21 July 2006: Hartford, CT to New Bedford, MAThis is the first part of the final whirlwind of pictures taken on the 16th, spanning portions of three (little but nevertheless full) states. Today we will pass through Connecticut, Rhode Island and the first part of Massachusetts to finish with US 6 east of Massachusetts, the Mid-Cape Highway and Provincetown tomorrow.
As a heads-up, though, stay on after US 6 is done because on the way home we'll look at the American Southwest with our tours of Interstates 19 and 8 before closing down the road log in early August. There's more to come!
Our final day on US 6 starts with odometer 98271.
Resuming on Interstate 84 in downtown Hartford. Hartford is Connecticut's capital city and the namesake of Hartford county (population 857,183 ), with a population of 121,578 . Originally an Indian settlement named Sukiaug (or Suckiaug but this seems ripe for derogatory comments ;-), the first Europeans in the region were the Dutch in 1623, who named their new settlement Huys de Hoop ("Hope House"). This had developed into a small fort by 1633 (what is now called Dutch Point), and English settlers arrived two years later from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to found what they called Newtown, later renamed Hartford in 1637 after the English town of Hertford. As they were no longer under Massachusetts' jurisdiction, leader Thomas Hooker established the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in 1638 to officially state that governance was to be established by the people of the new colony. This was ratified in 1639, and is considered by some historians to be one of the forerunners to the U.S. Constitution. Similar to Des Moines, IA, Hartford's major industry is insurance (with the most notable being the Hartford, based right there in town). Battling back from a startling eleven-percent exodus of its population during the 1990s, Hartford is in the midst of a large-scale city redevelopment effort with early promising success.
A word about county government in Connecticut; as a general rule in most states I travel through I intentionally shoot county lines and ignore township lines because in the majority of states townships don't really demarcate changes in road "attitude" or local colour (and there's so many of them that they overload an exhibit), whereas counties usually do represent some change in locality or at least governance. That isn't true in Connecticut where there are no county governments per se; the existence of counties is only for purposes of court jurisdiction, and individual cities and towns take care of the municipal services that a county might handle in other states. As a result, there are no county seats in Connecticut either. Rhode Island also no longer has county governments, but this is not a New Englandism as a whole; Vermont has shire towns that function as seats would in other states and New Hampshire and Maine both have counties and seats in the traditional sense, while Massachusetts is somewhere in the middle with some county governments still in operation contrasted with others that have abolished themselves into purely judicial subdivisions like Connecticut's have.
For this reason it should not be surprising that county lines are unsigned in these three states, but I have continued to try to photograph where they ought to be and eschewed township lines except where relevant in an attempt at consistency in documentation.
Past this point, the 2-lane US 6 between here and Willimantic is the infamous "Suicide 6" alignment. A little more history: in 1953, Connecticut started discussing long-range routing plans for highways in the state and US 6 was to be upgraded from Manchester (just outside of Hartford) to the RI state line. This had local support and a 46-mile US 6 expressway routing was approved in 1963 with designation as part of the Interstate system for funding reasons. Approval in 1968 from the FHWA allowed then-Interstate 84 to be routed over US 6 and the first portion of this, what is now I-384 between Silver Lane and Bolton Notch, was built in 1970 with the orphaned section of I-84 renumbered to I-86. A second alignment, the Willimantic bypass (more in a second), was finished in 1971 and also signed as I-84. Things seemed still like a go to run the whole thing into Rhode Island until a screeching halt in 1980 when the US Council on Environmental Quality scuttled the project over questions regarding the project's environmental impact statements. The Federal DOT agreed and killed I-84's proposed routing in Rhode Island; Connecticut then tried to continue with extending I-84 to I-395 in Killingsley, but doubts over its approval prevailed and in 1983 the Governor's office recommended piecemeal improvements instead. In 1984, I-86 reverted to I-84, I-384 was created out of the Manchester freeway alignment, US 6 was left on US 44, and the Willimantic bypass given to US 6. The proposed I-84 corridor to Rhode Island was now officially dead.
This left a large section of US 6 still on two-lane highway between Bolton
and Willimantic. This "Suicide 6" alignment earns its name for being one of
the most hazardous sections of road in the county, killing two people every
year on average. Despite this notorious reputation, the various expressway
realignments that have been proposed for it have met even greater community
Ironically, US 6 may return in all its glory as a freeway into Rhode Island in the future. In a 1992 Rhode Island transportation plan, RIDOT officials proposed an upgraded controlled-access alignment going west into Connecticut along much of what would have originally been I-84; feasability studies seemed to show that modern technology could be applied to avoid harm to the water supply region. Concerns over the safety of US 6 in western Rhode Island have also been proposed as a factor in the resurrection of the concept.
This scene is of the local textile mill, the old American Thread Company factory that is now the centrepiece of the Windham Textile and History Museum. Once part of the Willimantic Linen Company from 1854 to 1898, the ATC opened its doors on the old site in 1898 with six main buildings, mill number 4 being the largest textile mill in the world until it burned down in 1995. ATC had an up-and-down history, with many immigrant workers finding work there they could get nowhere else but often at substandard wages and in poor working conditions. Finally, ATC closed for good in 1985 after a rocky financial decline and the remaining properties deeded to the Museum. No major industry has sprang up to replace it.
US 6 then branches off on I-195 for a hazardous spur towards Massachusetts (note the smoke cloud from off a car's tires squealing to avoid an accident; this is typical of these stretches of I-95 and I-195). There were no safe spots to take much photography along I-195 and so I didn't.
Massachusetts uses an apparently lazy but actually rather functional signage convention which you can see on the green signs at right. Often no shields appear at all, just a route number in large type and sometimes a directional arrow.
The Taunton River is named for Taunton, Massachusetts, which in turn was named for the town in Somerset, England from which most of the settlers hailed. It runs 44 miles, including to the south of Taunton, into Narrangansett Bay.
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