The Watervliet Turnpike, or: “The McAdam Road”

The Watervliet Turnpike, or: “The McAdam Road”

During, and immediately after America’s War of Independence from Great Britain, it had become apparent that the country lacked adequate roads to meet the demands of commerce and a growing nation. By the 1790’s corporations were formed by acts of the New York State Legislature to build improved turnpike roads in the Albany area.

In December, 1801 a bill was introduced to the Legislature to build a turnpike road, sixteen miles long, between Albany and Schenectady to replace the deplorable old “Kings Highway” through the Pine Bush and in use since the 1600’s. This new turnpike consisted of round stone cobbles with carved stone channels spaced at the width of a common wagon axle. Today, this turnpike is called Central Avenue. By 1802, the City of Troy, N.Y. began construction of yet another turnpike to connect their city with Schenectady. Several early photographs of this road show it to be a dirt road. It is known today as the Troy-Schenectady Road. 

The earliest road northward out of Albany ran very close to the west bank of the Hudson River and was prone to flooding during spring freshets. Commerce between Albany and West Troy and Troy was ever increasing and a need for an improved road, not subject to flooding was needed between Albany and West Troy (Watervliet). The Erie Canal was already in operation for a few years, running northward out of Albany and through West Troy and points beyond.

Several noted residents of the area between Albany and West Troy including Jeremiah Schuyler, Thomas Hillhouse and Robert Dunlap, and others, incorporated the Watervliet Turnpike Company on March 31, 1828 “to make a good and permanent road from the north boundary of the City of Albany (about where the VanRensselaer Manor house stood) to the upper ferry outside the city of Troy……the stock of said company shall consist of nine hundred shares of one hundred dollars per share.” Certificates of stock were printed and issued.

The major difference between the Albany and Schenectady and the Troy and Schenectady Turnpike and the Watervliet Turnpike was its advanced method of construction called a “McAdam Road” or a “McAdamized Road”, a process invented by Scotsman John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836) which used several layers of crushed stone of different sizes rolled and compacted into a hard smooth convex surface raised above the level of adjoining ground and equipped with ditches on each side to collect water. In a book called: “Letters about the Hudson River and its Vicinity” a paragraph describes this road: “There is a fine smooth Macadamized turnpike on the west side of the river, from West Troy to Albany. This road was completed in 1831 and cost about $100,000. An excellent line of accommodation stages leave Troy and Albany every half hour during the day. Passengers with their baggage are taken up and put down in any part of either city for the trifling sum of twenty-five cents. The distance over the turnpike is six miles and it runs parallel and in sight of the river (Hudson) and canal all the way.” The road was still called the Macadam Road in the early Colonie Assessors records and today is known as Rt. 32 Broadway.