Did Larchmont Take The Wrong Path?
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 for a feisty response when outside interests try to impose their ideas on our community - just ask IKEA, or the planners for the storm water tank under construction behind Flint Park. Should Larchmont have been just as assertive when I-95 was under consideration in the 1950s?

No Quibbling...

In early 1954, the Village's approach to the thruway could be summed up in two words: "no quibbling!"

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.

Larchmont

Aerial photo 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 on the Larchmont area, 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.

Early Plans

Planning 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.

park

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.

park

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 congested mixed-traffic 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.

Larchmont Railroad Station

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 location."

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 from 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 Avenue bridge at the railroad station. Automobile traffic was was to be re-routed over the bridge at Weaver Street. The Larchmont 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 commuters."

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 Avenue School.

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 with 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 Road.

At the same meeting, the town council also turned down a request from the Larchmont Village Board for support on the Chatsworth Avenue bridge detour.

A Very Detrimental Effect on Our Community

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 local concerns. As 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."

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