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.
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.