The Merritt Parkway

Bruce Radde

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"One can build a concrete highway anywhere. . . . But the Merritt parkway is different. More than any 'futurama' at the World's Fair, . . . it shows what the highway of the future really should look like—a highway where the eye is filled with beauty and the mind with peace."—Bridgeport Post, 1938

The Merritt Parkway, which connects Connecticut's Fairfield County with New York State, was built in the 1930s, one of the earliest attempts to cope with America's new obsession with the automobile. This book traces the history of the Merritt Parkway from the proposals for its construction and design in the early 1920s to its triumphant completion in 1940. Filled with vintage and recent photographs, historic documents, and maps, it is not only a picturesque tour of a renowned Connecticut landmark, but is also an appraisal of a major contribution to the built environment—one recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In word and image Bruce Radde explores what is special about this parkway—from the sensitive routing that hugs the rolling rural landscape to its sixty-eight masterful bridges, designed by a single architect mainly in the Art Deco style, making this the largest Art Deco design in the world. Radde also provides fascinating details about the scandal-filled process by which land was acquired, the people—politicians, planners, engineers, and landscape architects—involved in the construction of the road, the introduction of tolls and gas stations, the decision to ban commercial vehicles, and the reasons why the adjoining Wilbur Cross Parkway is not as inspiring as the older Merritt road. Radde discusses the various preservation efforts that have taken place since World War II. Comparing the Merritt to other acclaimed roads around the country, such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Blue Ridge Parkway, he argues that the Merritt Parkway is a paradigm of what a superhighway can be, a national treasure to be enjoyed, cherished, and protected.

Bruce Radde is an art history professor in California.

"Radde has produced a volume that will serve many purposes. . . . It is a wonderfully illustrated and entirely readable volume that will be thoroughly enjoyed by many casual readers of Connecticut history. For students of highway design, it undoubtedly will serve as a valuable reference work, and as a treatise calling for the preservation of one of the most scenic pre-war parkways in the United States, it succeeds admirably."—Owen D. Gutfreund, Connecticut History

"An affectionate history."—New Yorker Magazine
ISBN: 9780300068771
Publication Date: September 25, 1996
176 pages, 8 1/2 x 9 1/2
115 b/w + 38 color illus.