Did Larchmont Take The Wrong
Planning the Thruway 50 years ago
by Ned Benton
(May 13, 2004) Did Larchmont and Mamaroneck take the wrong path in 1954 when
the New England Thruway was being planned?
Did we go along when we could have raised a ruckus? Larchmont has a reputation
outside interests try to impose their ideas on our community - just ask IKEA,
the storm water tank under construction behind Flint Park. Should Larchmont
just as assertive
when I-95 was under consideration in the 1950s?
In early 1954,
the Village's approach to the thruway could be summed up
in two words:
At a February 1954 meeting, the Village
Board was about to join with other Westchester communities
along the Long Island Sound to urge quick action, citing
the problem of traffic congestion on the Boston Post Road.
shows Larchmont Station before thruway construction.
Courtesy of the Larchmont Historical Society
However, the Larchmont Village Engineer wanted a "few
problems" to be cleared up before the board went on
record. His concerns included the impact of toll stations
and the effects of the road on Larchmont
utilities and the drainage system.
Mayor Washburn cautioned the engineer,
Francis Griffin, that the Village of Larchmont should
not ask for immediate construction
of the Larchmont segment of the New England
Thruway, and then "quibble" about
local items. The engineer,
after all, could write a letter to the thruway planners.
for the thruway actually began back in 1925, when Westchester
County proposed a "Pelham-Port Chester Parkway." They
established a commission, appropriated some funds, and
the commission began to acquire land. They even started
building underpasses, including one in Larchmont
under Murray Avenue, in the area that today is the
Memorial Park Playground near the train station.
The underpass for the Pelham-Port
Chester Parkway is a feature of Memorial Park. The
parkway was planned to pass under Murray Avenue.
As can be seen today, the parkway was never built and
the thruway that was meant to follow the parkway's route
took a different course in Larchmont. An odd feature
of Memorial Park is the
never-used expressway underpass, designed to accommodate
four lanes of highway traffic.
The west side of the unused
parkway underpass today
The next stage of planning for the thruway was in 1940,
when New York's mega-planner Robert Moses recommended
development of what he called the the "Pelham-Port
Chester Express Highway."
His report described the need for a road as critical for
national defense, and necessary because of traffic congestion:
"The Boston Post Road is the most
route from New York City to the north and east, and is
located through the main business sections of the City
of New Rochelle and the villages
of Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye and Port Chester."
A Change in Plans
Planning got serious again in the 1950s, when federal
funding became available. The New York State
Thruway Authority took over the project.
The Authority's route went through
Larchmont's Railroad Station.
Their plan for
the highways, however, took a different route through
Larchmont. Instead of running through what is now Memorial
Park, the road would now parallel the railroad
tracks. The quaint railroad station next to the pond would
be replaced by new structures
along both sides of the tracks.
Not everyone approved.
In 1955, Trustee Edward White would observe "It is not
altogether clear to me why the old route away from the station was
abandoned in favor of the present expensive
and destructive plan.
Our recent meeting with the railroad has shown that they
also are at a loss to understand the present proposed
Railroad Disappointment with the Station
In October, the president of the New Haven
Railroad stopped in Larchmont to review the plans for the
replacement of the train station and to consider plans
for expanded parking. He didn't like what he saw.
“Why should the people of Larchmont
agree to anything that makes them climb steps?” he
observed as he surveyed the plans. The Town Supervisor, Owen
Mandeville and the Chairman of the Larchmont Parking and
Traffic Committee, Harold Bozell, lamented that
the people of Larchmont had no choice in the matter.
(Now, in 2004, Metro-North construction
crews are busy on phase one of a Larchmont station upgrade
that will add elevators and relieve future commuters
climbing those steps.)
The Chatsworth Bridge Detour
Toward the end of 1954, Larchmont officials
changed their tone. In November, the Village Board voted
unanmously to protest the 10-month closing of the Chatsworth
bridge at the railroad station. Automobile traffic was
was to be re-routed over the bridge at Weaver Street. The
Times quoted Trustee Edward White: "Our Village
will be seriously
affected. Apartment traffic will have to travel more than
a mile to the Weaver Street crossing. It will affect our
schools and our churches and will seriously affect our
The Mamaroneck Avenue Cloverleaf
After learning of plans to develop a major
interchange where the thruway would intersect with Mamaroneck
Avenue, the Mamaroneck School Board got involved. They
opposed the plans, agreeing
with parents that the interchange could create
serious hazards for students at the Mamaroneck
Residents also expressed concern
about the interchange impacting real estate values and
leading to loss of property tax revenues due to conversion
of land from private to public use.
However, later in November, the Mamaroneck
Town Council refused to go along. The council cited discussions
the thruway engineer, who had explained that much of the
interchange traffic would be in the White Plains direction.
The engineer also emphasized the overall benefits of
reducing the numbers of large trucks on the Boston Post
At the same meeting, the town council also
turned down a request from the Larchmont Village Board
for support on the Chatsworth Avenue bridge
A Very Detrimental Effect on Our
In March of 1955, Larchmont Village Trustee
Edward White summarized the Board's revised perspective
after a year of planning.
Secrecy: "We have
had a great deal of discussion regarding the New England
thruway and now we are about
at the deadline when any action we take can be effective.
The section of the thruway in our area will shortly be
advertised for bids and we have little positive confirmation
of the plan to be followed. Unfortunately the Thruway
Authority is pursuing a policy of secrecy that needs
to be clarified
if we, the officials of the Village, are to have an understanding
of the plans to be used."
The Train Station: "...our station,
which is one of the most attractive and best laid out stations
in the county, will be changed very much for the worse."
Traffic Disturbance: "The disturbance to the community
during construction is not being minimized by the Thruway."
The Larchmont Village Board resolved to take up their
concerns with the Thruway Authority. They demanded that
no contracts be let until their concerns were resolved.
By the end of 1954, the Board had adopted
a different approach to defending Larchmont's
Trustee White's report summarized: "There
has been some comment to the effect that various municipal
boards should not
interfere with the planning of the Thruway. Despite comment
to the contrary, the interest of the Thruway and the
Village are not always compatible. It is our obligation
to protect the interests of our communities even though
we have to criticize or question the actions of the Thruway."