SAAC Presents:
"The More The Merritt" - Still More Merritt Parkway Enthusiasm for '09 and Beyond...
(This page created as of 2/17/2010)

Navigational Links for this page:
New York Times "Connecticut" section article about Merritt Parkway Enthusiasm from April 2009
Greg Mattesen's original words and photos from a happy Merritt Parkway experience in June 2009

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Image (slightly cropped and stylized from original) from New York Times Merritt Parkway article, 4/19/2009 - photo credit Thomas McDonald for The New York TimesOverview

We have to admit that we were recently inspired to dig out this wonderful material that we had stashed away for safekeeping back in early-mid 2009, knowing that eventually it would be fun to add to our displayed collection of Merritt Parkway "stuff."

What it was that got us going finally on actually doing something with these wonderful new materials was the fact that we had recently found the time to gather up and regenerate our orginal Merritt Parkway Enthusiasm page, that we had had a ton of fun constructing originally back in January 2007--and then adding a few updates and corrections in the the months thereafter. Then came the unfortunate occurrence of our beloved AOL (America Online) deciding in the fall of 2008 that they would no provide web site hosting services--at which point our Merritt Parkway page (and all of our other pages) simply evaporated. Thankfully we had most of our pages saved on the computer--not in totally convenient forms with which to get them regenerated, but at least most of the basics were still available to be reassembled, given time and opportunity.

The new address of our original Merritt Parkway page is now (a working address since we got it regenerated as of a couple of days ago): .

Anyway, getting back to what it is we'd like to present on this page... I often find articles of cultural interest in The New York Times newspaper, of which I've been a long-time subscriber. The Sunday editions, especially, typically contain a plethora of interesting articles about pretty much anything you can think of--including local regional attractions, such as shows, restaurants, museums, and occasionally also, roads. Such a road feature appeared in the Connecticut (and the Region) section of the Sunday, April 19th, 2009 edition of The Times. The article was authored by Cynthia Wolfe Boynton, and was entitled "Merritt Parkway Commands Its Own Legion of Fans." It contained a few neat photos (credited to Thomas McDonald for The New York Times), and a pretty lengthy article, I think, with the idea of looking toward the Merritt Parkway's 70th anniversary. In fact, the lead photo's caption reads: "Driving Force - The 70th Anniversary of the Merritt's completion falls in 2010. The 37.5-mile parkway runs from Greenwich to Stratford."

I made sure to save that Times section in my files, and also was happy to have been able to find an electronic copy of the article, which also included a couple of the photos--including the great shot of the Stratford James Farm Road overpass "wings."

Fast forwarding another couple of months, to June of 2009, our long-time old car friend Greg Mattesen (whose influence was also a factor in our constructing our origial Merritt Parkway Enthusiasm page), who often finds himself driving on the Merritt for business, and usually takes his camera along with him "just in case," had the happy & unexpected opportunity to photograph a couple of really cool features of the Merritt. He wrote excitedly about his "photodocumentation score" in an e-mail to friends the afternoon of Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009. Like with the New York Times recent Merritt feature article, we knew Greg's words and pictures were also very worth hanging on to.

And we now find ourselves in mid-February 2010, with seemingly more and more snow on the ground as the month drags on--but with a few scraps of spare time here and there ("aided" by the fact that we can't go outside and do anything because of all the cold and snow), and so we decided to take advantage of our renewed Merritt Parkway enthusiasm, and finally get the Times and the Mattesen materials properly documented on a new feature page. So, let's get to work!

IMAGE AT UPPER RIGHT: This is a slightly cropped and stylized rendition of the lead graphic for the online version of the New York Times story, "Merritt Parkway Commands Its Own Legion of Fans." The same image was also used in the print version of the story, in the Sunday, April 19, 2009 edition of The New York Times, "Connecticut (And The Region)" section. Photo credit to Thomas McDonald for The New York Times. An uncropped and un-stylized version of this same image appears in the section below.

