The Quirky Wooden Relic of Brooklyn’s Transit Past in Prospect Park

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    It’s a fairly small structure that could easily be mistaken for an old carousel ticket stand or Prospect Park information booth, but the octagonal wood structure with a bright red umbrella-shaped roof is actually a remnant of one of Brooklyn’s early toll roads. Tucked into the Children’s Corner of Prospect Park, near Lefferts Historic House, the tollbooth once stood guard on the Flatbush Turnpike.

    The Brooklyn, Flatbush, and Jamaica Plank Road Company was incorporated around 1809 and managed a toll road that connected the town of Flatbush with greater Brooklyn. Advertisements from the 1840s mention toll booths along the route of Flatbush, but the Prospect Park booth is believed to date from the 1850s and the creation of the Flatbush Plank Company.

    prospect park history plank road tollbooth

    An 1850s construction diagram for a plank road. Image by W.M. Gillespie via ‘A Manual of the Principles and Practice of Road-Making

    Founded by a number of prominent farmers and landowners in 1855, including John Lefferts, Asher Hubbard and Henry and John Ditmas, the Flatbush Plank Company managed an approximately 4-mile plank roadway along Flatbush. The road offered a mud-free route, which was especially handy for Flatbush farmers bringing their goods to market.

    Plank roads were a popular solution to a transit conundrum, and wooden roadways were popping up elsewhere in New York and the U.S at the time. It wasn’t even the only plank road facilitating traffic into Brooklyn.

    prospect park history toll booth historic

    Image via Prospect Park Archives/Bob Levine Collection

    The last tolls along Flatbush were collected in 1889 and the stretch of roadway became a public, rather than private, street, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

    The tollbooth, which had been moved to various locations along the roadway over the years, was given to John Moore, the last Flatbush Road Commissioner, who placed it as a folly in his backyard. His daughter inherited it, but when her land was sold in the early 1920s, the Flatbush Chamber of Commerce helped donate the relic to the city and place it in Prospect Park.

    prospect park tollhouse flatbush plank road

    The gift was accepted in 1925 and a dedication ceremony was held in which the wooden relic was “flag-draped and surrounded by 500 schoolchildren from P.S. 92,” according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It has sat in this spot in the park ever since.

    Wonder what it would be like to travel on a plank road? Lefferts Historic House has a small stretch of plank “roadway” installed on the grounds so that you can attempt to travel back in time.

    prospect park tollhouse flatbush plank road

    [Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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