IF ONLY WE TAKE THE TIME... Ever walk through a colonial era cemetery? Ever contemplate the curious Biblical admonitions on the tombstones or notice how the old English names have faded from fashion? If so, it may be difficult not to be haunted by our region’s history. There, just a few feet below, lie buried those who some 3 centuries ago, for better or worse, lay the foundation for most of the human progress we now see in the Valley.
When, in that brief instant, this profound realization hits home, we seem at one with the past. Dealing with the demands of everyday life; relationships, family, career, or school, it's all too easy to forget that everything around us has a story to tell. While the human lifespan is long enough to perceive cycles of human growth and aging, as well as cultural and technological changes, it is much too short to witness the depth of subtle geological and historical forces that have shaped our world and thus our lives.
Since we are unable to directly perceive these deeper forces in action we must become detectives and look for their effects. But, in seeking the roots of the world we know, we won't find the answers watching the "News at 11". In this quest we are largely on our own... and some of us may prefer to have a guide.
Yet, if we take up this quest it is a mistake if we believe we can find the origins and historical roots of our Valley only at an old graveyard, on a roadside historical plaque, or in the collection of your town's historical society or library. A good detective, who is tuned-in to history, would find the evidence of the Valley's past everywhere... and, quite literally, in everything. It is so pervasive as to be inescapable. So, why is it then, most of us miss it?
THE ZEN OF HISTORY
Try this experiment. Next time you're on the road shut off the radio or the tape player. If you're not alone, ask others to join in. As you drive try to specifically identify everything around you that you otherwise might never bother to think about. Don’t worry if it’s seemingly ordinary or too self-evident to matter. There's the Valley itself, the surrounding hills, the roads and highways... even the road signs, the placement and layout of towns, the farms and factories, the rivers and the bridges that span them, the rail lines, the electrical grid, your town's water system. You can ask the same questions even if you're just walking in your neighborhood. Don't rush the process. At some later time you can begin to ask how and why these things are as they are. Once you decide to look anew at your everyday world you may be shocked at how much you've ignored.
In dealing with such “Totality” you may risk overload, but there are greater payoffs. Imagine developing the ability, akin to some ever-distracted Disney-esque professor, to find wonder and fascination in everything. You’d be able to depend on yourself and your surroundings for intellectual stimulation instead of passively absorbing sounds from your radio or images from your TV. This is not to say that these media are incapable of disseminating useful information or provoking us into deep contemplation. But, they lull us into being the mere "consumers" of other people’s information and perspectives. We are all quite capable of self-initiating this learning process and of integrating this new way of perceiving the world into our daily lives. Given enough time, and if you have a taste for the sardonic, you may even get a chuckle over the centuries of historical forces that conspired to make possible that next traffic jam you'll be stuck in!
The story of US-5 is a case in point. For those of us that call the Pioneer Valley our home, US-5 is just an ordinary highway that seems to always have been there. We may love it or we may hate it, but most likely it is just one other thing that we probably never gave much thought to. Yet, it's no accident that US-5 is what it is, where it is. But, how did it become what we see today? What is its story? Why does it run N/S and not E/W? Why does it connect the particular cities it does? Why is it designated US-5 and not US-6 or US-303?
On the surface, US-5's origins can easily be found in a cursory study of state and federal highway planning. But, to stop there is to miss the proverbial "big picture". US-5, like most other features in the Valley, is a story that's been in the making for the past 20,000+ years. US-5 is inseparable from the region's geological history... especially the last ice age, as well as early Native American and colonial settlement patterns. The story of US-5 is inseparable from a trail system thousands of years old, old English legal tradition, the mass production of the automobile, population growth, and yes, finally: a century of regional, state, and federal highway planning.
In this web document are links to a complete set of maps from Massachusetts Historical Commission publication "Archaeological and Historical Resources of the Connecticut River Valley". While not every map has a text counterpart in this project and thus may not be referred to, the entire set has been included because they help to visually flesh out historical trends that this project could only touch upon.
Please note... some larger chapters had to be subdivided. Since there was not enough room on the sidebar, some sections are NOT accessible until you get to that chapter. In which case Chapters will be listed in the sidebar as 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 etc. For sequential reading of all chapters please be sure to use the NEXT option at the bottom of each page!
"US-5: A Highway to History" © Robb Strycharz, 1996-2006
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