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Civil War Site Massachusetts Route 1

  • Route 1 at State Line Rowley, MA 01969

Was it the ‘profit motive’ that inspired a group of influential Newburyport investors to apply for a turnpike charter in 1802? A year later a company was formed and officers were elected. Shortly thereafter, a working survey was made and the turnpike was staked out. The road far exceeded its projected cost of $500,000 and was completed about 1805. There are about 4 miles of this famous road in Saugus. Originally a dirt road, the project was thought by many to be a waste of money. The idea of constructing a straight road from Newburyport to the Chelsea Bridge was intended to help Newburyport outstrip its commercial rival Salem in creating a direct connection to the prosperous Boston metropolis. Many noteworthy people have traveled the road; some on foot and many in automobiles. Henry Wilson, who was to become Vice-President in the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, once walked barefoot on this road to get a job and stayed overnight in North Saugus. Several years later, as fate will have it, Wilson, who was then a U.S. Senator, led the 22nd Massachusetts regiment over this road at the outbreak of the Civil War. One unanticipated problem involved with this new road was collecting tolls. The first toll house of the three built was located in Saugus near the Miniature Golf Course. For many years, Cornelius Felton lived with his family at this location and was responsible for the collecting of tolls. His son, Cornelius Conway Felton, later became the President of Harvard College. The topography of the new road was very challenging with intervening hills, valleys, bogs, woodlands, marshes, steep rocks, and waterways. Swamps were filled, ledges were blasted, bridges were built out of stone and nine hills had to be removed in order to complete the job. The company of underwriters had to pay great sums for land damages incurred during construction. More than 300 laborers working in teams along the way and animals such as oxen and horses were used to build the road. The toll rate was about 25 cents for a carriage with four wheels and four horses. A single horse and vehicle paid 10 cents, a man on a horseback 5 cents, and foot passengers went free. Cattle, sheep, and swine paid 3 cents a dozen. Military travelers and people going to places of worship paid no toll. Hammered stone posts were used for milestones and were placed on the west side of the turnpike route. Two grand hotels were built, one in Lynnfield and one in Topsfield, to accommodate the anticipated travelers.