A Post On The Post Road

If you think writers can run out of subjects for books, I have 4 words for you:  “The King’s Best Highway.”

That’s the title of Eric Jaffe’s 1st work.  The subtitle tells more:  “The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, The Route That Made America.”

Yes, it is possible to write 267 pages about a road.

Jaffe — a former editor of Smithsonian.com — was warned not to write a “boring” book.  He hasn’t.

He follows the New York-to-Boston Post Road from a number of angles:  Indian trails.  Stagecoach lines.  The Revolutionary War.  The Civil War.  Railroads.  Interstates.

He channels John Winthrop, Nathan Hale, Abe Lincoln, P.T. Barnum, J.P. Morgan, FDR and Robert Moses.

He covers newspapers, textiles, mass-produced bicycles and guns, railroads — even Manhattan’s modern grid.

The Post Road defined Westport long before there was a Westport.  A major conduit for commerce, it featured a not-uncommon toll bridge over the Saugatuck River.

The Post Road, looking east, in 1944. On the left is the old library (now Starbucks, among other things). On the right is the Club Grill and, beyond it, Thompson's Pharmacy (now Tiffany). Note the trolley tracks, which remained through the 1950s.

Downtown grew up along the “King’s Highway.”  Stores and shopping centers sprouted elsewhere on the road.

By the 1950s the Post Road (at that time called State Street) was so clogged with traffic — cars, buses and trucks all competed with cars parked on both sides of the street — something had to be done.

That something was the Connecticut Turnpike (now called I-95).  It seems intuitive today that the route through Westport hugs the shore.  Where else could it go?

Incredibly, an early-’50s plan had the Turnpike following the Post Road  exactly.  The new interstate would be double-decked over it, directly through downtown.

The mind boggles.

A 1970s “Greening of the Post Road” project brought trees and flowers to the Westport portion of US1.  Enough time has passed that some greenery has now been chopped down — CL&P’s underground power line project was an egregious culprit — but new re-greening, like that near Fresh Market, should bear fruit soon.

Jaffe’s book mentions Westport fleetingly.  There’s F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s “mad rides” along the Post Road; a successful 1945 “Stop the Road” drive to halt an early version of the Turnpike, and a sarcastic  reference to the “Please Slow Down, We Enforce Our Speed Laws” sign at the town line.

That’s fine.  Don’t buy “The King’s Best Highway” to read about Westport.  Buy it for the entire 380-year history of the Post Road.

The official publication date is June 22.  It will be available at Barnes & Noble.

The address is 1076 Post Road East.

The Post Road's Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge -- so crowded when you're on it -- seems almost invisible in this shot, taken from the wooden walkway off Parker Harding Plaza.

11 responses to “A Post On The Post Road

  1. Maxine Bleiweis

    and Eric Jaffe will be talking about his book and signing copies in time for holiday giving at the Westport Library on Sunday, November 7 at 2 pm

  2. Kudos to Jaffe! Dan, re the 1944 photo: in the 40s and 50s the pharmacy was Colgan’s; I don’t think it became Thompson’s until the very late 50s/early 60s.

  3. Carl A. Swanson

    Excellent piece on Jaffe’s historical revelations. I remember my parents’ consternation about many alternative I-95 routes that may have affected Cross Highway as well. Perhaps just rumors. I do not recall the trolley tracks but must have marched over them at the Memorial Day parade. If the sociologists are correct and our nation’s population will reach 400 million by 2050, whether a “Super” Post Road will be in order then?

  4. Adam Stolpen


    re post road/I-95. Just a reminder, it was Westport’s John Davis Lodge, then Governor of CT, who pushed through the legislation placing I-95 somewhere other than on the King’s Highway. He got the road, but lost the election to Abe Ribacoff, ending Lodge’s elected career (though he did run unsuccessfully for Senate against Tom Dodd Chris’ father) in 1964…loosing in the LBJ/Goldwater landslide.

    Seems Lodge, who’d driven the Post Road in Westport for years, had no desire to sacrifice all the towns along it to traffic…instead he put the Turnpike near the coast, going through the shoreline estates of such notables as Greenwich’s Clair Booth Luce, who vowed to “get him” for her inconvenience. A former elected Rublican Congresswoman, she worked hard to punish Republican Lodge for his real estate transgression and her group’s votes were considered to be the margin that elected Ribacoff, allowing him to be in the position to be the first major national figure to endorse the young senator from the nextdoor state when he ran for President …JFK.

    Lodge would say to me every time we drove on 95, “this road cost me my political life, but it was worth the cost, we did the right thing….they’ll probably name for meme after I’m dead”….and they did. We now drive on the Gov. John Davis Lodge Turnpike.

    Next time you try crossing the Post Road from Starbucks heading for a frozen yogurt think of what it would have been like in downtown Westport if it was not for Lodge’s political courage.

  5. Dale E. Call

    I haven’t read the book but I’m curious about why there is a “… sarcastic reference to the “Please Slow Down, We Enforce Our Speed Laws” sign at the town line.”

    I’m curious if anyone recalls how or why these signs went up – the State of Connecticut didn’t pay for them.

    They went up after Ann Kiester and Katy Macieski (Staples ’83) were killed in a car accident on said Post Road in 1982 (see the post in this blog “Tuition Grants Change Lives”), and I’m pretty sure that their families paid for those signs.

    I wonder if the author mentioned that in his book?

    I hope that the next time folks are entering Westport and see those signs they might remember the reasons the signs are up and the loss that spurred their placement there.

  6. As a history buff( and an avid road geek I also might add) this sounds like a great read.
    Thanks Dan highlighting this!

  7. Wow, Mr. Jaffe should have consulted with Misters Stolpen and Call before he wrote his book. Mr. Call’s entry now adds new meaning when I see that sign. Sad. Unfortunately, not only is the speed limit not adhered to but rarely enforced.

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