Turnpikes & Transportation

Sharon, like all wilderness communities, required the creation of a basic infrastructure of roads and bridges. Early roads, no more than rough trails and paths, often followed older Indian routes. As surveyors mapped new towns, they made allowance for roads between proprietary allotments, often in a rectilinear grid pattern (inevitably disrupted by geographic realities.) The town highway committee established in 1739 proposed that in addition to Sharon’s principal north-south road (Amenia Union Road-Gay Street), side roads about one-half mile apart and running in an east-west direction be laid out. Additional north-south highways, also one-half mile apart, would complete a grid system. A small number of through routes included roads from Litchfield to Poughkeepsie and Hartford to Albany; the latter passed across the upper end of Sharon Green, while the road to Poughkeepsie crossed Sharon Mountain. Present-day Route 41 also existed in vestigial form.

In the 1790s, Connecticut’s modern roadway system of turnpikes, improved toll roads owned by private investors, came to Sharon in the guise of the Goshen and Sharon Turnpike (chartered in 1803) and the Sharon and Cornwall Turnpike (begun in 1809.) The roads had a marked impact on the town. In 1807 Kellogg Berry built a home on the corner of Main Street and Route 4 (Goshen-Cornwall Turnpike). In 1817 he sold the house and property to Major David Gould who recognized the site’s business prospects and over the years established a store, lumberyard, and other shops. Construction of railroads through the region in the late 1830s and 1840s accelerated the push to turn private turnpikes into public roads.

The modern regional road network, which includes Routes 4, 41, 44, and 63, wasn’t finalized until 1909. In 1924 the General Assembly allocated receipts from gasoline taxes to road construction, including road-paving projects. Both Sharon village streets and several through routes were paved in the 1920s. Many of the small concrete bridges still in use were constructed as part of this initial road-paving campaign. By 1917, 150 automobiles traveled local roads, this number increasing within one year by 30! School buses appeared in town circa 1920, replacing the horse-drawn wagons that had transported schoolchildren previously. The road network in Sharon remains much the same as it has been since the 1920s, a system composed of two-lane rural roads and small bridges that exert relatively minimal impact on the environment. Periodic improvements have been largely confined to upgrading safety features, straightening dangerous curves, installing occasional passing lanes, and replacing deteriorated bridges. In addition, Sharon maintains many miles of unpaved roads.

Initially settlers traversed the region’s many streams by utilizing fording places where they and their animals could wade across. One of these was located about one mile south of the current Salisbury town line. Primitive bridges followed. Upper, or Hart’s Bridge, was first erected c.1760-1762. Middle, or Youngs, Bridge followed c.1770, as did Cornwall Bridge, or Lower Bridge, which replaced the Chidester river ferry of 1741. Still farther south, Swifts Bridge was the last major Housatonic crossing to be completed.

Bridge building accelerated in the early decades of the 19th century. Connecticut’s first long-span covered bridge crossed the Housatonic at Sharon-Cornwall Bridge in 1806 and went out with the ice breakup in 1936. The 242-foot Hart’s Bridge which utilizes both Town lattice trusses and queen-post trusses survives today in West Cornwall. The Kaolin Company exporting clay from Sharon Mountain built a footbridge across the Housatonic referred to as North Bridge, and used to transport clay to the Railroad cars.

The creation of railroads in the second quarter of the nineteenth century greatly accelerated the processes of economic and social change. The Housatonic Railroad began construction in the summer of 1837, and was projected to run from Bridgeport to Sheffield, Massachusetts. Though the financial panic of 1837 temporarily delayed construction, the rails reached Canaan in 1842. Just to the west the Harlem Railroad (later New York Central) reached Millerton in the following decade. Both provided Sharon with access to rapid transportation options. Service along the routes continued for passengers and freight until the late 1920s. After 1930, passenger service on the Connecticut Western and Housatonic Railroads ceased and freight service declined significantly. In New York service on the Harlem line was discontinued beyond Dover Plains (now reestablished to Wassaic.)

Click to download a Power Point Presentation on Indian Trails and their influence on Modern Transportation Systems.