The Columbia Turnpike
The Columbia Turnpike West Gate Tollhouse located on Route 23B in the Town of Greenport, Columbia County, New York was added to the New York State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places in year 2000.
In 1799, the New York State Legislature approved the Charter for the Columbia Turnpike, a privately operated toll road between Hudson, New York and the Massachusetts border. A group of investors from Hudson had recognized the opportunity to profit from a better road to facilitate the movement of goods and farm products. People would pay to use a road that allowed for faster travel and more comfort and ease on their journey. Hudson was thriving as a key port for commerce via the river to the New York City area. Toll roads were profitable enterprises with dividends to the shareholders ranging from 1% to 5½%. The Charter listed required construction specifications for “road width of 50 feet with 24 to 28 feet of it bedded with a hard substance shaped in a convex manner to give it a solid foundation.”
While a distinct improvement over the rough roads that were the rule, the Columbia Turnpike was certainly not the equivalent of today’s paved roads. Once construction work was completed and inspected by the State, toll gates were erected and tolls charged. The Columbia Turnpike had three toll gates: the West Gate (on Route 23B near Spook Rock Road) pictured here; the Middle Gate in the vicinity of Martindale, and the East Gate in Hillsdale. Travelers using the Turnpike were required to pay unless they were specifically exempted by the Charter (such as for travel to and from church) or by petitioning for an exception. There were also specified fines for attempting to evade the toll by shunpiking, or evading the toll gate, or for toll takers who delayed travelers unreasonably. Turnpikes were thriving enterprises until more public roads were improved and the railroads began their ascendency.
The West Gate Toll House was built around 1800, of Becraft limestone mined from the adjacent Becraft Mountain. With stone walls nearly two feet thick, the house has been able to withstand the neglect and ravages of weather and time. It was the home of the toll collectors and their families from 1799 until 1907, when it was taken over by the County. It is the aim of the Greenport Historical Society to be able to restore the West Toll House and use it as a museum and educational center.