New York Times "Connecticut" Section article published 4/19/2009: "Merritt Parkway Commands Its Own Legion of Fans," by Cynthia Wolfe Boynton

The small "stylized" (electronic "watercolor" effect) image at the top right of this page is adapted from an original very beautiful photo that appeared on page 5 of the above-mentioned New York Times "Connecticut" section, dated Sunday, April 19, 2009. It was credited to Thomas McDonald of the New York Times. The same image wa also found posted with the online version of this story, which was (and may still be as of this writing--but, warning, online articles don't seem to last "forever") at: . The caption for the photo as it was displayed wit the online article read as follows: "VISIONS IN CONCRETE - Art Deco designs and carvings were created by local artists for the Merritt Parkway's bridges." The "wings" shown are, of course, part of the James Farm Road overpass over the Merritt, in Stratford, CT--one of our favorite and most "iconic" symbols associated with the Merritt. We are pleased to present another uncropped, unmodified version of the same beautiful and very striking photo here (below):

Image from New York Times Merritt Parkway article, 4/19/2009 - photo credit Thomas McDonald for The New York Times

Now onto a transcript of the full article:

April 19, 2009
Merritt Parkway Commands Its Own Legion of Fans

THE preservationist Jill Smyth sees getting stuck in stop-and-go traffic on the Merritt Parkway as more of an opportunity than an annoyance.When traffic is crawling - instead of whizzing by - there is more time to gaze at the intricately carved spiders, butterflies and other designs on the concrete bridges that are the hallmark of Connecticut's first divided highway, to enjoy the parklike shoulder of dogwood and laurel trees that line the road, and maybe even to spot a woodchuck on the thoroughfare, which has no wires, utility poles or billboards to block the view.

"The Merritt is still as functional and beautiful as it was when it was first built, but because we're all always in such a hurry, we forget to enjoy the ride," said Ms. Smyth, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the winding, 37.5-mile highway, which officially turns 70 in 2010.

A celebration of the Merritt, the state's first multilane, median-divided highway, began last year with Gov. M. Jodi Rell issuing a proclamation recognizing the 70th anniversary of the June 1938 opening of the first segment - from the state line in Greenwich to Route 7 in Norwalk.

The completed parkway, which ends at the Stratford side of the Sikorsky Bridge, opened in September 1940. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is still one of a handful of scenic highways in the nation: No commercial vehicles are allowed on the road, which transports motorists through verdant scenery from entrance to exit.

To raise funds for road rehabilitation and boost awareness of the Merritt's rich history, the conservancy is selling limited-edition anniversary posters at its Web site, , as well as promoting the small museum it maintains in the lobby of the Ryder's Landing Shopping Center office on Main Street in Stratford.

Ms. Smyth is also hoping that a 2008 documentary created by Lisa Seidenberg (, a Westport filmmaker, will spur more people to get involved with parkway preservation.

Funded with grants from the conservancy and the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, "The Road Taken...The Merritt Parkway" has attracted standing-room-only crowds to free screenings at local libraries, historical societies and centers for the elderly.

It is a testament to how the construction of something so prosaic as a road could be perceived as so advanced in its day and still, in a much different era, seven decades later, continue to stir the imagination. As was the case at a recent showing at the North End Library in Bridgeport, with many audience members vividly recalling the excitement of their family's first Sunday drive on the Merritt.

Graphic from Merritt Parkway 70th Anniversary poster, by Merritt Parkway Conservancy"It was a thrill," said Midge Villinger, 83, of West Haven. "We just couldn't get over having a road like that, because we had never seen anything like it. Route 1 was our only main road. Everything else was country roads.

"In the futuristic section of the New York World's Fair," Ms. Villinger said, recalling the 1939 exhibition, "we saw pictures of parkways and overpasses but laughed, saying, 'That will never happen here.' "

Begun during the Depression to relieve a dangerously congested Route 1, the parkway was designed to offer drivers both scenery and speedier travel between Connecticut and New York, said James H. Norman, acting engineering administrator for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Early maps describe the road as a "ribbon park" that a team of State Highway Department architects, landscape architects and engineers designed to follow the winding, hilly topography of "back country" Fairfield County. Local plants and trees were used to create a parklike setting, with each of the parkway's 69 bridges featuring hand carvings by local artists and one-of-a-kind Art Deco designs.

Early motorists often pulled off the road for picnics and strolls.

"Today, the land the parkway rolls through looks more like a forest than a park, and the cars go a little too fast to make it safe for a stroll," Ms. Smyth said. "But still, the road is more than just a thoroughfare that takes you from Point A to Point B. It's a source of pride. It's history."

At a cost of $21.2 million, it was the state's largest and most expensive public works project at the time. Initially, state legislators looked to the Public Works Administration, or P.W.A., and Works Progress Administration, or W.P.A., to provide construction funds. When that did not come to pass, the state allowed Fairfield County to issue bonds to construct the highway.

