Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 35
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: January 1997 Volume 35 Number 1, Pages 29–34
The Lincoln Highway: A Time of Transition
On August 26, 1913, Henry Joy sketched out the chosen route for the Lincoln Highway. "[It] would begin at Times Square on Broadway and Forty-Second street in New York City, and end at the Pacific ocean in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, California, 3389 miles west."
The 63-mile stretch of Lincoln Highway heading west out of Philadelphia for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1913 passed through the towns and communities of Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Villa Nova, Radnor, St. Davids, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwyn and Paoli after it left the city limits. [Note 1] Henry Joy, and The Lincoln Highway Association, had selected the existing Lancaster Turnpike road as the route for the Lincoln Highway. A local newspaper reported, "The Lancaster Pike was historically one of the oldest highways leading ... from Philadelphia to the western part of the State and was naturally chosen to be a unit of the [new] Lincoln Highway. " [Note 2]
The transition from trails and roads to highways was to start in Philadelphia, and by the late 1700s the need for an all weather road became very evident. The increasing traffic volume of Conestoga wagons, loaded with heavy cargo, traveling back and forth from Philadelphia to Lancaster daily on the pre-Revolutionary Provincial Road took its toll on the existing roadbed, making it almost impassible many days of the year. The proposed new Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike was privately financed by businessmen who believed that a new and modern all weather hard-surfaced toll road would be a profitable investment.
Therefore, the first toll road built in the area was the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, chartered by the State legislature in 1792 and opened for travel in 1794. From the day the road opened, both officially and unofficially, the new turnpike was referred to locally as the Lancaster Pike, a tradition that continues today.
The Lancaster Pike had a macadam crushed stone and gravel surface with toll gates established for collecting road fees along the highway's length from Philadelphia to Lancaster. In addition, guard houses were strategically located at key intersections to keep toll-dodgers from evading the toll gates and not making contribution to the company coffers.
Eighty-six years later, in 1880, the Lancaster Avenue Improvement Association, a company owned by an investment syndicate, of which Alexander J. Cassatt, a vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was a prime mover, [Note 3] purchased a section of the Lancaster Pike from the owners for $20,000. This section of the road began at Overbrook and ended 14 miles west in Paoli. Although it was never acknowledged, it seems that the purchasing strategy may have been to prevent the city trolley companies from extending their lines on the Lancaster Pike out into the suburbs and competing with the railroad for commuter passengers, This company would own and maintain the turnpike as a toll road until 1917. [Note 4]
By 1910, there were 180,000 cars registered in the U. S., and by 1930 there would be twenty-three million. The automobile was well established in 1912, but good roads, and that did not include the Lancaster Pike, had not kept up with the rapid increase in the number of automobiles. The road problems, and the increasing complaints resulted from the growing popularity of the automobile, and the demand for more and better roads without toll fees, was also part of the equation.
In the Philadelphia area, the local county governments and the Lancaster Pike were not the only ones being criticized. To the north of the city Old York Road, Doylestown Pike, Willow Grove Pike and Limekiln Pike, and to the west Montgomery Avenue and West Chester Pike, were still toll roads. As was pointed out in a 1916 newspaper story, "These toll roads are like the spokes of a wheel, radiating from the city in all directions. None of them are toll roads in the city limits, but once over the city line, however, and the automobilist has to make frequent stops for the purpose of paying tolls on all of them." [Note 5]
The grumbling from the public continued, with more newspaper articles observing that these toll roads and fees were "relics of a by-gone day" that had virtually been eliminated in New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
The April 17, 1917 edition of the Chester Times led with a column proclaiming "Free the Lincoln Highway" and went on to quote an unnamed official, "Pennsylvania is the one State on the route of the Lincoln Highway from coast to coast where a toll charge for the use of the road is made to the tourist, and the State has suffered much adverse criticism on this account. " [Note 6]
Since the Lancaster Pike crossed several county lines after leaving the Philadelphia city limits, the State Highway authority along with the three county governments were left to negotiate the purchase price for the approximate 14-mile section from Overbrook to Paoli. None of the parties involved in the negotiations wanted the case to go to trial in three separate county courts [Chester, Delaware, Montgomery] and let the selected juries decide the sale price that the State of Pennsylvania and the counties would have to pay the Lancaster Avenue Improvement Association for the turnpike.
The parties agreed to a sale price of $165,000 for the 14 miles of the Lancaster Pike, between the Philadelphia city limits and Paoli. This comparatively low amount - the selling party had been initially asking $300,000 - was finally agreed to by all parties when the Pennsylvania Railroad president interceded and exerted his influence by insisting that the road should be free from tolls. As a result of the sale, the Lancaster Avenue Improvement Association had twenty-nine years of toll fees, plus $165,000, to show for its efforts and initial investment of $20,000. [Note 7]
On July 21, 1917, the Ardmore Chronicle reported that the sale was completed on July 16, 1917. "The passing of the tolls that have tied up the Main Line for generations was attended by no brass-band enthusiasm, but there was considerable glee among residents in all the towns along the road as soon as the news got around." [Note 8]
Almost four years had passed since Henry Joy announced the route of the first transcontinental highway, and on this day, the Lincoln Highway and the Lancaster Pike were free of tolls along the Main Line, and the transition was complete.
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