The Merritt Parkway and the Wilbur Cross Parkway are a unique and excellent solution to the early 20th Century ideal that blends the best of engineering practice with the finest insights into aesthetic criteria. This modern day phenomenon to perform tasks, especially in regards to transportation, with safety, speed and economy has manifested itself in these parkways, which, through advances in design aimed at ultimate functionalism for the motor car and its occupants, helped launch the even more streamlined superhighways we are all familiar with today in the interstate Highway System, albeit it lacks in beauty what it makes up for in speed. These new parkways created an uninterrupted ribbon of highway where the motorist could cruise at comfortable speeds, devoid of distractions present on unlimited roads.
The advent of the automobile and its sudden availability brought about the necessary rethinking of the existing means of transportation methods and means. The average person's horizons were suddenly expanded beyond the distance one could walk or drive the family buggy. People could now venture wherever and whenever they pleased, not bound to any train schedule, only their own desire to travel. And travel they did. vehicles to streamlined, low-lying creatures of speed and efficiency necessitated building roads that eliminated disruptions, such as intersections, forming gradual curves to ease the vehicle on its journey and moderate grades to maintain the most efficient speed with minimal loss of time. These new roads would allow the average citizen to live farther from his job, creating a new American phenomenon, the suburbs, and aiding in the collapse of the inner cities. The new roads also provided all the needed amenities for the automobile and driver alike. Along with this greater speed and personal comfort, the advent of motor vacations and recreational time took on more importance, frequency, and grew in numbers.
The 1930s saw great emphasis placed on economy. Since it was the time of the Great Depression, the over abundance of Beaux Arts and classical design with their extravagant ornamentation had to be re-thought. Designs now appeared in relief, greatly simplified and much more abstract, while the traditional use of masonry construction became prohibitive in cost and unnecessary with the wide spread use of steel and concrete construction. The stream-lining of Art Deco and the industrial and engineering aspects of design crept steadily into peoples' everyday lives. The old fashioned towns of Mark Twain and Sherwood Anderson were quickly becoming a thing of the past. It was a modern world. Picasso's Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was already 20 years old in 1927, when the Parkway projects got off the ground. We had widespread use of the airplane, and Lindbergh had flown alone to Europe, Movies now had sound. Einstein had already formulated his theory of relativity, yet people were still swinging on front porches, but not for long. Science was making great leaps forward. Buck Rogers fulfilled peoples' fantasies of life in space, somewhere in the future, while they nestled in the darkened movie theatres strung across the land. The crowning achievement of this forward-looking, crystal ball day dreaming was the 1939-40 New York Worlds Fair. While people gazed on exhibits of how their children or grandchildren may one day live, men labored away building one of the futures' first practical solutions, the Merritt Parkway, right in their own backyards. It is a road that, by peacefully coexisting with the landscape, preserves and respects history, and by its progressive and optimistic design, demonstrated in reality what the World's Fair only promised. It was – the Future.
Unfortunately, the good aspects designed into the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, such as the careful, considerate landscaping, distinctive and forthrightly honest bridge structures, modest size, practical speed and absence of such ugly amenities as light poles and truck traffic, seem to have been forgotten as the Interstate Highway System ravaged the American landscape and callously uprooted homes and even entire neighborhoods. In this book, we place great emphasis on the overall genius involved in the conception and construction of the parkways and on the bridge designs specifically. Their beauty and grace easily stand on their own. W e have sought to enlighten the fine points, many of which are now hidden because of overgrown foliage and deterioration of the concrete, and compare, when possible, photographs of the bridges upon completion and their present state. The original line drawings from the DOT help illuminate further the simple and lovely qualities present.Click here to go back to the home page