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Seneca Turnpike

Today’s State Route 5 crosses New York State from Buffalo to Albany and parallels State Route 20 and the New York State Thruway.

The part of Route 5 between Utica and Canandaigua has been called the Seneca Turnpike; it runs for about two miles in the Town of Kirkland.

Probably an Iroquois Indian path for many years the route has been referred to various accounts as the Genesee Road, the Great Genesee Trail, the Genesee Turnpike, Seneca Road, Great Indian Trail, Great Native American Trail, and the Iroquois Trail. Take your pick.

The Seneca Turnpike was laid out in 1794 from Baggs Square in downtown Utica (then Old Fort Schuyler) at the ford of the Mohawk River and followed the Indian trail past Syracuse to Canandaigua. Some accounts say it went to Geneva and Avon originally. There was no City of Syracuse then.

The privately-held Seneca Road Company received a State charter in 1800 with a capitalization of $110,000. This was a stock company with such prominent Utica men as Jedediah Sanger, Benjamin Walker, John Kirkland, and Wilhelmus Mynderss.

The company received a land grant of a 120 feet right of way, but the roadway was 28 feet. The firm was required to clear a road six rods wide of all trees. Completed to Canandaigua by 1808, it reached Buffalo in 1813.

Other State stipulations were that the fare would be six cents a mile and only 12 passengers in a coach. Four horses were to be used on each coach and it covered six miles per hour as well as carry U.S. Mail.

Shortly the new road was dotted with hotels and inns, swarming with coaches and loaded wagons, and “from end to end alive with business.”

Old Ft. Schuyler became a village in 1798 and steadily gained in population. The Village of Utica got its second charter in 1805.

Prairie schooners with white canvas tops carried entire families west. Some of these were 25 feet long and were drawn by four yokes of oxen or horses. Other livestock accompanied the pioneers.

Some travelers used Concord coaches of elegant design and painted in different colors. Some horses used came from France, and the tack came from London thus causing a grand and impressive scene for observers.

The goal of the travelers was the same: “The Genesee Country” This was the fertile Genesee Valley south of Rochester.

Toll gates were at 10 mile intervals. One was just east of Lairdsville. The private company paid dividends of 10 percent for 30 years, but competition from the new iron horse in the late 1830’s doomed the private firm.

In 1846 with revenues insufficient to maintain the turnpike, the company gave up and surrendered its charter back to New York State thus ending the private phase of the Seneca Turnpike. Now the State took full responsibility for the route.

Early immigrants moved over the Turnpike to land in Western New York in the former Phelps and Gorham Purchase, which was purchased from the State of Massachusetts.

Route 5 east of Utica had been called the Mohawk Turnpike in the 1800’s as hundreds of thousands of settlers migrated to Utica and points west before the days of the Erie Canal(1825) and railroads(Utica to Syracuse Railroad 1839).

Information in this article is as correct and factually accurate as possible. If you notice a fact that you believe is incorrect, please let us know. Comments are always welcome.

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