Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Mapquest, 1930s style

I found a link to Google's news archive search today and let me tell you, this is an incredibly cool tool. I decided to look up "Massachusetts Route 12" in an effort to see if I could make any headway on my quest to pinpoint exactly when the old route sign in Leominster I wrote about last month was posted.

I only found one little tid bit that could help me narrow down the timeline, but the tid bit I found was fascinating. Apparently, the Fitchburg Sentinel ran a column every couple of weeks where a writer would field questions on how to drive from one place to another and respond in the newspaper with detailed directions, information on road conditions, etc. Sort of a 1930s style combination of Mapquest and the Boston Globe's Starts and Stops.

Here is a portion of the Fitchburg Sentinel's "Answers to Questions of Motorists Contemplated Tours" column of August 14, 1936 (emphasis added):
Kindly give me information on a trip from Fitchburg to Taunton, and then on to Allentown, Penn., via Bear Mt. Bridge. Where may I look for poor roads? E. S.

Going to Taunton via Worcester, you will have to detour around poor road conditions at the very outset. Leominster is now under reconstruction. Take South street out of Fitchburg, following over Merriam Avenue into the square in Leominster. There pick up Route 12 into Worcester, and from Worcester follow Route 140 to Taunton. On the latter route a bridge between Grafton and Upton is under repair, but will cause little delay.

From Taunton take U. S. Route 44 into Providence. U. S. Route 6 will take you from Providence through Willimantic, Conn., Hartford, and Danbury to Peekskill, N. Y. In Danbury you will encounter construction for about a mile on White Street, but traffic is being maintained.

Continue on Route 6 from Peekskill across Bear Mountain Bridge into Port Jervis, and on to Milford, Penn. From there follow Route 209 toward Stroudsburg to its junction with 945. Turning left there, follow 945 to Delaware Water Gap, and there pick up Route 611, which will take you into Easton. From Easton, follow Route 22 into [Allenown].
As it pertains to the old route sign, this article lends credence to my suggestion that the sign was erected sometime in the late 1930s, since the directions suggest that Route 12 through Leominster was under construction in the summer of 1936.

But even without that little item, seeing that a local newspaper was giving directions, road conditions, and other driving advice to motorists 70 years ago is fascinating. There was a real need for this at that time, as many of today's roads were just being paved, improved, and marked during this time period. I found a lot more fascinating stuff on the construction of highways in the area that I will share periodically.

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