Why are American roads called turnpikes?

Answered by Antonio Sutton

American roads are called turnpikes because of their historical origins. Back in the early days of America, roads were not publicly funded and maintained like they are today. Instead, they were often owned and operated by private companies or individuals. These private road owners needed a way to generate revenue to cover the costs of construction and maintenance, so they introduced tolls.

To collect these tolls, tollhouses were set up along the road, typically at regular intervals. When travelers approached a tollhouse, they would have to pay a fee or toll to continue their journey. This toll was often paid at a turnstile, which was a barrier that could be turned or rotated to allow passage. The turnstile was usually made of a pike or pole on an axle, hence the term “turnpike.”

The turnpike system was a way for the private road owners to recoup their expenses and make a profit. By charging tolls, they could fund the ongoing maintenance of the road, ensuring that it remained in good condition for travelers. It was a common practice in early America, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The term “turnpike” itself has its roots in British English. In Britain, the term referred to a barrier or gate across a road that could be turned to allow or restrict access. This gate was often operated by a toll collector who would charge a fee for passage. When the concept of privately owned and operated roads made its way to America, the term “turnpike” was adopted to describe these toll roads.

Today, the term “turnpike” is still used in some parts of the United States to refer to toll roads. However, the modern turnpikes are typically publicly owned and operated, unlike the early turnpikes that were privately owned. These roads may still have tolls, but the revenue generated goes towards maintaining the road and funding infrastructure projects rather than generating profits for private owners.

American roads are called turnpikes because of their historical association with tolls and turnstiles. The term originated from British English and was adopted in America to describe the privately owned and operated roads that required tolls for passage. Although the modern turnpike system has evolved, the term still persists in some areas to refer to toll roads.