Upkeep today averages about $8 million per mile, Mr. Norman said, adding that the Transportation Department is currently taking bids to resurface, clean and make safety improvements to a nine-mile stretch from Trumbull to Fairfield later this year.

Cost and an attempt to limit travel disruptions generally keep the department from tackling more than 10 miles of upgrades every 10 or so years, Mr. Norman said. Like Ms. Smyth, he said he would like to see more done to safeguard this "treasure."

"Protecting the integrity and character of the road, while improving and assuring commuters' safety, are priorities," Mr. Norman added.

According to Transportation Department figures, about 70,000 people travel on the Merritt each day.

One frequent driver is Henry Merritt of Redding, a great-nephew of the man the parkway was named for - Congressman Schuyler Merritt of Stamford, who throughout the 1920s and '30s was a vocal proponent for the parkway and helped the state acquire the needed land.

"He thought of this as not being a means to get somewhere," Mr. Merritt said in Ms. Seidenberg's film, "but driving for pleasure. You went out for a family drive on weekends."

For residents interested in learning more or taking a "guided tour" of the road, illustrated maps are available for $6 from the conservancy's online store.

Ms. Seidenberg will also continue free public screenings of her film. The next will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Westport Public Library. Her Web site, , will list future dates.

"Maybe it's because I wasn't raised in Connecticut that I am so struck by the intricacy of the Merritt's bridges and landscape," Ms. Seidenberg said. "If I was raised here, I probably wouldn't see it. But through my fresh eyes, the Merritt is captivating."

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"The Merritt Pic-Way" - Greg Mattesen's original photos & descriptions from a happy Merritt Parkway experience in June 2009

As has been demonstrated numerous times over the years, our friend Greg Mattesen has a special appreciation and a special photographic eye for American Roads and Roadside Americana. He has been very influential and very inspirational to us in his approach and appreciation for anything related to the history of roads and motoring. Greg has shown us in particular that there is a great deal of history "right in our own back yard"--the historic Merritt Parkway definitely included!

Greg had returned from a local-CT-area business trip in early June, and took some great pictures along the way that relate to the Merritt Parkway and its interesting features. He took the time to share a few of his wonderful shots, and provided some descriptions as to the subjects and the circumstances by which he came to have the opportunity to photograph them, in his e-mai message of 6/3/2009 (that had the photos attached)--here are excerpts:

"...I had to travel down to Fairfield County today to meet with a couple of Volvo dealers, and on the way back I kind of stumbled into a situation that allowed me to get some photos of a couple Merritt Parkway icons. I was on my way back from Volvo of Westport, and there was so much traffic on the Post Road leaving their parking lot that I had to make a right instead of a left as I had planned to do. In the process of trying to find my way to the Parkway, I got lost and actually stumbled onto the Merwins Lane overpass. I've wanted to photograph the railings on this bridge for years, and luckily I had my camera with me, so I took some pictures. The first one shows the entire panel detail of one section of railing...

Greg Mattesen photo June '09 - Merritt Parkway Merwins Lane overpass bridge railing - inside face

...I love the spider-web motif of the center panel and the side panels with the flowers and butterflies. In the second photo, I really had to hang my butt out in the breeze to get a photo of a spider from the outside of the railing. Not really: I did have to hold the camera out over the railing, though. I think the fly in the middle of the web is a goner; that spider's looking pretty hungry...

Greg Mattesen photo June '09 - Merritt Parkway Merwins Lane overpass bridge railing - spider detail on outside face

...In looking at a map, I realized that the best way to get back onto the Parkway from Merwins Lane was to continue east to the Black Rock Turnpike exit. This gave me the opportunity to take a few pictures of the Motel Hi Ho and its great neon sign. I wish it was lit, but even at night many of the letters are out at this point (at least they were last time I traveled the Merritt at night). It's a pretty neat-looking old motel. There appears to be a restaurant with outdoor dining on the lower level..."

Greg Mattesen photo June '09 - Motel Hi-Ho sign, Merritt Parkway, Black Rock Turnpike exit

Greg Mattesen photo June '09 - Motel Hi-Ho building overall, Merritt Parkway, Black Rock Turnpike exit

Thanks, as always, to our friend Greg for sharing his wonderful perspective and appreciation of these unique Merritt Parkway features!

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