Saturday, March 5, 2011

Another toll tale

Our local legislators spend a lot of their time in Concord advocating for a less onerous turnpike toll burden for Merrimack. But before there were road tolls, there were canal tolls, and this month's exhibit is an interesting collection of receipts documenting tolls paid by rafts and boats on the canals that skirted the falls on the lower Merrimack River in 1821.

If you examine the spidery handwriting, you will see the kinds of cargo that made their way up and down the river. The receipts show the amount of the toll assessed, which appears to have been related to the value of the cargo--the more items being transported, the higher the toll. Some of the amounts indicate 1/2 cents were still in use. The receipts also show the owner and place of residence, and often the name of the captain.

When the railroad came to southern New Hampshire, it became faster and cheaper to ship goods by rail, and gradually the canals fell into disuse. You can still see remnants of walls and locks at some of the locations, reminders of an era when rivers dominated commercial transport.

The receipts have been loaned for this month by a Merrimack resident, and we have added some historical notes to help you understand what you're viewing. There is no mention, however, of legislative efforts to reduce the canal tolls.

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