Skip to main content

Getting to Know US 20's History



On the evening of Thursday, January 19, 2017, I had a chance to attend a presentation on the history of US Route 20 at the New Lebanon Library in New Lebanon, New York. New Lebanon is probably best known for being the birthplace of Samuel Tilden, who narrowly lost the 1876 U.S. Presidential Election, and one of the centers of the religious group known as the Shakers. But New Lebanon is also a town where the longest highway in the United States runs through. That highway is US Route 20.

The speaker of this presentation was Bryan Farr, who I first became acquainted with around the year 2002, as he contributed a wealth of photos and information to the former Gribblenation website. These days, he is the founder and president of the Historic US Route 20 Association, which aims to promote and link together individuals, communities and small businesses located along US 20.

During the presentation, not only was US 20 itself discussed, but also the history and the roads leading up to what is now a highway that stretches from Kenmore Square in Boston to the Oregon Coast in Newport through such places like Cleveland, Chicago and Yellowstone National Park. Famous people in history were discussed, such as General Henry Knox, who used what is now US 20 between current day Westfield, Massachusetts and Cambridge, Massachusetts to help change the course of history during the American Revolution. He talked about historic roads like the Greenwood Road, which used modern day US 20 from Pittsfield, Massachusetts to Albany, New York via New Lebanon, as well as the Cherry Valley Turnpike and the Great Genesee Road, which ushered travelers along US 20 in Upstate New York. Early auto trails such as the Yellowstone Trail was discussed, as it used US 20 as part of its routing. The topic of how US 20 got its number when the U.S. Highway System was being formed during the 1920 was also a topic of discussion.

Tie-ins to more focused topics like how US 20 was once routed through New Lebanon was another matter of discussion. This really engaged the audience of about thirty as they could see how US 20 affects more of their daily lives. For those who are familiar with New Lebanon, what is now US 20 passed by the Darrow School. There is even a part of the old road that you can explore by hiking. Some mention was also made about the stories and tales of the towns along US 20, such as the tale of the Esperance Witch. This was something new that I learned about. I've passed through Esperance, New York many times during my travels and while I knew about their locally famous cheese house (which, sadly, was destroyed by fire), this was the first I heard about the Esperance Witch. This goes to show that every road has its story.

In all, I thought it was a very informative and entertaining presentation. I even learned a few new things about US 20, even after traveling about half its length over the course of my travels. If you get a chance to attend a presentation on US 20, or any highway for that matter, it is definitely worth checking out.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Roebling Aqueduct

In a quiet and often overlooked corner of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the country's oldest surviving suspension bridge crosses the Delaware River into New York.  The Delaware Aqueduct, designed and built by famed engineer John A. Roebling, has withstood a very colorful history from being an important piece in the region's transportation, to uncertainty during the growth of rail, nearly eight decades of neglect and poor management as a private toll bridge, to finally being restored by the National Park Service and in use as an automobile bridge today.

Construction and Canal Era (1847-1898):
During the 1840's, the Delaware & Hudson Canal was looking at ways to speed up service along its route.  One of the major bottlenecks was where the canal reached the Delaware River.  Since it began operation in 1828, the D&H used a rope ferry to pull traffic along to Canal across the Delaware.  The conflicting traffic of vessels going down the Delaware to Trenton or Philadelphia and…

Quemahoning Tunnel

The Quemahoning Tunnel may have never been built by the Pennsylvanina Turnpike Commission, but it still has a history unto itself.  Originally planned to carry rail along the South Penn Railway, the tunnel never would not see any trains until 1909 when a small line named the Pittsburgh, Westmoreland & Somerset began utilizing it.  The use was brief and by the end of 1916 the PW&S was no longer in operation and abandoned the facility.  Twenty-some years later, the newly formed Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission considered using the abandoned tunnel, in fact it was shown on some original plans.  However, the PTC decided against using it, and the tunnel remained empty.

The eastern portal of the Quemahoning Tunnel is easily accessible from the PA Turnpike.  The portal is located at mile 106.3 along the westbound roadway.  The tunnel is one of the many "What Could Have Been's?" of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Below, Bill Symons shares photos taken in late Fall of 1986 of …

The National Road - Maryland - Jug Bridge Memorial Park

For over 130 years, from 1808 to 1942, a very unique stone arch bridge carried everything from horse and buggy, Civil War troops, and finally automobiles over the Monocacy River just east of Frederick.  The bridge's most unique feature, and what would give the bridge its name, was the jug shaped stone demijohn on the east banks of the Monocacy.  The bridge was built in 1808 during the construction of the Baltimore-Frederick Turnpike - a precursor to the National Road and eventually US 40.   In 1824, the Marquis de LaFayette was greeted by Fredericktonians at the bridge upon his return to the area.  The Jug Bridge would see action in the Civil War during the Battle of Monocacy in July 1864.  At the time of battle, the bridge was under Union control and was attacked by Confederate troops hoping to move closer to Washington as a way to divert some of Ulysses S. Grant's troops from the Petersburg campaign. (1)

The bridge 425 foot long bridge consisted of four 65 foot stone arch s…