1809: The Stage is Set for a New Turnpike in the Mid-Atlantic Region

January 24, 1809

The New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike Company was chartered in Delaware to provide a needed trade and travel route in that region of the United States. The original commissioners selected to oversee this company were George Read, James Riddle, Kensey Johns, James McCalmont, and Jesse Higgins. This company was likewise chartered in neighboring Maryland about a year later. 

By the early 19th century, Delaware found itself strategically located between several of the new nation’s major population centers. Those traveling along the Eastern Seaboard from such heavily populated areas as New York City and Philadelphia, for example, often had to go through Delaware to reach places like Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Overland treks across Delaware were challenging and time-consuming due to the poor roads there, however, and travel by water involved a 300-mile (482.8-kilometer)-long journey around the Delmarva Peninsula. 

The chief objective of those building the turnpike was to offer an easier and quicker means of transportation locally, and within a few years that route stretched from New Castle, Delaware, on the Delaware Bay to Old Frenchtown Wharf, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay. Some of the communities that the turnpike traversed between those two points were Hares Corner, State Road, and Glasgow in Delaware.

The New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike proved to be especially advantageous for Glasgow, with many more travelers than before stopping there to spend time and money at such establishments at Aiken’s Tavern in the central section of the community. This part of Glasgow is now called Aiken’s Tavern Historic District, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. (The above photo taken in 1978 features a portion of that historic district located near the intersection of present-day U.S. Route 40 and Delaware Route 896.)

While the turnpike proved to be an overall success – or at least a notable improvement over previous travel options in that part of the world – it was ultimately decided in the late 1820s to authorize the construction of a railroad line as the new leading means of transportation along that route. Both Maryland and Delaware therefore each took legislative action to expand the rights of those original charters to include that more modern mode of transportation. The enterprise was subsequently renamed the New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike and Rail Road Company. 

The end result of those legislative changes was one of the earliest railroads in the United States. The New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike and Rail Road, which opened in 1831, became the first railroad to run through Delaware.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on the New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike, please check out http://www.pencaderheritage.org/main/landmarks/phland_p19.html

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