All toll roads led to the Comstock – almost
Appeal Staff Writer
From the days of the Comstock Lode, most of the roads heading into Virginia City were toll roads operated by private companies. All except one.
Six Mile Canyon Road may become a toll road in the future, but it wasn’t one in the past. At least not according to historians.
The road shows up on an 1867 map of the area, where it’s called “the road from Virginia City to Ragtown,” said Jeff Kintop of the Nevada State Archives. “It was never a toll road that I can tell.”
The toll roads from Dayton came through Gold Canyon rather than Six Mile, which became a major industrial section of the Comstock. The road was lined with stamp mills to crush the ore from Comstock mines. The Overland telegraph also followed the road.
Kintop said toll road companies had to pay state taxes to support the school fund, and there is no record of payments by a company operating a toll on Six Mile.
It came to prominence in the area when, in 1859, Peter O’Reilly and Patrick McLaughlin discovered gold and began the gold and silver boom. Claiming the two were working claims on his property, Henry Comstock managed to secure a third of the riches, leading to the name Comstock Lode. Miners came from both California and the East to seek their fortunes, and Six Mile Canyon was the main route from Ragtown, a small trading post located just west of what is now Fallon.
“People coming from the east would go up Six Mile Canyon if they were going directly to Virginia City,” Kintop said. “If they were going to Carson City, they would go through Dayton.”
Toll roads existed throughout western Nevada, Kintop said.
In fact, toll roads were so ubiquitous that Mark Twain wrote in “Roughing It,” that “… it was estimated that every citizen owned about three franchises, and it was believed that unless Congress gave the Territory another degree of longitude there would not be room enough to accommodate the toll-roads. The ends of them were hanging over the boundary line everywhere like a fringe.”
• From the north, the Geiger and nearby Ophir grades took travelers from the Truckee Meadows to Virginia City. Lousetown Road stretched from Lagomarsino Canyon near Lockwood to Geiger and then to Virginia City.
• From Dayton and what is now Mound House, toll roads came up Gold Canyon through Silver City and Devil’s Gate to the Comstock. Also, American Flat Toll Road took travelers from American City through Gold Hill to Virginia City. There was also the Tunnel Toll Road from Gold Hill to Virginia City.
• In addition, Seven Mile Canyon Road from its junction at Six Mile Canyon Road to Geiger Grade was a toll road.
“Many of the roads that we use today were toll roads at one time,” said State Archivist Guy Rocha.
Private roads came to be because even then, Nevadans were averse to higher taxes to pay for better roads, said Eugene M. Hattori, curator of anthropology at the Nevada State Museum. Toll road upkeep and construction were paid for by the users and by the sale of shares in the toll road companies.
Rocha said the legislation providing for toll road franchises only allowed them for 20 years; then the road reverted to the county, thus bringing the toll road era to an end in the late 1880s.
Nevada has 117 toll roads in its history, but Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Magruder said there are no toll roads operating in the state today.
Six Mile Canyon Road eventually became State Route 79 in 1957, but when the Federal Highway Act passed in 1973, states were required to reclassify their roads to obtain federal aid, the state decided Six Mile did not meet federal requirements as a secondary road. The next year the state repealed the SR 79 designation.
Storey County Public Works Director Rich Bacus said the county began paving Six Mile Canyon Road in the late 1980s, mainly for the benefit of school buses, emergency vehicles and trash haulers.
“We started at the top,” he said. “We didn’t get it all finished until the late ’90s.”
Storey County Commissioners have approved the first reading of an amendment bringing back the toll road concept for Six Mile Canyon Road. The ordinance is being reviewed by the county’s insurance company.
Rocha called the toll road concept “a 19th century phenomenon.”
“What’s amazing is, back East, you find toll roads,” he said, adding that though emigrants brought the toll road concept with them, they didn’t maintain it.
“The West as a region decided this was going to be underwritten in another manner, and toll roads became rare here.”
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111 ext. 351.
Toll road fees of the 1860s
Proposed tolls for an 1864 toll road franchise include the following:
• $2 per wagon and one span of horses
• 25 cents per extra horse, half price for empty, returning freight wagons
• $1.50 for a person on horseback
• 10 cents per each sheep or hog
• 121Ú2 cents for a person’s dog
1859 – Toll companies build roads to Virginia City.
1861 – Territorial Legislature approved an act authorizing the collection of toll on roads already constructed within the territory of Nevada, regulating franchises and rates.
1866 – Public highways legislation was first passed allowing roads to be public, but added a section to allow the continued use of toll roads.
1867 – Six Mile Canyon Road appears on official maps.
1957 – Six Mile Canyon Road designated State Route 79.
1973 – Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973 passed, requiring counties to reclassify roads.
1976 – State reclassification process concludes Six Mile Canyon Road does not meet the federal specifications to qualify for inclusion in the Federal-Aid system as a secondary road.
1977 – Legislature passes AB283 that repeals all existing state route numbers.
1993 – Legislature rejects bill making Six Mile Canyon a state road.
1995 – AB413, authorizing local governments and the Nevada Department of Transportation to establish toll roads was defeated.
1995 – Legislature rejects bill making Six Mile Canyon a state road.
