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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
Collage of Local Legacies
James Farm Road Bridge, Merritt Parkway
James Farm Road Bridge, Merritt Parkway Fairfield County, Connecticut. Photo: C. Wigren, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, 1990

Merritt Parkway

The Merritt Parkway is of national significance as an outstanding and largely intact example of the early twentieth-century parkways created as an outgrowth of the City Beautiful Movement. It was the first divided-lane, limited-access road in Connecticut. The Merritt is significant in the history of transportation because it culminated a generation of experiments in combining the talents of engineers, landscape architects, and architects to create parkways that served recreational purposes and gave aesthetic pleasure while providing safe transportation. In it, all the best features developed in its predecessors were put together to create the quintessential parkway. Ironically, just after the defeat of Germany in World War II, American parkway ideals that gave priority to recreational motoring (and had been brought to a widely acknowledged degree of perfection in the recently completed Merritt) succumbed to a demand for high-speed travel over highways in which utilitarian priorities were derived from the German autobahn.

The Merritt Parkway was built to relieve congestion along the Boston Post Road (U.S. Route 1) in Connecticut. It also became an important link in a network of parkways and highways built to carry traffic around New York City. Since it provided a quick and pleasant way to travel from New York to relatively open countryside, it encouraged the creation of some of the most affluent American suburban communities of the mid-twentieth century, and has become a major artery. The Merritt has attracted far greater volumes of traffic than its planners predicted. This has been true since the day the first stretch was opened in 1938.

The bridges across the Merritt Parkway are architecturally significant and are justly celebrated for the quality and variety of their design. They include excellent examples of Art Deco and Moderne styles, as well as fine exercises in historical revival styles representative of American tastes of the 1930s. They bear witness to the great skill and inventiveness of their architect, George L. Dunkelberger.

Taken as a whole, Merrit is a significant work of naturalistic landscape architecture. The planners of the Merritt's landscape, A. Earl Wood and Weld Thayer Chase, gave priority to fitting the roadways into their naturalistic surroundings, to healing the wounds of construction, and to complementing the bridges. The admiration of thousands of travelers during the past fifty years is testimony to their success.

Included in project documentation are 13 pages of text, a reproduction of an article from the New Canaan Historical Society publication, and 14 photographs with descriptions.

Originally submitted by: Christopher Shays, Representative (4th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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