You are standing in front of the Canton and Liverpool Plank Road Company toll booth, which dates to 1850. To the south you will see the Dickson Mounds Museum building. To the north you will see the West Waterford School house, which dates to the mid-nineteenth century.
This structure is one of perhaps only a dozen plank road toll booths still surviving in the United States. It is one of two known wooden structures and the only one with an onion-shaped dome. Plank toll roads were common in the 1840s and 1850s as a way to facilitate overland travel. By 1851, there were 600 miles of toll roads in Illinois alone. Use of these roads generally died out by the 1860s when the spread of railroads made them obsolete.
Thompson Maple of Canton organized the Canton and Liverpool Plank Road Company in 1850 to aid in the transport of hogs, grain, and manufactured goods from the thriving city of Canton with the Illinois River port of Liverpool thirteen miles away. Seven hundred shares of stock were sold to the public for fifty dollars each. The cost of constructing the plank road was approximately $3,000 per mile.
Planking for the road consisted of an eight-foot-wide oak track on a sixteen-foot-wide graded area. The plank road was just wide enough for one wagon, and in passing, one vehicle would have to turn out onto the dirt road; the wagon with the load had the right-of-way.
Three booths stood along the plank road to collect tolls. The two other booths were at Maples mill and in Liverpool. This one was located a mile south of Canton's town square and was the only tollbooth that doubled as the stock sales office for the plank road company. Of the three, this is the only surviving toll booth.
The octagonal shape of the toll booth represents an architectural trend of the 1850s. Octagons were thought to be most efficient for lighting and heating. The onion-shaped dome speaks to American interest in the Near and Far East in the mid-nineteenth century. The shape and exotic ornamentation of this toll booth indicates that the Canton and Liverpool Plank Road Company was trying to convey the impression of an important and successful enterprise.
The plank road lasted only six years before the construction of a free and shorter road to the Copperas Creek river landing about three miles further east caused the company to fail. The planks were taken up and sold to pay the stockholders.
In 1866 the building was moved to S. Fourth Street near Linn Street in Canton and used as a ticket office for the Fulton County Agricultural Society's annual fair. At a later time it was moved to a location along the St. David road south of Canton. When it was threatened by strip mining activity in 1971, Dwayne Vaughn donated the structure to the Waterford Promotion Group. Citizens of Canton acquired the structure in 1972 and had it moved to Lewistown Road in Waterford Township, where it was restored and served as an information booth for the Spoon River Drive. In 1986 it was given to the Illinois State Museum and later moved to the Dickson Mounds Museum property.