Thursday October 18, 2012

Forget Route 66, Boston native Bryan Farr got his kicks on Route 20.

In 2010, Farr took a cross-country journey from Boston to Newport, Ore., via Route 20 -- the only highway that hasn't been rerouted or cut up over time.

That cross-country car ride is what inspired Farr to create the Historic U.S. Route 20 Association, which the state officially recognized recently.

"There was this long history of Route 20, and nothing about it," Farr said. "Maybe a few little articles in towns on stretches of Route 20, but it wasn't really getting noticed."

The Historic U.S. Route 20 Association will work to increase the historic highway's notoriety and promote travel on it.

"We hope to place historic signage on older stretches on Route 20 so people know they're on a historic road," Farr said.

Route 20 stretches 3,365 miles, and its history reaches back more than three centuries.

Originally a trail used by westbound settlers from Boston in 1633, Route 20 gained the name Boston Post Road in 1737 by Benjamin Franklin after he declared it a path to deliver mail from New York to Boston. In 1775, it was used to transport artillery from Fort Ticonderoga in New York to Cambridge.

The trails eventually incorporated the Berkshires' Jacob's Ladder Trail, which became the first highway built for horseless carriages -- cars, in modern terms -- in 1910. It would later be called "the First of the Great Mountain Crossovers." The Jacob's Ladder Trail scenic byway stretches 35 miles of Route 20.

"We are pleased that the national movement is elevating the idea of the road less traveled," said Jeff Penn, the current president of Jacob's Ladder Trail Association. "People seem to have forgotten to take Sunday drives."

A granite monument called a cairn, made up of stones left behind by travelers and bearing their names, marks the trail's highest elevation -- 1,775 feet -- in Becket. It was placed there at the highway's inauguration in 1910.

The name Route 20 came in 1926, when routes were systematically numbered. The zero indicates that the highway stretches across the country, Farr said.

But with the advent of Interstate 90 (the Massa chusetts Turnpike), Route 20 has experienced less traffic, which could be a good thing, Penn said.

"We got left behind, in a very nice way," he said. "There is a quiet, kind of forgotten beauty on the [Jacob's Ladder] Trail."

The Chester Foundation clearly has an interest in the locomotive industry. They operate the Chester Foundation Inc. Railroad Museum -- but Chester Foundation President Dave Pierce said he will help the association however he can.

"I think it can only help us, being located on Route 20," Pierce said. Farr contacted him recently to garner their support.

"We're seeing more and more people that are sick of driving the Turnpike and trying something different," Pierce said.

Pierce said he drives Route 20 from Chester to Lee every day, and even has driven it from Boston to Michigan, and it's in "real good shape," he said.

That should prevent the highway from suffering a fate similar to Route 66, often touted as the American Highway, even though it only went from Chicago to Long Beach. Route 66 has been cut up and rerouted over the years, whereas Route 20 remains intact.

"That danger period [for Route 20] has passed," Pierce said. "It's the main street of most of the towns or cities that it goes through."

To reach Adam Poulisse:
apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6214.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse.