Toll houses were built along the National Road as a result of a 25 year national debate as to whether or not the federal government should be responsible for funding road improvements. While there was agreement on the idea that those who used the road should help defray maintenance costs, it was also thought unconstitutional for the federal government to charge tolls. The debate was finally resolved when it was decided to transfer ownership of the National Road to individual states. After Maryland accepted ownership, an elaborate system of rates and fares was established based on the estimated amount of damage different vehicles and animals could cause the road. During the La Vale Toll House's first year of operation, almost $10,000 was collected.
Toll collectors earned $200 a year and had free living quarters. "Pikers," travelers unwilling to pay tolls, made it difficult for toll keepers, as they tried to escape by avoiding the road. The Addison and Searights Toll Houses are of similar architecture, and can still be seen as you continue west on the National Road into Pennsylvania.
The La Vale Toll House was built to look like a gatehouse, lending it an interesting shape. The two-story brick structure has seven sides; five are equal in length while two are longer.