Modes of Transportation in the Early Republic
The first turnpike, built by private stock companies and financed by private investments and toll revenues, opened in 1794 between Lancaster and Philadelphia. Its success stimulated similar projects in New England and the Atlantic states by 1815, and it also influenced the beginning of the National Road in 1811, which reached Wheeling by 1818. "Turnpike fever" raged in the Old Northwest during the 1820s and 1830s, but few roads were completed, except in Ohio. Turnpikes were relatively short-lived because of assorted economic factors: for long hauls, their value was limited because of high tolls and long travel times; the pikes also did not yield good returns for their investors -- in New England, only 6 of 230 pikes barely returned money, while those in Massachusetts earned dividends of only 3.1% in 60 years. Failure of turnpikes could be blamed on the competition of canals and railroads; however, high costs, poor management, and high maintenance costs primarily contributed to their downfall. (Transportation Revolution, 17-28)
This innovative road was not common in the United States during the early decades of the 19th century. Plank roads were introduced in Canada in the mid 1830s and in New York by the mid 1840s; however, the "boom" period did not arrive until the 1850s.
The canal "boom" began in the 1810s as a means of connecting existing waterways. By 1816, there were 100 miles of canals in the United States; only three canals were longer than two miles, thereby indicating the prevalence of short, local connecting spurs. Major canals of the time included:
• Erie Canal (1817-1825) constructed by the State of New York; served as a model for other state projects. 364 miles long.
• Ohio-Erie Canal completed in 1833 at a cost of $8 million, running 308 miles from Cleveland to Portsmouth on the Ohio River.
• Miami-Erie Canal built in the western part of Ohio, from Cincinnati to Dayton in 1832, and to Toledo in 1845.
Canals were funded by investments, stocks, state bonds, and direct financing by some state governments; the federal government even provided some assistance in later years by allowing proceeds from the sale of public lands to be used for canal projects. State bonds, however, were most important to the success of the projects: value of bonds issued between 1820-1837, $108 million. By 1840, over 3,300 miles of canals were present in the United States, all but 100 miles of which were built after 1816 and most after 1824. Between 1816 and 1840, over $125 million was spent on canals, causing near bankruptcy for three states.
Flatboats were commonly used until the 1830s when steamboats began to dominate river trade and travel on the Great Lakes. The advantages to this form of transportation were speed and economy, plus connections of internal waterways with major ports. (Transportation Revolution, p.56-73)
The initial development of this system occurred in the eastern United States during 1820s and 1830s. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was chartered in 1828 and had thirteen miles of track operation by May, 1830. Charleston, South Carolina, built the second railroad in the nation by 1833, which totalled some 136 miles. To the north, three short lines operated out of Boston by the early 1830s. During the same decade, roughly three miles of rails were built for every two miles of canal, resulting in the relative parity of both rail and canal systems by 1840. In 1850, the number of miles of rails exceeded total canal miles by nearly two times. (Transportation Revolution,p.74-103)
Changing Costs of Transportation
In 1816, the Senate reported that one ton of goods from Europe, traveling 3,000 miles, could be shipped for $9; the same shipment could be carried only 30 miles overland in the United States for the same price. Between 1810 and 1819, the average cost of .30 per ton-mile prohibited the long distance movement of goods. More specifically, in 1817, New York found the cost of transportation from Buffalo to New York City was three times the market value of wheat, six times of corn, and twelve times of oats. By the 1820s, ton-mile prices dropped as low as .12, attributed in part to price deflation and the spread of turnpikes and canal systems. With the network of rails, canals, and roads established prior to the Civil War, some transportation costs were reduced to roughly .01 per ton-mile, thereby attesting to the positive effect of transportation developments on shipping costs and the price of the marketed items. (Transportation Revolution, p.132-152)
Transportation in Indiana
By the mid 1820s, there were several well defined lines of travel to Indiana's interior; however, their conditions were deplorable. With the absence of rails, canals, and pikes, individuals faced only blazed trails, bad roads, and obstructed rivers. For years, beginning in 1816, the state legislature discussed assorted schemes for internal improvement in an effort to modernize the state and to tie Indiana into the larger regional and national markets.
Rivers provided an important means of transportation and communication during the early years of life in Indiana. Their importance could be seen by the establishment of towns and villages along their banks and cutting of roads to follow their courses.
The Ohio-Mississippi river complex was the major highway of the developing West. At seasonal highwater, fleets of flatboats carried Midwestern produce down to New Orleans and other lower Mississippi markets. The Wabash River, which fed into this system, was also a main trade route to the south and provided the means by which flatboats and some steamboats navigated successfully. The White River was not a major commercial route, though more traffic occurred south of Indianapolis than north. Travel was more restricted to flatboats which carried small amounts of produce to local markets, simply because the White River was navigable. In 1831 one steamboat, the "Robert Hanna," arrived in Indianapolis with much fanfare over the navigability of the White River; however, on its return journey, it hit several sandbars and became grounded for some six weeks, thereby effectively ending steamship travel on the White River until 1865. (Dunn, Greater Indianapolis, 1:19)