In the late 1950s we began hearing rumors about a Superhighway. I am, of course, referring to Interstate 91.
Prior to I-91, Vermont was isolated from the rest of New England. U.S. Route 5 followed the Connecticut River from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border. I remember travelling Route 5 with my folks from Springfield, north to Lyndonville.
In 1958 my father was laid off at J&L in Springfield. He found a job in Lyndonville working for Vermont Tap and Die. Dad took a room in Lyndonville. Friday nights, he would drive Route 5 from Lyndonville south to Springfield, and then on into Chester. He would spend the weekend with us and make the return trip to Lyndonville on Sunday nights. Eventually he moved the family to Lyndonville.
Route 5 was a concrete highway. Do you remember those concrete roads? A monotonous ka-thump, ka-thump was heard as you drove over the seams of concrete. Route 5 passed through dozens of small towns. If I remember correctly, Chester to Lyndonville took nearly four hours.
Every few miles there was a roadside tourist trap. They sold maple syrup, Indian moccasins, gifts, and other kulch. Some offered overnight cabins or a hot dog to travelers.
In 1959 or 1960, Dad was rehired at J&L so we moved back; first to Springfield, and then to our house on High Street. We had leased our home to John Butler. Until John’s lease expired, we lived on Randall Hill in Springfield. I attended second grade in Lyndonville and third grade in Springfield. By fourth grade I was back in Chester.
It was under President Eisenhower that our interstate system was established. When General Eisenhower was in Germany at the end of WW2, he saw the autobahn. It made an impression on him.
The Germans had built the autobahn so as to rapidly move troops. Eisenhower recognized the importance of this highway system.
I seem to recall hearing that every six miles of interstate had to have one straight mile. This straight mile was created in the event that an airplane needed to make an emergency landing.
My older sister Norma lived in Bellows Falls. Most every Sunday we drove to her place for dinner, first on the old Route 103 and later on the new 103 we have today. At about ten years old, I witnessed the construction of 91 in Rockingham.
I had never seen such huge construction vehicles. The I-91 bridge over the Williams River was to be the longest bridge in Vermont. However, it was shortened by means of fill. The entire area in Rockingham where the Sunoco station is today was under construction on both sides of the 91 overpass. I remember this area well. You could see the bridge over the Williams River being built. North of the bridge, bulldozers laid out the roadbeds to Springfield.
I-91 was completed in stages. I remember 91 to Rockingham was completed in about 1960, 1961, or 1962. Sorry, my memory fades as to the exact year.
Florence Pierce ran a taxi in Chester. One day Florence drove into our yard to see my mother. “June, the superhighway just opened to Brattleboro. Do you want to go see it?” Florence, my mother, and I headed down to Rockingham. We drove onto the southbound ramp near the Sunoco station.
Florence had a 1960 Chevy. That car and new road made it seem like you were floating. There was very little traffic. It was the first time I saw a four-lane highway. We drove down to Brattleboro and back.
I graduated Chester High School in 1969. That night, Dana Kendall, Billy Parker, and I left for the Averill Lakes in the Northeast Kingdom. We took our fish poles and very little money. Of course we got into trouble. I mention this because 91 was only completed to White River Jct. at that time. From here we travelled Route 5 all the way.
The photo with this article is the Connecticut River in North Thetford, Vt. When I saw this photo I almost fell over. It is so beautiful. And it’s a very sharp and clear photo. Notice the curve of the river repeats in the railroad tracks and Route 5.
I can think of no better example to illustrate what Route 5 in Vermont looked like before I-91. For those not old enough to remember, or those who have come to Vermont since, this is what you missed. Beautiful, ain’t it?
This week’s old saying: “Not all art hangs on the wall.”