The Swamp Pike

Robert Wood


The Swamp Road came into being in 1723 although it had probably been used as a trail for a quarter century before that. In March of that year a petition was presented “To his Majesties Officers of the Peace” in Philadelphia:

 “This petition of the Dutch inhabitants in Faulkner’s Swamp and the inhabitants in the neighboring townships humbly prayeth---That whereas your petitioners and also the people of Oaley have not as yet any deed or Record whereby we may (without trespass to our neighbors) pass and repass to our respective plantations we therefore humbly pray that there may be a road laid out from Limerick Township to go by Jonathan Brooks house through --?-- to Faulkners Swamp and by thence to Thomas Rutters iron mines and thence to Oaley which we humbly conceive will be for the future most beneficial…to us your humble petitioners as well as such who for the future may venture to settle in our neighborhood…” There are 40 signatures attached of early Swamp area landowners. I have not discovered if they paid damages to the landowners when they laid out this “road.” However, there was no money to build a road, and for the most part it remained an unimproved cart way for a hundred years.


For much of the 18th century, roads are best described as trails, barely passable by cart or wagon for much of the year. The roads were a bottomless sea of mud when it rained or craterlike ruts when the ground froze. A common way of transporting food or produce to the city was by pannier (2 wicker baskets hung over a horse’s back) or wallet (large leather saddle bags).


Something had to be done about the roads.


It made good sense at the time that those who used the roads should pay for them. Consequently the 19th century was the era of the toll road. Any road that today includes the word “pike” in the name—Germantown   Pike, Ridge Pike, Gravel Pike, or Swamp Pike—was built as a toll road by a corporation. Like any other company these turnpike companies were created in order to make money. Too, there was civic pride involved. Good roads stimulated commerce, increased land values and aided expansion. The “turnpike” name comes from the old method of baring the way with a swinging pike, a military spear, that would be turned open when the toll was paid.


As it worked, a turnpike company was formed, and the county granted the company the right-of-way to an existing road. Next, stock was issued and bought by investors in the hope of earning dividends. Aside from lotteries, stock offering was the only way to raise the money needed for road building. The Germantown and Perkiomen Turnpike Road Company chartered in 1814, which built the Germantown Pike, had over 250 stockholders. One source says a properly made turnpike cost $2,000 per mile to built, another says $7,000. The cart way was crowned and packed; crushed stone was rolled into the surface; streams and gullies bridged; and drainage gutters dug.


Despite the obvious benefits of good roads, the turnpike companies almost never made any money for several reasons. First, the state legislature was uneasy over a corporate monopoly on highways and  strictly regulated the industry. All toll rates for people, livestock and freight were set by the legislature not the company: a score of sheep—8  cents; a score of cattle—18 cents; a man leading a horse--5 cents; all coaches—25 cents; bar iron—20 cents a ton; bark—15 cents a cord; shingles—25 cents per thousand and so on. Second, people went to great lengths to circumvent the toll houses. Called “shunpikes,” savvy travelers used back roads to slip around the toll gates. Third, the toll houses were by law spaced too far apart. Incidentally, there were no tolls allowed on Sundays.



In 1854 the Limerick and Colebrookdale Turnpike Road Company was chartered, and the Swamp Road became the Swamp Pike. According to Limerick historian Ray Waltz, the turnpike company president was Jacob Feather who lived at the house that is now 1855 Swamp pike, Gilbertsville. The treasurer was Frederick Brendlinger who had the large store and post office in the old tavern building on the Wawa corner. The secretary was W.H. Schneider, the most prominent businessman in the township who lived in the large brick house, now empty and derelict, by the Minister Creek bridge. It’s reasonable to assume the corporation was headquartered here in Swamp as all the officers lived here, and Swamp is located midway on the road. All of these officers owned property along the road.


We have no records of the Swamp turnpike company, but a Chester County toll house in 1874 took in $91.50 for the month of which the toll gate keeper got $10.00. On most days that toll house took in only 3 or 4 dollars.


Old atlases locate a troll house in Fruitville beside the school house near Steinmetz Road. The next one is in Gilbertsville across from the fire company. It would seem there should be one in Swamp near the intersection, but the atlases are very clear--none is depicted.


According to Waltz, change at the toll houses in amounts of 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents was given in scrip. Scrip was paper money that cost the company nothing except the printing cost. In those days any large company or store could print their own scrip money. The scrip promises, for example, that The Bank of Pottstown would pay cash to the bearer on demand “when presented in sums of 5 dollars or upwards.” The scrip could be used to pay tolls or as money for anyone who would take it. The scrip was pure profit for the company until someone redeemed it at the bank. It seems to me that frequent travelers would keep scrip to pay future tolls, and infrequent travelers would almost never accumulate 5 dollars worth of scrip in change to be able to redeem it.


In any case, the turnpike companies went out of favor around the turn of the century and they were bought out by the county at a good price. The selling price would have been divided among the stockholders and the company disbanded. Now nothing of the Swamp “Pike”remains but the name and the traffic.


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