Madison County Historical Society


Turnpikes and Toll Houses


For 35 years after the establishment of Madison County in 1823, the only roads in the county were dirt.  But, in 1858, the era of turnpikes and toll roads constructed by private corporations was ushered in.  The concept, while new to the county, had been in the United States since the late 1700s when improved methods of road building were imported from England and France.  These early dirt toll roads, known as turnpikes, were inadequate as the dirt turned to mud during the wet seasons.  Alternative methods were needed and timber provided a solution, and it was plentiful.  They were called plank roads and the use of wood to construct a smooth road surface became popular.  Over time in Indiana, the cost of maintaining plank roads exceeded the toll revenue collected.  By the late 1850s, the preferred road surface became gravel since it was easy to work with and found in many parts of Indiana along stream beds and rivers.  It was during this period that turnpike building first began in Madison County.

Built By Businesses 

The turnpike construction was done by toll road companies which were organized by local businessmen and/or a prosperous farmer, and the organizers typically became officers of the new enterprise.  The company secured a charter from the state and issued shares of stock.  After construction was complete, the company built one or more toll houses or toll gates and the turnpike was ready to be used.  From 1858 to 1872, 15 gravel turnpikes were constructed in Madison County.  They ranged in distance from three and one-half miles to nine and one-half miles, covering a total distance of approximately 90 miles;  the cost to construct all 15 exceeded $125,000.

The first to be built was the Anderson & Alexandria in 1858.  It was built on the bed of the old Indianapolis State Road(1830) that ran north to Fort Wayne.  Its length was to be 10 miles but only a little more than half was completed.  Throughout Indiana a toll house and toll gate were usually constructed at each end of shorter toll roads with additional toll houses on longer routes.  Toll houses in Madison County do not appear to always follow that plan as placement appears to have been more random.  I have been able to identify 18 toll houses in the county, however, I feel certain there were more. 

The typical toll house was a small, unpainted frame single-story structure of two to four rooms suitable for family living.  It usually had a front porch bordering the road that kept the toll collector out of the elements while on duty.  The toll gate was nothing more than a long, slender tree trunk known as a sweep pole. 

The upright pole was placed on the far side of the road, mounted in a hinged post and was lowered by the toll gatekeeper with a rope tied to his end of the pole.  The lowered pole blocked the road until the gatekeeper received a toll and raised the gate for the traveler. 

 I know of only one picture of an original toll house in Madison County and that is shown on a postcard.  It is showing the old Moss Island Mill with the toll house beside it on Moss Island Road which was the Anderson & Perkinsville Pike.  The pike was constructed in 1866 at a cost of $11,200.  It began at the north side of the Moss Island Bridge and went west following today's Moss Island Road which becomes CR 350W to CR 250N;  then west to CR 400W;  then north to CR 300N; then west to CR 900W where there was a second toll house on the northeast corner of the intersection.  It then turned south to White River where it turned west making its way into Perkinsville.  There is a report of a toll house on 250N between 350W and 400W, but I have been unable to confirm this.

 Revenue Drop

The typical fee charged for use of the toll roads was 1 1/2 cents per mile and that included horse and rider.  The monthly pay of toll gatekeepers ranged from $10 to $25.  As the years went by, toll operators saw a drop in revenue collected and an increase in operating expenses, due primarily to the constant need to repair the gravel roadbeds.  The gradual demise of the gravel toll road can be attributed to more than just maintenance costs.  There was an increased public demand for improved roads beginning with the advent of the automobile and rural-free mail delivery.

In 1885, the legislature passed an act providing for the purchase of toll roads by the county commissioners in several counties in the state, whenever a majority of the voters were in favor of such a proposition.  Within five years after this law took effect, the people of Madison County had voted in favor of buying all the turnpikes and converting them into free gravel roads.

 Here, below, is a list of the 15 turnpikes in the order of their construction dates:

*Anderson & Alexandria - 1858

*Pendleton & New Castle - 1859

*Pendleton & Eden - 1862

*Anderson & Fishersburg - 1865

*Pendleton & Fishersburg - 1865

*Anderson & New Columbus Short Line - 1866

*Anderson & Perkinsville - 1866

*Lick Creek - 1867

*Pendleton & Noblesville - 1867

*Anderson & Lafayette - 1867

*Killbuck - 1867

*East Line Road/East Anderson & New Columbus - 1868

*Madison & Hancock - 1870

*Pendleton & Fall Creek - 1870

*Anderson & Hamilton - 1872

Avenues of Commerce

Some of our former turnpikes are more easily recognized by today's names.  The Anderson & Alexandria Turnpike is Alexandria Pike.  The Pendleton & New Castle and Pendleton & Noblesville Turnpikes are Indiana 38.

The Pendleton & Eden Turnpike is Indiana 9.  The Anderson & Fishersburg Turnpike is Indiana 32.

Indiana 132 was once the Pendleton & Fishersburg Turnpike while the Anderson & New Columbus Short Line Pike is Columbus Avenue in Anderson.

The East Line Road/East Anderson & New Columbus Turnpike is basically Scatterfield Road from Mounds Road south.

The Pendleton & Fall Creek Turnpike is Fall Creek Road, and the Anderson & Hamilton Turnpike is West Eighth Street Road to Hamilton.

Private toll roads have a significant place in Madison County history.  Much of the success of the county's economic development can be directly attributed to the net work of roads that crossed the county during the period of toll roads.  Their role was to link communities with each other providing avenues for the flow of commerce.  They did it well.

By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian   


Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|