Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives
by Pat Melville 

Information about roads in Baltimore County for the years 1765-1794 can be found in the laws of the General Assembly, available through Archives of Maryland Online, and through the administrative proceedings of the Baltimore County Court as found in (Minutes) in series C386. 

Baltimore County was the first local jurisdiction authorized to levy taxes for road maintenance and to establish turnpikes. Ch. 24 of the Acts of 1766 substituted the employment of hired labor in place of the compulsory attendance of taxable inhabitants required by the existing law. In addition, the overseers appointed to maintain roads were provided with a salary on a per diem basis. The county justices were given the power to impose taxes to fund these maintenance expenses. 

The county courts also acted on petitions to lay out private roads and to establish, alter, and close public roads. Responsibility for the latter activities began to shift in Baltimore County in 1787 with legislation (Ch. 23) for a system of turnpikes. The preamble outlined the somewhat lofty purposes of the law:

        Whereas the public roads leading from
        Baltimore-town to the western parts of 
        this state, by means of the great number
        of wagons, that use the same, are 
        rendered almost impassable during the 
        winter season, and the ordinary method
        of repairing the said roads is not only 
        insufficient, but exceedingly 

        burthensome; and the establishment of 
        several turnpike roads in the said county 
        would greatly reduce the price of land-
        carriage of produce and merchandise, 
        and raise the value of the land in the 
        said county, and considerably 
        increase the commerce of the state

The roads to be built possessed two of the three usual characteristics of a turnpike: improvement of the road beds and establishment of toll gates. Construction and subsequent management was entrusted not to a private company, but to public officials. The legislation authorized five turnpikes and specified the general routes, each to be 66' wide - Baltimore toward Frederick, Baltimore to Reisterstown, Reisterstown to Winchester Town, Reisterstown towards Hanover, and Baltimore towards York. The law even directed the order of completion with the road to Reisterstown first and then the road towards York for eighteen miles, the road towards Frederick as far as the county line, and the rest of the road towards York. 

Three or five commissioners were appointed for each turnpike to examine, survey, lay out, and mark the road bed. The oversight body consisted of commissioners of review, specifically Otho Holland Williams, Charles Ridgely of William, Benjamin Nicholson, James Gittings, and Daniel Bowley. The turnpike commissioners filed their surveys,
remarks, and observations with the review
body for examination. That body could confirm, correct, or alter the returns and then have three certificates and plats made-one for

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the county clerk, one for the commissioners of Baltimore Town, and one for the turnpike commissioners to construct the road.
These survey records and the files of the various commissioners have not been located and probably are no longer extant. 

Funding for the turnpikes came from taxes levied to pay for damages to landowners and from tolls, supplemented by taxes, to pay for construction. The review commissioners were authorized to borrow against anticipated toll collections. 

Within three years, the General Assembly began to expand the duties of the review commissioners by giving them oversight over the establishment and construction of other roads authorized by law. Such roads were the subject of six pieces of legislation between 1782 and 1789, and seven between 1790 and 1793. 

Many of the laws dealt with public roads sought by one or only a few individuals who were made responsible for the expenses of construction and for damages to landowners. Roads to be laid out included the following: 

  • from Philip Shoal's mill in Baltimore    County to the main road from Frederick Town to Baltimore Town, at a point between Mansell's and Hood's taverns in Anne Arundel County (Ch. 11, Acts  of 1782) 
  • from William Matthew's mill in Baltimore County to intersect a main road (Ch. 11,       Acts of 1783) 
  • from Nicholas Randall's mill on the main falls of the Patapsco to the road between Ellicotts lower mill to Baltimore Town at or near John Pierpoint's smith shop

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carry the act into effect, including the determination of damages to landowners. Most provided for the recording of descriptions and plats with the county clerk [only one list of courses was found]. 

An act to straighten the post road from Havre de Grace to Baltimore in 1787 (Ch. 29) designated commissioners from both Baltimore and Harford counties, who were directed to clear, stone, and grub the road, construct bridges and causeways, make trenches and ditches, and set up mile stones. They could contract with someone to build a bridge over the great falls of the Gunpowder and to erect a gate or turnpike for the collection of tolls. They could fund the road and bridge work and pay damages through private subscription, lottery, or loans against the collection of the tolls. The tolls would cease after the loans were paid off. 

An act (Ch. 2, Acts of 1789) to open a wagon road from or near Christian Bower's mill on Big Pipe Creek to go by Ox Moor's mill on Patapsco Falls and then to intersect the "great public road" from Westminster to Baltimore provided for expenses and damages to be paid by subscription from the petitioners. The commissioner designated as treasurer was authorized  to collect the funds, through court action if necessary. A jury summoned by a constable would decide disputes about damage awards. 

Financed also by subscription was the road from the great falls of the Gunpowder at Merridiths Ford to intersect the main road from Baltimore to York at Burcks old field (Ch. 21, Acts of 1789). The courses, but not the plat, for the road, which was 5.0375 miles long, were recorded in the 

court minutes for August 1791. 

In 1790, a law was enacted (Ch. 32) to amend eighteen principal market and post roads in Baltimore, Cecil, Montgomery, Frederick, and Washington counties. The roads ranged from the Delaware line west to Williamsport and to Nicholsons Gap on the Pennsylvania line. The only one located in Baltimore County went from Baltimore westward of Randallstown and by the lands of Nicholas Dorsey and William Buchanan in the Barrens and to the Frederick County line near Philemon Barnes' plantation. This legislation marked the beginning of assigning oversight to the review commissioners of Baltimore County established by the turnpike law of 1787. Additional responsibilities included the authority to appoint one or more supervisors to handle the actual construction of the road and to pay expenses from the turnpike funds. 

Another measure passed in 1788 (Ch. 26) to improve travel involved a floating bridge across the Patapsco River at Hammonds Ferry to be constructed by William Hammond, the keeper of the ferry. By using his own funds for construction, he was authorized to collect tolls for twenty years. The structure could not obstruct or impede the passage of vessels on the river. The same law declared the road from Hammonds Ferry to the Baltimore Iron Works a public facility. 

[The next article will focus on information contained in (Minutes)]. 


Schoeberlein, Robert W. Beginning of Mental Health 
   Care Reform in Maryland, 1908 - 1910 in Maryland 
   Historical Magazine, vol. 96, no. 4, winter 2001,
   pp. 439 - 474. 
Sheads, Scott Sumpter. Guardian of the Star-Spangled 
   Banner: Lt. Colonel George Armistead and the Fort 
   McHenry Flag 
Shomette, Donald G. Lost Towns of Tidewater Maryland 
Spencer, Warren F. Raphael Semmes: The Philosophical 
Stegman, Carolyn B. Women of Achievement in 
   Maryland History 
Still, William, 1821 - 1902. Journal C of Station No. 2 
  of the Underground Railroad [microfilm] 
Surles, Trish, compl. Kent County's Orphans, Minors
   and Heirs, 1821 - 1826 
_____. Kent County's Orphans, Minors and Heirs, 
   1825 - 1829