The E-Sylum:  Volume 6, Number 14, April 6, 2003, Article 11


  Joe Wolfe writes: "This is an article I wrote for a metal
  detecting club's monthly newsletter and thought you might
  want it for The E-Sylum also. It would demonstrate some
  of the research successful coin shooters do to find coins or
  caches and provide a little background on where those
  dropped coins come from."

  [I've edited the article a bit to cut down its size, but
  the main points remain.  -Editor]

  "One source of sites to search for old coins are tollgates on
  pre-1900s turnpikes.  The word turnpike by definition contains
  tollgates which were the collection points of tolls on the early
  Virginia roads. ... I believe people dropped coins around the
  tollgates, in the road, at the tollgate, and on the way to the
  tollkeeper's house. Remember the tolls were collected all year
  long, even during storms, snow, sunrise, and sunset. So a coin
  dropped in the mud, snow, or dark could be easily lost.

  In my research I concentrated on Fairfax and Loudoun Counties
  but turnpikes exist all over Virginia and in other states. I found
  15 different turnpikes.

  The single and best source for tollgate locations are old maps.
  Not only do they list tollgates but they show the exact location,
  the path of the turnpike, place a date on the tollgate, and often
  provide the name of the tollkeeper. All these can help to
  pinpoint the tollgate. Other sources include books, articles, and
  archives for the old turnpike companies. Archives exist in several
  local libraries and the State Library in Richmond. The State
  Library also has an unpublished manuscript on Virginia Turnpikes.
  But maps are the best and this is where I would direct you.

  Tollgates were usually authorized every five miles and were
  often located near bridges and crossroads. I assume this was
  to prevent travelers from bypassing the tollgates.  The bridge
  created a bottleneck in the road and the crossroads allowed
  tolls to be collected from everyone passing by.  Tollgates
  often changed locations as new roads opened and when the
  tolltaker changed. Often a person already living in the area
  was selected to be the tolltaker and the tollgate moved to his
  house. So the tollgate near Difficult Run might have four
  different locations, both sides of the road and both sides of
  the stream. Of course a map only shows a snapshot of the
  tollgates on a turnpike on a certain date. If an old house
  exists next to a substantial stream it may be an undocumented
  tollgate. I should mention I found the modern reproduction
  maps from various sources of data to be worse than useless.
  They seemed to place the word "tollgate" on the map where
  it was most convenient to write it.

  I have visited many of these tollgates and I am sorry to say
  many are covered by asphalt. As our use of roads developed
  the roads were widened and the tollgate covered. The
  collection point was often located right next to the road. The
  grading of the shoulders of roads also took care of many.
  The best to detect are the ones where the tollhouse still
  stands or its ruins can be found.

  One final point is there are still many tollgates around. I found
  over 50 locations in Loudoun and Fairfax alone and according
  to its annual report the Little River Turnpike, circa 1830,
  made over $100,000 in its busiest year.

  I am still searching for an untouched tollgate and have found
  only a few coins so far. The oldest was a 1773 pillar dollar
  that was paper-thin."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

Google Web
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization 
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor 
at this address:

To subscribe go to:
Copyright © 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society.



Copyright © 1998 - 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster