Made to Measure

Made to Measure

From a city quieted by COVID-19, here’s a tale of some not so desperate measures.

“There is a lure about milestoning, similar to that of fishing,” wrote Henry P. Sage in his essay “Ye Mylestones of Connecticut,” published by the New Haven Colony Historical Society in 1951. “One never knows just what he will find. However, one has the pleasure of anticipation, even if the catch proves small.”

In the 1920s and early ’30s, Sage documented many of the state’s original 500 to 600 milestones—diminutive monuments used to count the miles to major Connecticut city centers in the 18th and 19th centuries. He found fewer than 300 as of 1930, and surely that number would be lower today. But on Whitney Avenue alone, from the Cheshire-Hamden line to New Haven, eight of those stones are remarkable survivors of development, weather and neglect and can still be spotted by the observant passerby.

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The sandstone markers stand about knee-high, carved with the abbreviation “NH” and, in Roman numerals, the miles remaining to the New Haven Green. In 1767, Connecticut passed “an act to oblige the Several Towns on the Post-Roads, to erect Monuments, shewing the Distances from the several County Towns on said Roads,” as Sage transcribes it. These were intended to “compute transit rates on turnpike and stagecoach routes more accurately,” according to the 2004 Hamden Historical Society publication Images of America: Hamden. New Englanders being the independent thinkers they are, “quarried markers of every size, shape, cut and description appeared along the highroads of the day,” says an unsigned 1971 report now housed on the Department of Transportation website. Annoyed by new taxes like their descendants today, Hamdenites of the time promptly built a “shunpike”—a pike to shun the toll road—known today as Shepard Avenue.

So, where can you find these relics? Like Sage before them, Hamden resident Paul Saubestre and Hamden municipal historian Dave Johnson have recently been out looking for them. The one-mile marker is gone, but you’ll find the two-mile stone mortared right into the wall of Edgerton Park, likely a move intended to protect it.

Milestone III, in Whitneyville, is not in its original location, according to Sage, who wrote that it “was rescued from a stone pile, and a few years later (1924) relocated on the grounds of the Whitneyville Church.” You’ll find it today tucked under a woody bush on the lawn of that same church, now part of Whitneyville Cultural Commons.

Milestone IV is in plain view near the northwest corner of Whitney Avenue and Elihu Street, but milestone V is more evasive. Johnson reported he “had quite a time” finding it, now buried among leaves and brush near the bus stop at the Spring Glen Medical Center.

Milestone VI has apparently been missing since before Sage’s time. Neither Johnson nor Saubestre, who carefully clocked the distances between stones and compared them to earlier maps of the road, was able to locate it. Perhaps it met the fate of other stones recycled for practical purposes, like a mile marker in Plainville that had been used to hold up a trailer at a service station, as detailed in a 1969 Courant Magazine story. The 1971 report on the DOT site claims old markers were “often used to repair building foundations, since they were most suitable for such purpose,” and Sage documents one milestone on another route to New Haven as “ part of the cellar wall in a house in North Haven.”

Farther north in Hamden, the news is better. Milestone VII, or perhaps a replacement of it, stands in plain view next to the driveway of the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University. However, Johnson reports that 98-year-old Hamden native Bill Bossoli “vividly recalls it being located across the street from the firehouse,” which is just south of the museum. This would make sense, as all of the stones would have originally been placed on the west side of the avenue for easy viewing by southbound travelers.

With a keen eye, you’ll spot the eight-mile marker “just north of the second utility pole north of the southernmost entrance to the Whitney Inn,” Saubestre says. Also in plain view, milestone IX stands in front of the Mt. Carmel Cemetery fence, and 10 miles from the New Haven Green, give or take, a marker stands in front of 4256 Whitney Avenue.

None of the Cheshire stones remain rooted, according to Diane Calabro, president of the Cheshire Historical Society. However, one survives and awaits placement on the lawn of the historical society building at 43 Church Drive, and a map displayed there shows the original locations of all of the Cheshire stones. Sage reported that back in the 1930s this line of stones “seems to end with stone No. 17, about one mile south of the trolley junction at Milldale.” From that point, the countdown began toward the center of Hartford.

Milestones throughout the state counted down various distances into New London, Norwalk, Norwich and Windham as well. A census of all of the state’s historic mileage markers was ordered by Governor John Dempsey in 1970, according to the 1971 DOT website report. Stones that were missing or in poor condition were to have been replaced, but records suggest the census never made it to New Haven County.

It’s virtually impossible to say how many of the milestones survive today. Originally, they were set not just along the New Haven-Cheshire route, but along 8 other routes radiating out of New Haven toward Fairfield, Derby, Seymour, Litchfield, Meriden, Wallingford, Middletown and Guilford-Saybrook. Many of those stones were already gone in Sage’s day.

But knowing that eight of them still stand along Whitney Avenue alone does inspire one to go fishing.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1-3 (of miles IV, III and II, respectively) photographed by Dan Mims. Image 4 (of mile IX) photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. This story originally published on April 6, 2018.

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