Murrysville historical society speaker will mark Northern Turnpike 200th anniversary
Author Charles Hall will discuss the history of the Northern Turnpike at the next Murrysville Historical Preservation Society meeting Monday, touching on a cross-state path originally completed in 1819.
This year marks the Northern Turnpike’s 200th anniversary, and the Tribune-Review’s archives contain quite a bit of information about the road’s history.
On March 20, 1787, the Pennsylvania Assembly proposed a road between the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River and the Conemaugh River, crossing into Westmoreland County near Blairsville and continuing through New Alexandria, Salem Crossroads (now Delmont), and Franklin Township (now Murrysville) to Pittsburgh.
This east-west route was originally known as Frankstown Road.
Later, the Harrisburg, Lewistown, Huntingdon and Pittsburgh Turnpike Company was chartered to build a new highway over this route. The road was called the Northern Turnpike, and somewhat paralleled the earlier Forbes Road. At the same time, another company was formed to build a turnpike over a more southern route through Greensburg; it was known as the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike, or Pennsylvania Road, approximating the later route of the Lincoln Highway.
There was competition between these companies to obtain the necessary funding, and this rivalry delayed road construction. It wasn’t until 1818 that portions of the Northern Turnpike were opened for travel; it was finally completed in 1819. The town of Murrysville was founded in 1820, a year after the road was constructed through Franklin Township.
The road was, basically, a widened dirt and stone pathway, enabling passengers and goods to be hauled between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Conestoga wagons, stagecoaches, wagons drawn by oxen, men and women on horseback, droves of cattle and sheep passed by or stopped for the night at bustling inns along the turnpike.
The name “turnpike” originated from the use of a pole or “pike” being placed across the road at a tollhouse, preventing the traveler from passing until the toll was paid. When the pole was turned, the traveler was permitted to pass through. Tollgates were, generally, placed at 10- to 12-mile intervals on the Northern Turnpike and toll rates depended on the items being shipped.
Salem Crossroads, later known as New Salem, and finally as Delmont, was a stagecoach stop along the Northern Turnpike. A north-south road, originally known as the Greensburg-Kittanning Pike (now Route 66) was built around 1800. The Northern Turnpike was completed through the town in 1818, forming a busy crossroads.
A Salem Crossroads tollgate was once located along what is now West Pittsburgh Street at the intersection with Tollgate Lane.
As recently as the 1950s, one of the old Northern Turnpike milestones could still be seen inside the fence at Export’s Orthodox Church; the stone advised travelers it was 22 miles to Pittsburgh. The church is now a private residence along Kennedy Avenue; the milestone, like the old road, is no longer there.
Hall’s presentation will be at 7 p.m. Monday at the Murrysville Community Center, 3091 Carson Ave.
For more, see MurrysvilleHistory.org.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .