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Looking Back: On yesterday's turnpike

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July 11, 2010
STURBRIDGE — It costs $5.10 to traverse the Massachusetts Turnpike from West Stockbridge to Logan Airport in Boston, and the quickest way to get to Hartford is on Interstate 84 via exit 9 in Sturbridge.

There was once another turnpike that passed through Sturbridge though, connecting Worcester to Hartford, that for a short time in the early 19th century — only about 10 years before being de-commissioned and broken down into sections that were incorporated into other roads — was one of the most heavily traveled roads in the commonwealth.

Only ghosts of that road, the Worcester-Stafford Turnpike, exist today, but the impact it had on the character of Sturbridge is undeniable.

Opened in 1810, the Worcester-Stafford Turnpike was one of a number of toll roads built by private investors with the purpose of broadening business opportunities.

Used primarily for commercial travel, passengers along the turnpike were charged 25 cents per coach and 4 cents for each man and horse at tollhouses built approximately 10 miles apart where horses would have to be changed during the 12-hour ride from Worcester to Hartford.

One such tollhouse was an inn that stood adjacent to the Sturbridge Town Common that has long outlived the very road it was built to serve. That tollhouse, now known as the Publick House, is still a favored destination for travelers and diners alike.

"The Publick House was really quite responsible for a lot of the settling around here," said Joe Ouellette of the Historical Commission.

For more on this story, please see Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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