11 Most Endangered Historic Places
Year Listed: 2010
Location: Fairfield County, Connecticut
Even today, 70 years after it was constructed, Connecticut's Merritt Parkway is still one of America's prettiest stretches of road. Spanning 37.5 distinctive miles, the Merritt – celebrated for its diverse collection of Art Deco, Gothic, French Renaissance and Art Moderne bridges – was the state's first divided-lane, limited-access highway.
Called the "Gateway to New England," the parkway, which is still a major commuter thoroughfare, starts at the New York-Connecticut state line in Greenwich and winds its way up to Stratford. Named for a Connecticut congressman, the Merritt was designed by a team of engineers, architects and landscape architects who recognized the importance of incorporating the existing landscape into the road's overall plan. The parkway's median strip and embankments were designed to be park-like with native vegetation, and vistas were cut through the dense undergrowth and forestation to afford motorists fleeting glimpses of the passing countryside.
Although the National Trust for Historic Preservation gave the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) an Honor Award in 1995 for sensitive preservation of the Merritt Parkway, much has changed in recent years. Fairfield County, where the Merritt is located, is the most populous county in Connecticut, and its growth is straining the state's infrastructure. To accommodate increased traffic on the parkway, ConnDOT has moved to solve the problem through road realignment, bridge replacement and interchange redesign – with the result that the parkway's unique character is being sacrificed.
The Merritt Parkway, which has always been free of trucks and advertising, was created as an outgrowth of the City Beautiful Movement, a progressive architectural and urban planning reform movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The parkway's original 66 bridges, which feature sculptures, bas-reliefs and iron embellishments of flora, fauna and mythical beasts, are individually and collectively, exceptional works of art.