Skip to content
Views of Narberth Past

Montgomery Avenue toll house, 1910

Zoom in →

Image source: Victoria Donohoe colllection; printed in October 1970 Main Line Chronicle, Narberth 75th Anniversary (PDF), page 54.

Addresses in view: 346 Meeting House Ln., 714 Montgomery Ave.

modern view of the historical image seen from the same viewpoint

“Margaret Long and her son, Clarence, collect seven cents toll from driver of this super-deluxe 1910 French car with right-hand drive.” —Victoria Donohoe. The photo shows Montgomery Avenue at Meeting House Lane looking west; the 1803 Price house (714 Montgomery) can be seen behind the vehicle.

Tollkeepers of Narberth

The Main Line Chronicle identified this tollgate as the only one with a resident keeper, "kept for years by Mrs. Margaret Miller. The position was later held for seven or eight years by Mrs. Long". In the 1900 census, that was John and Margaret Miller, in 1910 Margaret Long, counted inaccurately in Lower Merion, not Narberth.

License plate reads 'Penna. 1910 Dealer' It isn't often we can date a century-old image to an exact year. Here the car's dealer license plate tells us it's 1910, confirming we're seeing Margaret Long.

Toll Roads of the Main Line

A. H. Mueller's 1908 and 1913 property atlases locate this as the fourth tollgate out of Philadelphia; others are mapped at 54th and City Line, Bala and Montgomery Aves., Levering Mill Rd. and Montgomery Ave., and, further out, Church Rd., Ardmore.

map of Lower Merion and Narberth with red squares at each toll location
Toll locations on the Philadelphia, Bala and Bryn Mawr Turnpike in 1908; Old Lancaster Rd. sections in 2023 (scroll left for more) OpenStreetMap

The toll house, pictured here in its last years of operation, was part of a practice that had existed in America since the 1790s, of private road ownership with maintenance financed by tolls. Montgomery Avenue was controlled by the Philadelphia, Bala and Bryn Mawr Turnpike Company. It used to be known as Old Lancaster Road, "old" after the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike (Lancaster Pike) opened in 1794 as the first engineered toll road in the nation.

Three extant Old Lancaster Road sections, in Merion, Haveford and Bryn Mawr, link present-day Montgomery Ave. and Conestoga Road as "The Lancaster Road", visible on the 1777 layer of the Narberth History Map. Before that, they were part of the Allegheny Path, "the oldest road in Pennsylvania which passed between the Delaware and the Susquehanna", an Indian trail before it was a colonial road. 

Antique car stops in front of three-story house, waited on by attendant with open ledger. Sign onm road to left advertises Belmont Driving Park.
"Taking Toll", postcard by Philip H. Moore, 6646 Germantown Av., Philadelphia, postmarked 1914. If faces the opposite direction as the photograph. Courtesy Greg Litwack
postcard detail of toll-keeper attending vehicle photograph detail of toll-keeper attending vehicle
Are the toll-keepers in each image the same person?

In 1876 the Pennsylvania Railroad bought the Lancaster Turnpike from 52nd street to Paoli for $20,000 to suppress competition from streetcar lines. In 1913 the state bought both toll roads, in 1917 made them free, and within the next decade Lancaster Pike was incorporated into the new national highway system.

Cream colored 3-story house with a peaked roof
346 Meetinghouse Lane in 2017

All the toll houses were put up for auction with the stipulation that the winning bidders remove them by January 1, 1918. This toll house on Montgomery Avenue across from Merion Meeting House was moved to its present location at 346 Meeting House Lane in Narberth.

newspaper clipping
Our Town July 19, 1917, page 2 (PDF)

Transcription

LANCASTER PIKE IS FREE

The Lancaster pike, from Overbrook to Paoli, was freed from tolls on Monday one day late. Joseph W. Hunter, Deputy Commissioner of State Highways, and John S. G. Dunne, superintendent of the turnpike company, traveled along the famous old roadway shortly after noon in an automobile and closed all the toll houses—nine of them.

The tollgate keepers packed up and quit, and as soon as possible the old houses, some of which are used as dwellings by the keepers, and the little sentry boxes guarding the side roads, will be removed.

It was a distinct surprise to the motorists, as previous reports had indicated that the closing would be delayed for some days, and for hours automobilists were slowing up at the deserted posts of the tollgate keepers to pay their way, only to brighten up and speed away joyously when the news broke upon them.

newspaper clipping

Bryn Mawr Home News September 14, 1917

Transcription

Toll Houses at Public Sale

The Toll Houses on the Line of the Lancaster Turnpike Road from the Philadelphia City Line to Paoli, recently purchased by the State, will be sold at Public Sale on

Tuesday, October 2nd, 1917

The Sale will commence at the toll house at or near City Line at One o’clock P.M., and will be proceeded with until the last toll house at St Davids is disposed of.

Each toll house contains six rooms and is in fair condition. They will be sold on the following terms: — The highest bidder to be the purchaser. The purchase money to be paid in cash at the time of sale. Each toll house must be removed by the purchaser thereof from off the right of way of said turnpike road on or before January 1st, 1918. Any toll house not so removed will be removed by the Department and the material disposed of to pay the costs of such removal.

By Order of The State Highway Commissioner, WARREN F. CRESSMAN, Assistant Engineer.

References

  1. Paul A.W. Wallace, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania (1965), quoting John T. Faris, Old Trails and Roads in Penn's Land (1927). Return

Photos of Montgomery Pike toll houses in The First 300 (2000), Lower Merion Historical Society

Toll schedule for Lancaster Pike c.1900, Lower Merion Historical Society