The road of approximately 34 miles was built between 1803 and 1810-12 from Alexandria to the Little River ford in Aldie, Virginia. That terminus further connected to established roads through western counties and through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley.
The turnpike provided the long desired answer to calls by officials in Alexandria and western counties for a reliable road connecting them. Farmers sought access to deliver their products and obtain supplies in Alexandria. Alexandria wanted an avenue for trade that would enable the river port and its merchants to better compete for business with Georgetown, Baltimore and even Philadelphia. The turnpike promised faster, cheaper and more reliable flow of commerce.
The Turnpike in Ravensworth
Within Ravensworth, the turnpike crossed lands owned by Nicholas Fitzhugh, Giles Fitzhugh, Henry Rose, Augustine Smith and Richard Ratcliffe. It’s generally considered that the new road enhanced the value of property that it passed through – an idea promoted in company statements. This was especially true for Richard Ratcliffe. He successfully promoted establishing the Town of Providence on his land, in which the new turnpike became its main street.
A Private Toll Road
The Little River Turnpike Company, a private company created January 28, 1802 by Virginia law, issued stock to raise money and managed the turnpike’s construction and operations. Revenue from toll collections supported operations and returned dividends to stockholders. The company’s charter called for a 50-feet wide road with a 20-feet wide paved section. The center paved section was to be used in wet and winter conditions, the outside unpaved lanes otherwise. The sides were ditched and stone conduits installed to drain water from the roadway.
Route Favors New Courthouse Over Centreville
“Construction commenced by late 1802, and within a year, the turnpike extended four miles from the stone bridge over Hooff Run on Duke Street to Trough Hill” (near today’s intersection with I-395). The route to that point used the existing Alexandria-Centreville Turnpike (today’s Braddock Road) roadbed. From there, the decision was made to deviate from the old route and lay a new roadbed extending to the new (in 1800) Fairfax County Courthouse and on to Aldie. The decision, which diverted traffic away from Centreville, was controversial and widely debated. Colonel William Payne was one of the five elected company directors who approved the new route.2
The collection of tolls could not start until the first 10 miles were completed and open to traffic, which occurred in the fall of 1806.
“With the approval of the governor, two gates were erected and tolls collection began October 10…The tolls implemented were as follows:
For every score of sheep ………………..6 1/4 c
For every score of hogs …………………….6 c
For every score of cattle ………………12 1/2 c
For every horse ……………………………8 c
For every 2-wheeled Riding Carriage ………6 1/4 c
For every 4-whee1ed Riding Carriage ……..12 1/2 c
For every cart or wagon with wheels
not exceeding 4″ in breadth …… 8 c per horse
Same but with wheels exceeding 4″
but less than 7” …………….. 1 c per horse
All return wagons are not subject to tolls unless
their load exceeds “500 weight,” in which case
the toll is the same (Gazette 10/3/1806).”3
The 1802 Virginia law that created the Little River Turnpike Company granted it wide powers in dealing with landowners to obtain land for right-of-way and materials for building the road. “This act empowered the employees and officers of the Little River Turnpike
‘absolute authority to enter all lands, tenements and enclosures, through which the said road passes, and to examine all beds of stone and gravel in the vicinity, which may be necessary for making said road; first giving notice of their intention to the owners thereof . . . If the owners would not donate or agree to terms for such land or materials required by the company three disinterested freeholders were to be appointed to appraise the property in question. After paying the appraised value, the company may lawfully enter into said lands. . and dig, cut and carry away, any of the said materials doing as little damage as possible (Shepherd 1970, vol 2:384).’”4
Completion of the full 34-mile turnpike is variously estimated to have occurred in 1810 or 1812. The turnpike remained a privately owned toll road until the state assumed ownership in 1896. One can trace the turnpike’s route by travelling Virginia Route 236 from Alexandria to its intersection with US Route 50 in Fairfax City and continuing on US-50 to Aldie. Only the portion of VA-236 in Fairfax County between Alexandria and Fairfax City retains the name Little River Turnpike.”5
- Cromwell, T. Ted and Hills, Timothy J. (James Madison University Archaeological Research Center), The Phase III Mitigation Of The Bontz Site (44AX103) And The United States Military Railroad Station (44AX105) Located On The South Side Of Duke Street (Route 236) In The City Of Alexandria, Virginia (Virginia Department of Transportation, Richmond, VA, October 1989), 21-23. Accessible online: https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/archaeology/SiteReportCromwell1989DukeStPhase3BontzAX103and105.pdf. ↩
- Ibid., 25-27 ↩
- Ibid., 28-29 ↩
- Ibid., 24 ↩
- Ibid., 23-29 ↩