The Catskill Turnpike, also known as the Susquehanna Turnpike, and sometimes identified with the Forbidden Path started on the Hudson River at Catskill in Greene County, skirted the north side of the Catskill Mountains and worked its way westward through upstate New York to Unadilla (formerly Wattle's Ferry) on the Susquehanna River in 1804. From there New York State extended it to Ithaca in 1806, and Bath about 1808. Later extensions not normally called the Catskill Turnpike took travelers into Erie County, New York, or followed part of the old Indian Forbidden Path and beyond to Erie, Pennsylvania. Each end of the Catskill Turnpike connected to other important migration pathways. The length of the Catskill Turnpike from Catskill to Bath was about 207 miles (333 km). For the route from Bath to Buffalo add 102 miles (165 km). From Bath to Erie, Pennsylvania is an additional 169 miles (272 km).
Significance. The Catskill Turnpike was an important early route for New England emigrants headed to western New York and beyond. In the 20 years after it was built about 300,000 people mostly from New England settled in the counties along the Catskill Turnpike and its extensions. Other emigrants moved along the turnpike toward Ohio.
Feeder routes. Emigrants reached the Catskill Turnpike along three main routes. First, they came up the Hudson River Valley by boat or via the Albany Post Road. Second, they came along the Catskill Road (later Ancram Turnpike) from Springfield, Massachusetts to Catskill, New York. Third, there was also stagecoach service on the Greenwood Road from Hartford, Connecticut to Albany which could drop them off near Catskill.
Footpath to turnpike. By 1769 European settlers were following an early pathway from Catskill to Ithaca which eventually became the Catskill Turnpike. In 1800 the New York legislature commissioned several turnpikes (toll roads), inspectors, mail, and stagecoach service to improve roads from the Hudson River to the Susquehanna River. Stock companies were formed to raise the money, build, and maintain these higher quality roads. Tolls were to be collected at gates every ten miles to repay the stock companies. As traffic grew, inns were soon established every few miles to provide the beverages, food, and lodging needed for people and animals.
Overlapping trail names. The original pathway from Springfield, Massachusetts to Unadilla, New York was called the Catskill Road. When the legislature upgraded the Catskill-to-Unadilla section they called it the Susquehanna Turnpike. But when the turnpike was extended west to Bath the whole west-side-of-the-river road was renamed the Catskill Turnpike (or Bath Turnpike). At the same time the east side of the river was renamed the Ancram Turnpike. During the same period, the legislature commissioned the upgrade of a different, connected road starting farther to the south at Kingston (on the Hudson River). It went to Bainbridge (near Unadilla) and was called the Ulster and Delaware Turnpike (or Jericho, or Esopus Turnpike) Also, in 1804 twice a week mail service was started from Catskill, New York, partly following the Catskill Turnpike but to Athens, Pennsylvania, the eastern end of the Seneca Indians' Forbidden Path. This probably explains why the Catskill Turnpike is also associated with the Forbidden Path.
Stagecoaches and drovers. Stagecoaches usually took four days and nights to drive from Ithaca to Catskill. This service continued year around even in the snow. Some years the traffic was so heavy two passenger coaches were hitched together followed by a baggage wagon. Before the railroads, cattle drovers also commonly used the turnpike to take their herds a few miles a day to market usually in Dutchess County.
Rise and fall. Soon after it was built the turnpike began to turn a profit. It was most prosperous from 1820 to 1830. Competition from railroads and the Erie Canal was responsible for a decline in turnpike traffic and revenues after 1830. The western parts of the road were abandoned by the stock company, and the number of toll gates in Greene County was gradually reduced from ten in 1830, to five in 1842, and three in 1884. Stagecoach service was discontinued in 1850 when the Erie Railroad built through to Owego.
The counties along the Catskill Turnpike route (east to west) were as follows:
The Catskill Turnpike was later extended westward. Counties along the northwest fork of the extension (east to west) were:
Connecting trails. The Catskill Turnpike linked to other trails at each end.
