Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Boston Post Road History (Read a Book Day)

Don't overlook local and regional history books as sources of background info about the places your ancestors lived and the daily routines they might have followed. Browsing in my local library's "New Books" section, I picked up The King's Best Highway, by Eric Jaffe, a highly readable book about the history and development of the Boston Post Road, a road I thought I knew.
During college, I drove my Yamaha 50 motorcycle down the Boston Post Road (Route 1) from Boston to Bridgeport (CT) and then on to New York City. It only (!) took 10 hours, door to door, not including the overnight stay in Bridgeport with my dorm buddy and her family. In many spots, Route 1 coincided with Route 95, meaning I was riding a few short inches away from gigantic 18-wheelers that weren't at all impressed by my bike's 50 mph top speed.

Not only did the author trace BPR's surprising history from the 1600s to the present, he also described the economic, social, political, and cultural changes that the road brought about in New England and through New York City and its northern suburbs.

I didn't realize, for example, that "Colonel" Albert A. Pope, a bicycle entrepreneur in Hartford, was largely responsible for the movement to upgrade roads between Bean Town and the Big Apple, seeing them as bike paths! I also didn't know that bicycling clubs were the first to print foldout road maps for members. And I wasn't aware that the BPR went through Hartford, not just along the shoreline.

One of my great-uncles worked in Bridgeport, a hub of industrial activity that expanded thanks to P.T. Barnum's never-ending civic promotions plus, of course, the availability of rail, trolley, and road travel along the Boston Post Road.

This book would be a fun read for any genealogist researching the lives of ancestors who worked or lived in or near the Boston-to-New York corridor.


  1. I was in Wells, Maine over the Labor Day weekend and I was on the Boston Post Road (Rt. 1) I think there were many roads with name, not just the famous one from Boston to New York. I was surprised, but excited to think of all the other possibilities. Maybe all mail roads to Boston had this name at one time?

  2. Heather, according to the book, there were a number of routes from Boston to NY, including one through Hartford. It makes sense that there would be routes from further north into Boston too! The book explains why it's Rt 1, by the way: The bicycle club that made early folding maps put a #1 on the BPR, so it was often referred to with that number, informally. Who knew? Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting!