been continually engaged on the road. They have been worth on average $4 a month. ...


“In addition to the statement made in the above petition, your memorialist further states that by the contract entered into between the Superintendent and the original contractors for the construction of the 8th section, it was understood that the road was to be made only 18 feet wide, whereas in truth and in fact the superintendents have required all the road to be made 21 feet wide. By this Act it is provided that the width of said road may be varied so that it shall not exceed 18 feet, nor be less than 12 feet. No one, it is believed, could have ever conceived from the reading of this law that all the road was to be made 21 feet wide. These three additional feet in a deep side cut adds nearly one third to the labor of making an 18 foot road."


Phineas in Debtors Prison

I don’t know the exact outcome of his case, but it’s obvious from the following letter from Phineas Chapin to Charles S. Morgan, dated March 3, 1838, that Phineas either didn’t get relief from the Assembly or it was not enough to cover his debts. 


"... I have been in the prison bounds till now, ever since last June. The creditor who had me taken has released me by my securing to him one half the debt payable in one and two years. I am now determined to make a vigorous effort to pay my debts.”


Next week I will conclude my series on the construction of the Northwestern Turnpike, the 8th Section of which through present-day Doddridge County presented unforeseen challenges for everyone involved.


This is the third and final installment in my series on the origins of the Northwestern Turnpike in Doddridge County. My primary sources for these articles have been legislative petitions on file at the Library of Virginia, as well as original hand-drawn engineering surveys located now on microfilm at the West Virginia State Archives Library in Charleston. I’ll start this concluding article with a brief recap of the first two parts.


The impetus for building such a roadway originated in 1825 with legislative petitions by several of the affected counties. In Harrison County, which included most of present-day Doddridge County, a committee was appointed to ask the General Assembly of Virginia to pass a law “creating a joint stock company to construct a road from Wood County to Winchester.” The following year, engineer Claudius Crozet of the Virginia Board of Public Works was assigned to investigate the feasibility of building a route that would connect the eastern counties of Virginia with the Ohio River. When Crozet reached Clarksburg he made two surveys from there to the Ohio River: one via Sistersville, and the other via Parkersburg. But then, largely for political reasons, it took a few years for construction to actually begin.


The project finally got the green light from the Virginia General Assembly in 1831 when the Northwestern Turnpike Company was authorized to build a turnpike from Winchester to the Ohio River, roughly following the path of present-day U.S. Route 50. In 1833 it was decided that the terminus of the turnpike on the Ohio River would be at Parkersburg. Construction of the turnpike’s 8th Western Section, which ran directly through the center of present-day Doddridge County, was started in 1834. The contract for the 8th Section was awarded to Clarksburg entrepreneur Phineas Chapin, who soon found that the difficulty and expense of the job far exceeded his estimates. As a result he essentially went bankrupt and was confined to debtors prison from June 1837 to March 1838. By the time of his release, the entire Northwestern Turnpike from Winchester to Parkersburg had been completed. 


Final Route Decided

As mentioned, in the original survey Chief Engineer Claudius Crozet mapped out two routes from Clarksburg to the Ohio River. After much deliberation, it was decided that the turnpike would terminate at the Ohio River in Parkersburg because that created a more direct route to Cincinnati. That decision resulted in the Northwestern Turnpike being routed through West Union, rather than through Middlebourne in Tyler County.


In an 1833 annual report to the Virginia Legislature, Engineer Charles B. Shaw described the precise path of the Northwestern Turnpike’s 8th Section. In it he speaks of Middle Island Hill, known today as Jaco Hill. His report, which contains references to several other recognizable Doddridge County landmarks, provides a detailed description of the entire length of the turnpike through Doddridge, starting at the west-most point on the Ritchie border (at George Husher’s Hill) and proceeding eastward through West Union toward Harrison County:


“From Clarksburg to Salem is 13 1/4 miles, and thence by the survey to Parkersburg is 66 miles; no obstacle is found on this route until after crossing Middle Island creek. Middle Island hill where it crossed, is of very formidable character, though said to be less difficult elsewhere. 


“The 8th section keeps, for some distance, the left or north bank of Hughes's river, thence crosses Husher's hill, descends to Dotson's run [in Greenwood], and ascends the latter and one of its southeasterly prongs, passing over high yet good ground, and, with small grades to Lick run [Claylick Run]; follows Lick run to its discharge into Arnold's creek, and thence ascends Pritchett's [Pritchard's] run to a remarkable depression in Middle Island hill. ... 


“Descending Middle Island hill, and keeping the left side of Doe run, we finally cross it, and the tongue of land dividing it from Middle Island creek, and pass the latter at a favourable point for bridging.


