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Ellicottville Times Past: From Chuckholes to Toll Roads

By Mary Fox

Next time you drive into a chuckhole think about what it was like for the pioneers who had no roads except the ancient Native American footpaths that crisscrossed all of Western New York.

Knowing that roads were necessary to bring settlers into the wilderness, the Holland Land Company, developer of all of Western New York, built the first roads along these Native American trails.

Small trees and underbrush was cut away to widen the trail so it could accommodate the ox-drawn wagons of the settlers. These “roads” were rough, rugged, narrow and often deep in mud.

The first attempt to build more passable roads was the corduroy road made by laying logs crosswise along the road filling in the spaces between the logs with dirt and brush. Corduroy roads were bumpy, dangerous to horses’ hooves and not effective in swampy areas.

Road “engineers” of the time discovered that a better solution to the corduroy roads were plank roads, which became popular throughout the Northeastern United States.

A plank road was made with a base of logs laid along the roadway with hewn planks placed across them making a smooth surface that would accommodate heavier loads. This roadway opened up an easier way for the settlers to get their products to market. With the coming of the Erie Canal and then the railroad, the cost of moving their crops to markets in the East (mostly New York City) was made less costly.

A plank road between Ellicottville and Great Valley was in operation in the 1850s. In some areas, plank roads were still in use in the early 1900s when automobiles took to the road.

These plank roads, called “turnpikes,” were owned by the stockholders of private companies and collected tolls to maintain and improve them.

The upper end of the Ellicottville/Great Valley plank road was located near the corner of the Holiday Valley Road and what is now Route 219, where the toll taker and his family lived in a big red house. The tollhouse for the lower end of the road was located just south of Double Mill Hill Rd. on the Salamanca Road (Route 219) at the border of Great Valley and Salamanca (Killbuck), where two mills were in operation along the Great Valley Creek.

Tolls for plank road turnpikes were set by the New York State legislature. For every vehicle drawn by one animal, the toll was 1 cent per mile. For each additional animal, the cost went up by  1 cent per mile.

For vehicles drawn by two animals used chiefly for carrying passengers, the toll was 3 cents per mile. For every horse ridden, led or driven, the toll was 3/4 cent per mile.

At the 1862 annual meeting of stockholders of the Ellicottville/Great Valley Plank Road Company, the board of directors’ annual report stated:

“The year 1861 has been a year of great damage to the road. The heavy freshets of last spring carried off nearly all of our large bridges, many smaller and generally damaging the road, yet the damage was promptly repaired but with a heavy outlay of money and material. Had it not been for this unforeseen accident, the directors confidently anticipate being able to make a small dividend.”

As for me I’d rather have chuckholes.

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