What is a turnpike road?

by Mike on March 19, 2010

Turnpike in this connection is synonymous with tollgate or tollbar. It refers to a horizontal barrier, such as a pole or pike turning on a vertical pin, set up along a road to halt vehicular or other traffic until ‘the toll is paid. Thus a turnpike road is merely a road that has, or formerly had, turnpikes for the collection of tolls. Since the turnpike roads were usually the main roads, the term was extended in’ popular parlance to any important highway. Turnpike roads were already common in England in the seventeenth century. In his History of England Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote: “Soon after the Restoration [1660] this grievance [bad roads] attracted the notice of Parliament; and an act, the first of our many turnpike acts, was passed, imposing a small toll on travelers and goods, for the purpose of keeping some parts of this important line of communication in good repair.” Turnpike is frequently shortened to pike in colloquial usage. Hence such slang phrases as to hit the pike, meaning to take to the road or to be on the way, and “the finest thing that ever came down the pike.” The original turnpike was related to the turnstile, which is a gateway formed of four radiating arms of timber or metal at-right angles to each other and revolving horizontally on a fixed vertical post. Turnstile is derived from the verb turn and stile, the latter term being derived from an old Teutonic root signifying “to climb.” Originally a stile was an arrangement of steps or the like contrived to allow passage over or through a fence to one person at a time while forming a barrier to cattle, sheep or other live stock. At first the turnstile was set up in a passage or entrance to exclude any but foot passengers, but now it is often used to prevent the passage of more than one person at a time at any place where fees, fares or tickets are collected.

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