1997 – Legislature considered approving private toll roads in a measure, pushed by Assemblyman Merle Berman, R-Las Vegas, but it was defeated.
1997 – Legislature rejects making Six Mile Canyon Road a state highway again.
2002 – AB401 to allow the Legislature to authorize a private company to create a toll road was defeated.
2005 – Six Mile Canyon Road is closed Dec. 31 after heavy flooding caused much damage.
2006 – Storey County Commissioners propose toll road ordinance for Six Mile Canyon Road on June 6. Road is reopened without toll June 21, while ordinance is pending.
Toll Roads in Nevada 1861-1864
Franchises granted by the Legislature and date authorized
• Kingsbury and McDonald, Nov. 27
• Nightingill Ayres and Co., Nov. 27
• Humboldt River Ferry Co., Nov. 29
• Virginia City to Steamboat Valley, Nov. 29
• Virginia City to Truckee Meadows, Geiger and Co., Nov. 29
• Carson Toll Bridge, Dayton, Comstock and Co., Nov. 29
• Desert Creek to Esmeralda, Dickinson and Co., Nov. 28
• Kingsbury and Co. in Lake County, Dec. 2
• Roberts’ Toll Bridge, Dayton, Dec. 2
• Nightingill and Co., Peavine to Humboldt, Dec. 2
• Mason and Co. Junction House, Lake County, Dec. 17
• Helm and Co., Carson, Kings and Lake Bigler, Dec. 17
• Walton and Co., American Flat, Dec. 17
• Mitchell and Co., Virginia and Gold Hill Flume, Dec. 17,
• Empire City to Clear Creek, Dec. 19
• Job and Penrod, Sink of Carson to Reese River, Dec. 19
• Walton and Co., Clear Creek to Lake Bigler, Dec. 19
• Stewart and Co., Dayton to Desert Creek, Dec. 19
• Naileigh and Co., Lathrop Ranch to Hot Springs, Dec. 19
• Comstock and Co., Toll Bridge Humboldt River, Dec. 19
• Hawkins and Co., Aurora to Big Meadows, Dec. 19
• Forsythe and Co., Carson to Empire, Dec. 19
• Armstrong and Co., Gold Hill to Empire City, Dec. 19
• Brown and Co., Washoe to Lake Bigler, Dec. 19
• Brooks and White, Lake View House to Ophir Road, Dec. 19
• Alford and Co., Washoe to Lake Bigler, Dec. 19
• Boyd and Co., Genoa to Teasdale’s Ranch, Dec. 19
• Ellen Redman and Co., Toll Bridge Carson River, Dec. 19
• Stith and Co., Toll Bridge Carson River, Dec. 19
• Van Sickles and Co., Carson Valley to Wheeler Ranch, Dec. 19
• Evans and Co., Stout’s Bridge to Sink of Humboldt, Dec. 19
• Lyon and Co. Toll Bridge, East Walker River, Dec. 19
• Van Sickle and Co., Como to Empire City, Dec. 19
• G.W. Marsh Toll Bridge, East Walker River, Dec. 19
• Perkins and Co., Carson to Virginia and Washoe Railroad, Dec. 19
• McDonald and Co., Half Way House, Dec. 20
• Brickell and Co., Desert Wells to Reese River Station, Feb. 9
• Bryan and Co., Teasdale’s to Slinkard’s, Feb. 9
• Abe Curry, Carson to Empire City, Feb. 9
• Olds and Co., Double Springs to Dutch Valley, Feb. 16
• Wellington and Co., Wellington Station to Austin, Feb. 16
• Morton and Co., Big Creek to Smoky Valley, Feb. 18
• Russue and Co., Double Springs to Dickson’s Ranch, Feb. 18
• Luther and Co., Upper Austin to Geneva, Feb. 18
• J.W. Haines and Co., Genoa to Como, Feb. 18
• Ganung and Co., Italian Station to Sink of Smith’s Creek, Feb. 18
• Kells and Co., Castle Rock to Truckee Meadows, Feb. 19
• Gardiner and Co., Virginia City to Race Track, Feb. 19
• Welty and Co., Austin to Colorado River, Feb. 19
• Moore and Co., Sand Springs to Reese River, Feb. 19
• Powell and Co., Montrose to Santa Fe District, Feb. 19
• St. Clair and Co., Toll Bridge Old River, Feb. 20
• Harmon and Co., Madeline Plains to Puebla City, Feb. 20
• Ash and Co., Gregory’s Canyon to Lake Bigler, Feb. 20
• Dexter and Co., Aurora to Adobe Valley, Feb. 20
• Haynes and Co., Canyon City to Austin, Feb. 20
• Latson and Co., Harris Station to Carson Lake, Feb. 20
• Hunter and Co., Como to Empire City, Feb. 20
• Faulkner and Co., Peavine Creek to San Antonio, Feb. 20
• Martino and Co., Silver City to American City, Feb. 20
• Haynes and Co., Austin Grade to Amador City, Feb. 20
• Martin and Co., Oregon Mill to Springer’s Canon, Feb. 20
• Pollock and Co., Dayton to Como, Feb. 20
• Steiner and Co., Merrimac Grade to Marble Station, Feb. 20