|The automobile spawned
huge changes in American lifeamong them the creation of
the Turnpike. One of the 20th century's greatest constructions,
it's easy to say it's just about driving, about getting from point
A to point B. The following letters and reminiscences, though,
reveal another story. Written by Turnpike usersmany of who
were on the road in its earliest yearsthey suggest that
the New Jersey Turnpike has many meanings, and is most definitely
more than just a road.
"Before the Turnpike was built
we used to go back and forth from Connecticut to VirginiaI was
a kid then, I was born in 1942, it was a dragyou'd go up and down
Route 1, you'd have to stop for lights and there were all sorts of delays.
And I can remember . . . the first time [we drove on the Turnpike] I
thought we must be taking the same trip but in heaven. You could just
get on it and run. We had never been on a highway like it. It was the
talk of the East coast and beyond."
Asa E. Hall, Litchfield, Connecticut,
"I was born in Irvington . . .
in 1934, and lived there until I was 26. I have spent the rest of my
life living in various other parts of New Jersey. The Turnpike has been
a large part of our lives for the past five decades. During its construction,
all of the adults in our family and neighborhood talked about how they
would use the road when it was finished, and how much time they would
save going to New York City, or Philadelphia. . . . In the 1960s, I
used the northern portion of the Turnpike to commute back and forth
from Irvington to the Jersey City area where I worked. . . . By 1972
we had two children, and I had been transferred to Philadelphia. Three,
sometimes four times per month we would get into the car and head for
Exit 3 and ride to 11 to visit the rest of our family and friends since
they all lived in north New Jersey. In 1978 our daughter entered Rutgers
University in New Brunswick; we loaded up the old '63 Ford pickup and
moved her off to college by way of the Turnpike. . . . Before we knew
it we were in the '80s, my dad had passed away in Delaware and Joyce's
mother had passed away living near us in south Jersey. We brought them
both back home to north Jersey on the Turnpike. We continued to travel
back and forth for weddings, graduations, and other family affairs.
We have driven in spring monsoons, summer heat, winter blizzards, had
our share of close calls . . . but the Turnpike has been our friend.
In the '90s we have become more active in the antique auto hobby, and
began using the Turnpike to drive our old cars to and from shows. Our
children now drive this road, and reminisce about the past trips they
took with us, and soon our grandchildren will use the Turnpike. It is
nice to know that your great-grandchildren may someday look out over
some of the same fields, buildings, and trees that you and your girl
did back in the '50s when all that has transpired were just hopes and
dreams. THANKS NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE."
James and Joyce Wickel, Ewan, New
"The first time I rode on the [New
Jersey] Turnpike, that was back in 1952 . . . it was when I picked up
my husband at Camp Kilmer, he had come home from Korea. I couldn't believe
it. It was in my mind that this was a new road. My father-in-law drove,
he was so nervous, he said 'I don't know this road,' we were used to
coming down 9 whenever we came down the shore. That was the first time
I ever rode on the New Jersey Turnpike; at least it was for something
good. I think it's a wonderful road."
Doris Kinsella, Barnegat, New Jersey, 2000
"[In the early 1950s] we were stationed
in D.C. in the military. We used to go home every weekend [to Massachusetts].
. . . We traveled at night and we'd go up and down and they were building
the Turnpike at the time and we'd have to wait forever because there
were little black bears playing with the fire potslittle round
pots with kerosene in themthey used to use them like bowling balls
from one side to the other (leaving the unfinished portions unmarked
and often starting fires along the edges) during the construction of
the lower end of the Turnpike. They used to have a horrible time with
Thelma Coslow, Ramsey, New Jersey,
"I remember the family travels
from Old Bridge [on the Turnpike]. Albeit, my view of the journey was
from the back of my dad's . . . station wagon . . . from my view, all
of the New Jersey Turnpike was backwards. . . . I [eventually] graduated
to the front seat of my folks' new Chevy Nova. It was in that front
seat that I saw a pair of pheasants flying parallel to the Turnpike.
. . . The Rahway State Prison was an ominous sight.
"The 'Dutch Boy' paint plant
always assured me of the time and temperature. At this time, I did not
realize that the lakes were retainment and treatment ponds for the manufacturing
process. The ponds smelled sweet as candy to me; fresh paint smells
"Then, the more complex industrial
aromas were introduced to my northward nose. Now I recognize the olfactory
'flavors' from academy and industrial experience. The most fragrant
and powerful was and is 'Methyl Mercaptan.' This chemical gas alarms
our olfactory system at a base concentration of 3 parts per billion!
(a part per million is about an inch in a mile). Methyl Mercaptan is
the intentional fragrance added to natural gas (natural gas, CH4, is
odorless) to alert a human being of a natural gas leak.
"The New Jersey Turnpike corridor
industries are major producers of important man-made materials for construction,
consumption and maintenance in the Northeast, the USA, and the World.
Without the New Jersey Turnpike industries, products, and people, we
will all experience loss, increased cost, and liabilities."
John C., Austin, Texas, 2000
"[The New Jersey Turnpike] is a busy, noisy, dirty, smelly
and boring highway that gets you from New York to Delaware. There is
nothing to look at or admire on the way."
Victor P. Torchia, Jr. and Ben Ortiz, Ridgefield, Connecticut,
"After [the New Jersey Turnpike]
opened [in 1951], we would go out just to drive on it going no place
in particular. It was well marked and you could tell just how far it
was to the next exit by the signs posted as you came on. One of the
favorite places for those of us who were young was to drive down the
Turnpike to one of the newly opened service areas and have coffee in
the restaurant. . . . You have to realize that at that time turnpike
driving was generally unknown."
Jack Francis, Conyers, Georgia,
"The Turnpike is a swaggering giant
that plows through the industrial heartland of the East Coast, overpowering
even the mighty landscape of refineries, airports, and tank farms that
have the temerity to get in its path. It is a muscular 12 lanes wide,
formed of masses of concrete, steel, and asphalt. It is not a subtle
roadway, it is straightforward; indeed, it is virtually straight! Its
beauty is in its simplicity.
"This does not mean, however, that
the Turnpike is without its sublimities. First of all is the sheer scale
of the roadway. We architects tend to assign high value to the buildings
we design. But the modern superhighwayand the Turnpike is its
apotheosisdwarfs the skyscraper in size as well as impact on the
urban landscape. And for those willing to take the time to see the Turnpike
not only as a roadway, but also as space, structure, and surface, the
reward is great. Take a drive under the great causeway over the Meadowlands
north of Exit 15 and you will see the modern equivalent of the Roman
aqueducts. . . . "
R. Gregory Turner, Houston, Texas,