Friday, January 4, 2013

There and Back Again

by Sheila Connolly

Recently I found myself browsing in a used bookstore in Brooklyn.  I was with friends, and we were waiting for a table at the restaurant next door, and of course I spotted the bookstore before the car even stopped moving. And of course I bought something.

What I found and fell in love with was a thick and yellowed volume titled Scarborough's Official Tour Book for New York, New Jersey, Canada and the East, copyright 1917, issued under the aegis of the New York State Automobile Association.  Since I had great-grandparents and grandparents who lived in New York, New Jersey and New England about that time, and I grew up in New Jersey (and learned to drive there), I had to have it. 


Consider it the Google Maps or MapQuest of its day, because the book provides step by step directions from getting from here to there—when the world was a very different place.

The entries are arranged by trip.  Let us say we wish to travel from Atlantic City to Philadelphia in 1917, some 61 miles. The details appear on p. 138, and begin by informing us that there is a very good gravel road as far as Berlin, then macadam thereafter.  I won't give you the entire itinerary, but it includes such details as "go south on Atlantic Ave., following trolleys," followed by "bridge."  At 9.3 miles you pass a cemetery on the right; in Elm, at 34.9 miles, you go under a viaduct, then over two viaducts in short order.  At 41.1 miles, "Danger.  Turn left under viaduct, then curve right, and cross railroad."  When you arrive at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in Camden, you take a ferry across the Delaware River to arrive in Philadelphia.

Or say we wish to voyage from Morristown, New Jersey to New York City, a trip I made with my family countless times when I was young.  Start at the east corner of the park (what park? Where?) in Morristown.  Go under the railroad—Washington's Headquarters will be on the left (yes!).  Go straight at the four corners, then follow the stone road to a bridge.  At Florham Park (just down the road from my high school), go straight, "soon leaving macadam (for what?)." A school will be on the right.  Go over the bridge, and the macadam reappears.

Then we wend our way through South Orange, Newark (cross a couple of bridges there, then "turn sharp left at open space into park…bear right at fountain), Jersey City, and Weehauken, where you have to take the 42nd St. ferry.  Apparently you arrive in New York only when you reach Columbus Circle.

These trips take place in fairly well settled areas (relatively speaking). How about taking a trip from New York to the Hamptons on Long Island?  When we arrive at Amagansett, after 109 miles, we are warned of a mile of "sandy dirt road" and then at 113.5 miles we find this:

From here … you will have very poor road of deep sand.  Follow directions of the occasional white pointed boards.  The red pointed boards point out the worst ways. (These board pointers are changed occasionally owing to the trails becoming cut too deep in sand.) After reaching mileage 18.9 you have mostly dirt road with occasional sandy places.

If you survive that, there's a large summer residence on the hill at the left at 113.6 miles.  There is also a saloon one block to the left at mile 115.1 (are the authors suggesting you may need one by then?).  And BTW, look out for the large rock on sharp curve at mile 127.9.


Travel must have been a real adventure in those days! No highways, no bridges over the big rivers; no guarantee you'd ever find a paved road where you were going. Most of the navigational benchmarks were viaducts, bridges, trolleys and cemeteries.  You'd better travel with a companion to read the directions out load, since if you stop, you might end up sinking into the sand or mired in mud on an unpaved road.

The book is also sprinkled with illustrated advertisements for hotels ($1.00 to $3.50 per day), plus ads for garages (some of which promise "NEVER CLOSED"—those unpaved roads must have been hard on cars, not to mention the people bouncing around in them. 


P.S. If anyone wants to know how to get from Point A to Point B in the eastern US in 1917, let me know.


Katreader said...

What fun! While a 60 mile trip takes an hour or less now, I wonder how long it would have taken in 1917...assuming you didn't get mired in sand!

Dru said...

WOW, that is an awesome find.

Edith Maxwell said...

Wonderful! My grandmother was one of the first women to drive across the country at about that time at age 18. The whole family took two Henderson cars (her father, C.P. Henderson) manufactured them) and all six children and drove from Indiana to Oregon and California, camping on the way. I have one of my great-aunt's diaries. My grandmother Dorothy was the oldest and drove one car with her brother Jimmy, and there were four younger girls, too. Quite the adventure, and your guide has just made it more real to me!

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