The History of Berlin Highways
We think the roads are bad today, but they are much improved since Berlin became a town.
Two hundred years ago our valley as compared to today was an unbroken wilderness. The pioneers came here with their worldly possessions in an oxcart and the dream of a better life. Over a period of time, farmhouses and hamlets were developed and took the place of the thick forest through the industry, frugality, and perseverance of those first settlers. As settlement of the Taconic Valley increased, highways were opened to the towns in the valley. These roads show us where people wanted to go and why. Destinations might be a gristmill, a tavern, a fort, etc.
Early travel was slow going and rough. The roads were bumpy, full of holes, and rough. When it rained, the roads were muddy and when it didn’t, they were dusty. In the winter they were snowy, but at least the snow filled the holes! Most travel on snow was by sleigh—a pod (pulled by one horse) or a pung (pulled by two horses)—which had wooden runners and went easily over the snow.
It is said the road from Stephentown to Petersburgh, passing north and south through our town, is the oldest existing highway in Berlin. It was first an Indian trail. These trails were so narrow that people were forced to walk single file. Later, the trail became a settlers’ path through the wilderness and finally a public highway that was called the Hoosick Road. Today we know it as Route 22.
The “Albany Road” is shown on the Bleecker Map of 1767. It eventually ran east and west from Albany through Berlin via Stage Coach Road and Green Hollow to Willliamstown and later on to Boston; it was known, for a time, as the Eastern Turnpike. (Thus, the historical marker on the corner of Route 22 and Elm Street.) George Washington is understood to have made several trips between Albany and Boston on this old road. So, although George Washington didn’t sleep here, it seems he went through Berlin when the valley was known as “Little Hoosick”.
Turnpike rates were as follows:
- vehicle drawn by 1 animal—3/4 cent a mile; the more animals, the higher the rate.
- score of sheep or swine—1/2 cent a mile
- score of cattle—1 cent a mile
- horse and rider or led horse—1.2 cent a mile
Some persons were exempt from tolls:
- those going to church, to or from a blacksmith, to or from a gristmill for family use
- those going to or from a midwife or physician, to or from court when legally summoned, to or from militia training, or a town meeting or election.
Then there were those who would go around the tollgate to avoid the charge. These paths around the tollgates were known as “shunpikes”.
The winding road over the mountain from the center of Berlin to Poestenkill and Troy was first known as the Old Petersburgh Road (what we call the Plank Road today). During the first years of settlement here, it was simply a narrow trail wide enough for ox-carts. As horse-drawn vehicles came into more general use, a stagecoach service was established between Berlin and Troy. The road was widened and paved with wooden planks. Known as the Berlin-Poestenkill Turnpike, it opened in in 1833 with tollbooths along the route. One could buy shares for $20 each from the company who built it. John Reeve (our first town supervisor) and Hezekiah Hull were commissioners from whom you could purchase stock. Burton Hammond, Edward Whitford and Winter Greene (all of whom were Berlin supervisors at one time) were appointed commissioners to lay out the road. By 1836 this road made of planks extended to Troy. The proceeds of the tollgates were used to keep the road in good repair and give investors a return on their investment.
In 1894 H. J. Hull ran the stage between Berlin and Troy. Later Charles Judevine, Adnah Jones, and Alonzo Breer would make the trip over the mountain as the stage operators.
The stagecoach would leave the landing stage behind the Colonial Inn in the morning and return from Troy the next day.
All these roads have changed course, perhaps more than once over the years. Bridges have been built, curves have been taken out in some places, and houses have been taken down to make wider roads for the accommodation of newer modes of transportation.
The highway superintendent was known as the “pathmaster” when these roads were first built and improved, and there was a “labor system” to pay the road taxes. Each male property owner spent time working on the road equivalent to his property value. It was not until 1906 that Berlin went to a “money system”. The June vote in Berlin passed—162 in favor and 76 against. Under this system, the state provided that for every dollar raised by the town for road taxes, the state would reimburse the town 50 cents. Thus, if $1,000 was raised by the town, the state would pay the town $500.
The widespread improvement in living conditions, trade, and travel encouraged others to settle in Berlin, and by 1810 the population was 3,012! The advent of other modes of transportation, such as the Erie Canal, along with other reasons, would beckon some of these early settlers of Berlin to move farther west making our population decline.