The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
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Why Some Roads Became Known As 'Turnpikes'

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You may have noticed that some highways, mostly in the northeast, are called “turnpikes.” Maybe you’ve also noticed that turnpikes always seem to be toll roads. But do you know where the term actually comes from?

My coworkers and I were discussing proper nomenclature for a certain road in New Jersey when I stumbled upon this interesting nugget of knowledge, courtesy of a public radio show called A Way With Words. You can hear it right here.


Apparently in the early days of America, more specifically 1700-something, private outfits went into the wild yonder and laid roads down between settlements. Their business plan was to offer smoother travel between towns, which they cashed in on with toll stations.


These toll stations were like the turnstiles we still have for pedestrians some train stations and museums; pay your fare and the gate swings open to let you through.

As lexicographer and A Way With Words co-cost Grant Barrett explains to a caller, the large roadway “turnstiles” resembled pikes; the long spears ancient soldiers used to skewer each other with.

Add your money, the pike would turn, and let you on the road. Hence; “turnpike.”

Neat, huh?