The migration pathways connected at the east end of the Catskill Turnpike in Catskill, New York included:
- Hudson River a navigable river stretching from north of Albany then flowing south to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at New York City
- Catskill Turnpike 1722 from Albany to Utica to Rome to Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario
- Forbidden Path (later Catskill Turnpike) a pre-historic Indian path from Albany to Buffalo on Lake Erie
- Old Connecticut Path a pre-historic Indian path from Boston, Massachusetts to Springfield, Massachusetts to Albany with a fork from Springfield to Hartford, Connecticut
- Albany Post Road (or Queen's Road, or King's Road) 1669 from Albany to New York City
- Greenwood Road from Hartford, Connecticut to Albany
- Champlain Canal 1819 connected the Hudson River to Lake Champlain (New York City to Montreal)
- Erie Canal 1825 connected Albany to Buffalo on Lake Erie (New York City to the Great Lakes)
The migration pathway connected at the end of the northwest extension in Buffalo included:
- West Fork. The migration pathways connected at the east end of the Catskill Turnpike (west fork) in Utica included:
- The migration pathways connected at the west end of the Catskill Turnpike (west fork) in Fort Niagara included:
- Lake Erie with connections to Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit
- Niagara River with connections to Buffalo, Fort Niagara, and Ontario in Canada
- Lake Ontario with connections to Toronto, Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the other Great Lakes
- Catskill Turnpike by 1758 from Albany to Utica to Fort Niagara
- Great Genesee Road 1794 from Utica to Caledonia and later Buffalo
- Erie Canal 1825 from Albany to Utica to Buffalo
- Shore Line Path from Buffalo, New York to Cleveland, Ohio
- pathways into Ontario, Canada including the extension of the Iroquois Trail westward along the south side of Lake Ontario
Modern parallels. The modern roads that roughly match the Catskill Turnpike from Albany to Fort Oswego are:
- New York State Route 5 from Albany to Deerfield (near Utica)
- New York State 49 from Deerfield (near Utica) to Rome
- where it becomes New York State 69 from Rome to Mexico
- turn west onto New York State 104 from Mexico to Oswego
The modern roads that roughly match the west fork of the Catskill Turnpike to Fort Niagara are:
- New York State Route 5 from Albany to two miles east of Sherrill, Oneida County
- two miles east of Sherrill turn northeast on New York State Route 31 from near Sherrill to the outskirts of Lockport, Niagara County
- at the outskirts of Lockport, turn northeast on Cold Springs Road which becomes Old Niagara Road which becomes Stone Road
- which merges into westbound New York State Route 93 from Lockport to Fort Niagara
Settlers and Records
Early settlers in central New York most likely traveled there via Albany. Albany was a hub of pathways from New York City, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Quebec. Probably the largest group to settle were New Englanders, many from Vermont. But people from almost every part of the eastern seaboard and Europe also were common in the area.
Many of the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania Loyalists who fled to Ontario during or shortly after the American Revolution followed the Catskill Turnpike. For a list of over 300 Loyalist families is the Niagara area of Ontario see:
- Norman K. Crowder, "1784-1785 Niagara Return" Early Ontario Settlers: A Source Book (Baltimore: Genealogical Publ., 1993), 132-42. WorldCat entry. FHL Book 971.3 H29c.
No complete list of settlers in New York who used the Catskill Turnpike is known to exist. Nevertheless, local and county histories along that trail may reveal pioneer settlers who arrived 1722 to 1850, and therefore who were the most likely candidates to have traveled the Great Genesee Road or Seneca Turnpike.
For partial lists of early settlers who may have used the Catskill Turnpike, see histories like:
- Crisfield Johnson, History of Oswego County, New York, 1789-1877 : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers (Philadelphia : L.H. Everts, 1877). WorldCat entry. FHL Film 874492. Indexed in Index to History of Oswego County, New York (Salt Lake City : Family History Library, 1991). FHL Fiche 6087924 (4 fiche); Book 974.767 H2j index.
- Samuel W. Durant, History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers (Microreproduction of original published: Philadelphia : Everts & Fariss, 1878). WorldCat entry. FHL Film 823718.
- Samuel T. Wiley and W. Scott Garner, Biographical and portrait cyclopedia of Niagara County, New York (Microreproduction of original published: Philadelphia : Gresham Pub. Co., 1892). WorldCat entry. FHL Film 317821 Item 4.
- Mohawk (Iroquois) Trail RootsWeb description of the route and a brief history.
- Iroquois Trail Heritage Village, Vineland, Ontario brief description of the Canadian part.
- History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925 focuses most on modern Mohawk Turnpike.
- The Great Genesee Road partially overlaps the Catskill Turnpike.
- Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 849. WorldCat entry; FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.
- Route length in miles and kilometers calculated in MapQuest.com.
- Lyman H. Gallagher, "The Catskill Turnpike in Stage Coach and Tavern Days," Crooked Lake Review (Fall 2005) at http://www.crookedlakereview.com/articles/136_167/137fall2005/137palmer2.html (accessed 28 December 2011).
- Handybook, 848.
- "Map and Timeline: 1800 to 2020 (and Beyond)" in Susquehanna Turnpike.org at http://www.susquehannaturnpike.net/15901.html (accessed 28 December 2011).
- Handybook, 850.
- Archer Butler Hulbert, Pioneer Roads and Experiences of Travelers, vol. 2, Historic Highways of America, vol. 12 (Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1904), 144. Google books online copy; At various libraries (WorldCat).
- Almyra E. Morgan, The Catskill Turnpike: a Wilderness Path (Ithaca, NY : DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County, 1971), 5. Tompkins County Public Library digital pdf copy; At various libraries (WorldCat).
- J. G. Beers, "The Susquehanna Turnpike" (1884) appearing in Susquehanna Turnpike.org at http://www.susquehannaturnpike.net/15301/index.html (accessed 28 December 2011).
- Morgan, 14.
- "Great Genesee Road" in Handybook, 849.
- Handybook, 847-54.