“Middle Island creek is rocky and crooked, and much embarrassed the location; several of the bends were, however, cut off without disadvantage to the grade, and by dint of patience, the numerous difficulties were overcome, and a location accomplished out of reach from the high floods of this creek and the Buckeye run fork; the latter is followed to the mouth of Buckeye run, which last valley is pursued to its head at the ridge which divides the waters of the Ohio and Monongalia [Monongahela] rivers. ...


“This is the end of the 8th section - length 23 miles and 19 4 pole chains.”


Turnpike Tolls Too High?

Before the turnpike was even finished, local farmers, merchants and businessmen in all the affected counties were seeking a reduction in turnpike tolls, which were outlined in the original charter. They felt that the tolls were too high and more in line with tolls charged on roads that cost four or five times more to construct than the Northwestern Turnpike, a road that was usable for only half the year. They also felt that the crops and goods they were transporting were far less valuable than the wares transported on turnpikes in the southern portion of Virginia and therefore they should be charged lower tolls. A portion of their 1835 Legislative Petition reads:


“...For there can be no justice in exacting as high tolls upon a cheap road as upon one of quadruple the cost, and especially where, as in this case, the cheaper road is for nearly half the year but little better than a common country road. But the staple of the country is a matter which deserves to be equally considered. In a tobacco or cotton growing region the value of the product will justify high tolls, but where, as in North Western Virginia, the staple is of small value in proportion to its bulk and weight, every dollar added to or subtracted from the transportation becomes an object of serious importance.”


The petition goes on to describe another grievance, this one regarding the locations of the toll gates. The petitioners were unhappy because the toll gates were placed every 20 miles, which meant that those traveling shorter distances would still have to pay the entire toll for that section, no matter how short their trip. The petitioners requested that toll gates be placed every five miles and that the toll fees be adjusted accordingly. From the known locations of toll gates, I doubt that the gates were ever closer than 10 to 20 miles apart. 


Another part of the charter they considered "defective and vexatious" was that there was no provision to exempt local residents from having to pay tolls when using the road to go shopping or attend church. I do not know whether such exemptions ever came about. 


Upkeep of the Turnpike

In an 1839 report to the General Assembly of Virginia, Claudius Crozet explained why it was so important to keep the turnpike in good working condition at all times. He worried that if the Northwestern Turnpike was not traversable year-round, people would choose instead to travel the well-established National Road, which ran from Baltimore through Cumberland to Wheeling and beyond. Crozet’s report said:


“While the road is acknowledged to be one of the most pleasant and easy to travel in good weather, still there are portions of it which become impassable in very wet seasons, and should be capped. 


“...The importance of keeping this road at all seasons in perfect order, will be evident when it is considered that it now runs parallel to the National Turnpike, but offers to the traveller a shorter line as well as a more easily graded and smoother surface. There was last season a well patronized line of stages on it, and there is every probability of a double daily line next year, besides the increased amount of wagoning. But if the road should not be made passable at all times, it must be abandoned for the National road, and thus a revenue lost far exceeding the interests on the amounts requisite to put it in perfect order. 


“The Middle Island creek bridge stood firm for six months, but upon the reappearance of summer heat, the green oak of that country with which it was built began to shrink and the joints to get loose in consequence of which it swagged a few inches: it has since been restored to its camber and tightened.”


Fate of the Turnpike

The Northwestern Turnpike traversed much rugged terrain in rural areas, so maintenance and upkeep were always an issue. Shortly after the opening of the turnpike, laws were passed to limit the weight and time of year wagons were permitted to travel on it. They were prohibited from traveling the turnpike from November to May, or at any time when the road was wet or muddy. 


With the establishment of regular stage coach and wagon routes, the Northwestern Turnpike became a major thoroughfare for passenger travel and commerce for over a decade-and-a-half. But with the opening of the railroad from Clarksburg to Parkersburg in 1856, its usefulness and patronage started to decline and less revenue was collected in tolls. This meant less money for maintenance and upkeep. During the Civil War and the turbulent years that followed, little to no work was done on the turnpike. According to Ned Jones, “The road, bad as it was and it was as bad as it well could be, was a great temporary relief to all of Harrison County, except such parts of it as what was not known to the inhabitants at all.”


Periodic maintenance kept the turnpike in use for many more years, but it never regained the popularity it had in its early years. In the twentieth century, with a few variations, the Northwestern Turnpike became US Route 50 (now Old Route 50), and later US Route 50 Corridor D.


Had it not been for the Northwestern Turnpike, little towns like West Union, Salem and Pennsboro might never have blossomed as they did. Such small towns sprang up all along the path of the turnpike, creating centers of trade and residential communities, and serving as connecting dots for the burgeoning B. & O. Railroad that followed soon after.

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