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The nineteenth century was a time of astonishing change in technologies of transportation. When the Constitution was ratified, to travel from New Haven to Hartford would require an arduous and uncertain trip on a rough road that could span more than a day. At the start of the twentieth century, railroads conveyed thousands of people daily along that route in a few hours, and the first automobiles were motoring over roads. The great progress in infrastructure development radically transformed the commercial, physical, and cultural landscape of America.

This paper will make this broad question of the relationship law to the economic and technological change more tractable by exploring it in the context of three specific cases: infrastructure improvements in the city of New Haven which range from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. I will attend closely to the techniques of financing and the organizational structures that were employed to carry them out. The first case-study is the extension of the Long Wharf in New Haven harbor; the second is the construction of a network of turnpike roads; the final is the Farmington Canal. Over time innovations in law allowed for projects on a ever grander scale. Through these examples I hope to glimpse the concurrent development of the “abstract” and “physical” infrastructure of America.