The other day, I mentioned how few photos I’ve seen of Saugatuck before I-95 was built. I’ve always had a tough time visualizing what that neighborhood looked like before bulldozers, concrete and pillars.
Alert — and historic-minded — “06880” reader Neil Brickley rode to the rescue. He’s a Staples High School classmate of mine, with an equal fascination for the Westport a few years before our parents arrived.
The photo Neil sent is fascinating. It’s a stupendous aerial view of Saugatuck from 1951 — about 4 years before construction began.
I noticed a few things.
The Arrow Restaurant (most recently Blu Parrot) was not yet built on Charles Street.
Greens Farms Road met South Compo quite a bit further south than it does today.
Most significantly, the area west of Saugatuck Avenue — where land was taken to build the Exit 17 interchange — was much more wooded than I imagined.
Click on or hover over the image above. Explore. Then click “Comments,” to share what you see.
Neil also sent this bonus aerial view: The same area, taken in 1965.
A lot changed in just 14 years.
Which makes me wonder what the Saugatuck of today will look like in 2032.
The ongoing intense, important and interesting discussion about the future of the William F. Cribari Bridge — including effects on spillover traffic from I-95, particularly with tractor-trailers and other large vehicles — got me thinking.
The highway — then called the Connecticut Turnpike — sliced through Saugatuck in the 1950s, devastating that tight-knit, largely Italian neighborhood. Homes and businesses were demolished. Families were uprooted. Entire roads disappeared.
But for the rest of Westport, “the thruway” was a godsend. Post Road traffic had become almost unbearable. Trucks rumbled through day and night. Route 1 was the main — and really the only — direct route between New York and Boston.
Post Road, near the Riverside Avenue/Wilton Road intersection, a few years before I-95 was built. Fairfield Furniture is now National Hall.
I know this only because I have heard stories from people who lived here then. When my parents moved to Westport, the Turnpike was open. It was fresh, modern and new — a symbol of postwar modernity, heralding a very promising future.
What I do not know — and what many “06880” readers would like to hear — is what the Post Road was really like, in the years before I-95.
How bad was it? Did it affect parking, businesses, homes? How did people cope?
If you lived in Westport in the pre-thruway days, let us know. Click “Comments” below. Tell us what you remember. If you’ve got photos, send them along.
And if you’ve got any advice for the town and state, as we grapple once again with the future of Saugatuck, we’d love to hear it.
Consultants are devising a “Transit Oriented District” plan, to redevelop the area around the train station. There’s talk of dredging the Saugatuck River. And of course the Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge is very much in play.
Which makes this the perfect time to look at “timeless Saugatuck.”
Peter Barlow’s view of Franklin Street — heading toward Saugatuck Avenue — was taken from the brand-new Connecticut Turnpike (now I-95) overpass in 1958.
But — except for the cars — it could almost have been taken any time in the 60 years since then.
Hey. I said “almost.”
Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Peter Barlow)
Before it focused its attention on Brooklyn — its real estate, its music scene, the type of glasses its hipsters wear — the New York Times actually reported metropolitan-area news in places like Westport.
Kathie Bennewitz — who was researching the construction of I-95, and the destruction it wrought on Saugatuck — unearthed a couple of interesting Times stories from nearly 60 years ago.
On June 20, 1956, the newspaper announced: “Advancing ‘Pike Drives Wild Animals to Town.”
“Human dwellers in Fairfield County are not the only inhabitants to be dislocated by the construction of the Connecticut Turnpike,” readers read. “Denizens of the woods on and near the Thruway route are also being displaced.”
A Westport Humane Society spokesman said he’d received “frequent” calls from residents wanting to know what to do about “the wild life that is invading their backyards and sometimes even their swimming pools.”
Raccoons, possums and skunks were “regular visitors.” No word, though, on deer.
Construction in 1957 of the Connecticut Turnpike bridge in Saugatuck. Charles Street feeds into Riverside Avenue (bottom). Note the Gault tanks along the river (upper left).
Less than a year later — on February 15, 1957 — the Times reported that Westport had saved a 35-foot, 70-year-old holly tree from the chainsaw.
Town officials rescued it from highway demolition. Uprooted and towed 2 miles behind a police escort car, it was transplanted “a short distance from the police station in the center of town.”
“It was too beautiful to destroy,” said First Selectman W. Clarke Crossman.
Wildlife being forced from its natural habitat by construction. Saving trees from destruction.
As the saying goes: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Tolls were abolished more than 20 years ago, on I-95, the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, and 3 Hartford-area bridges. The impetus was a fiery truck crash at the Stratford plaza that killed 7 people.
The impetus for bringing tolls back is the opportunity to generate as much as $1 billion.
An old Merritt Parkway tollbooth is now a museum piece. Those were the days?
An argument against that is that the state may have to repay $2.6 billion in federal highway funds received for Turnpike construction projects following the abolition of tolls.
An argument in favor of reinstating tolls is that they can now be collected electronically — the E-Z Pass way. On some E-Z pass routes, drivers don’t even have to slow down.
An argument against is that there are always non-E-Z Pass users, so at least some tollbooths will be needed. Where will they go? And what will that do to already congested traffic?
An argument in favor of reinstating tolls is that they may cut down on drivers using I-95 to go just a couple of exits. It may also lead folks to carpool to work, or take mass transit.
An argument against is that traffic may be forced onto side streets — like the Post Road, Green’s Farms Road and Bridge Street.
An argument in favor of reinstating tolls is that it will force trucking companies to pay their fair share (or at least a fairer share) of what it costs to maintain roads. After all, tractor trailers cause a lot more wear and tear on highways than my Camry.
An argument against is that costs will rise for every business that relies on trucks. Another counter-argument is that tolls would be one more piece of proof that Connecticut is anti-business, driving (so to speak) away even more jobs than our tax policies already have.
An argument for tolls is that they will capture funds from the many people who travel through en route to other destinations. We are the epitome of a drive-through state.
An argument against is that the majority of drivers paying tolls will be Connecticut residents, who have no choice but to use our interstates.
An argument for tolls is that we have to find ways to fix our roads.
An argument against tolls is that there’s no guarantee politicians won’t move toll revenue around for other purposes.
An argument for tolls is that they could be used in conjunction with lowering the high gas tax — which was supposed to replace revenue lost from tolls.
An argument against that idea is that times have changed — high gas taxes are needed to limit unnecessary driving.
Arguments for and against tolls will rage for a while. “06880” readers are invited to toss in their 2 cents, by clicking “Comments” at the top or bottom of this post.
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