National Toll Road

Engraving of the North-Western Turnpike (National) Road, 1849

Our nation’s first interstate, the National Road, traversed through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland. It was the United States’ first fully paved highway, funded and built by the Federal government. Providing a connection between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, it initially stretched a distance of approximately 620 miles.

Known today as US Highway 40, it was built as a toll road, and charged fees to travelers who wished to use it.  Not unlike today’s turnpikes, travelers paid tolls in advance, prior to embarking on their journey.  Toll amounts were based on total distance traveled,  based on which exit travelers planned to disembark from the road.

The project started in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland, at the headwaters of the Potomac River. Heading west, construction traversed the Allegheny Mountains, crossed through Pennsylvania, and continued onward where it reached the Ohio River by 1818, at Wheeling, West Virginia*.

From Wheeling westward,  construction continued, snaking through Ohio and terminating at Vandalia, Illinois, where the project finally stopped.  Originally planned to stretch even further westward, funding for the project evaporated during the Hard Times Era of the 1830s.

The Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge

In the late 1840s, construction began for a suspension bridge at Wheeling, which spanned the Ohio River.  Until that time, the National Road was not contiguous, as no reliable crossing existed over the Ohio River.

The Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge

Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge, completed in 1849

Completed in 1849, the bridge was the longest suspension span in the world. Having thus become a part of the National Road, a toll gate was established that corresponded with the bridge.

Numismatic Specimens

Like other gates along the National Road, travelers who wished to cross the bridge at Wheeling were charged a toll and issued a token. Struck on planed large cents and foreign coins, the blanked tokens were counterstamped with “THROUGH / 20 / WEST.”

Pictured below is a Wheeling West Virgina Suspension Bridge token.

Atwood-Coffee WV890-L

This particular specimen is quite rough, and most probably is a ground find. The planchet has a diameter that exceeds one of a large cent, and appears to be brass.

The second specimen hails from the Eric Schena Collection.  Also struck in brass, the specimen nicely illustrates the appearance of the emissions without ground damage and corrosion.  Interestingly, the specimen was obtained from a collector in South Carolina. It is approximately Choice Very Good in grade.  Curiously, evidence of an undertype counterstamp appears underneath.

Atwood-Coffee WV890-L Eric Schena

A rarity rating is tough to assign to these examples, as these are but only two specimens seen in many years. Brunk in his counterstamp book catalogs the specimen as T-258, and lists 4 known. Using Sheldon’s Rarity Scale, that would give it an R-7 designation.

It should be noted there also exists a “THROUGH / 20 / EAST” specimen. Brunk designates it as a T-257, and lists it as “Unique.”

In addition to tokens, paper scrip was also issued for use on the National Road. Redeemable for fare or cash, travelers could use the notes for stage coach service.

The specimen below was emitted by the Good Intent Stage Co.  Based out of Baltimore, their notes were payable at Wheeling or Cumberland.  This particular variety was redeemable in Cumberland, and like the second token above, also hails from the Eric Schena Collection.

Listed as Jones/Littlefield PW20-41 and Shank 50.84.5, the note is R-6 in rarity.  Despite possessing damage, the specimen survives as a beautiful example.

The Good Intent Stage Co, 25 cents, Jones/Littlefield PW20-41 (R7H), Shank 50.84.5 (R6), Eric Schena

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. The Cabinet of Eric Schena, Numismatist
  2. Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins, 2nd Edition, Gregory G. Brunk, World Exonumia Press, ©2003
  3. The Atwood-Coffee Catalogue, John M. Coffee and Harold V. Ford, AVA
  4. The Library of Congress Digital Archives

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The author has over 30 years experience in North American numismatics. He is the author of numerous articles about exonumia, including those about tokens, scrip, and the public who used them. He is a member of the ANA, VNA, ACC, C4, CWTS, TAMS, MD-TAMS, AVA, NSCA, and NumisSociety.

3 Responses to “Our Nation’s First Interstate & Its Toll Tokens” Subscribe

  1. Brandy Estes April 24, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Hello…I live in Ross,Ohio and a few years back my brother found some old tokens in a house that was being torn down in Hamilton.I was looking some of them up on google and one of them this site popped up.It is the through 20 East toll token.please reply back to let me know some more info on it and it’s value. Thank you so much
    Brandy Estes

    • Aaron Packard April 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

      Hi Brandy –

      Please contact me at my email address listed in the ‘Contact’ section.

      Please also include photographs of both sides (obverse and reverse.)

      Thank you,

      A. Packard

  2. Gretta Jean September 14, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    Hello Mr. Packard~ I have an Estate Sale service in

    Oklahoma. I am currently researching tokens for a client

    and found your site. I have been assigned to sell quite a

    large coin collection which also contains tokens~ I came

    across 2 tokens which say THROUGH 15 WEST and

    THROUGH 40 (over stamped 30) WEST. The 15 token

    has been drilled on the edge~ The have great patina

    and look like your above example with 20 in center. Any

    information is appreciated!

    Thank You!

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