From Dirt Roads to the Interstate Highway


The origins of road building began with the need for man and animals to get from one place to another. Man needed to get from his village to hunting areas or to a source of water, and back again. Wild animals had the same needs, and needed to travel in search of food and water. With time and technology improvements, travel became more refined. Man could travel faster on the back of a horse, or seated on a wagon. Growing industries created the need to ship goods to market, which necessitated more organized networks of roads that were wide enough and flat enough to accommodate horses and wagons filled with heavy merchandise. Man expanded his reach into the New World as the population grew, and more roads were needed to connect the new settlements. Prior to the creation of the Federal Interstate Highway System, which received its biggest push in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration, long distance traveling meant turning to the railroads or the young airline industry. America's fascination with the automobile created a demand for new roads. The automobile gave the traveler independence and freedom. The construction of I84 connected Patterson to a network of superhighways extending throughout the United States.

Early Roads

Patterson's first roads were mere pathways through forests that meandered around obstacles like boulders, wetlands and streams, and steep cliffs. These paths were eventually widened to accommodate wagons. Modern automobile drivers facing hazards like potholes and icy roads may be surprised to learn that things were not that different in Patterson's early days. In dry weather, wind, horses, and wagons churned dry soils to create dirty, choking dust clouds. The spring thaw that brings modern potholes instead caused thick mud that caused horses and wagon wheels to get bogged down or even trapped. Uneven and rocky roads could break the wooden axles on wagons, or even the leg of a horse. And, there were no highway crews to plow heavy snow. When it was too deep to travel, travel ceased. Snow actually created good traveling conditions once it became packed, as long as the horses could step through the snow. Wagons were saved for warmer weather, and sleds and sleighs were used instead. Heavy loads could easily be glided over the packed snow much more easily than they could be pulled by wagon in warmer weather. More heavy loads were shipped during the snow season than in warmer weather. This included trees being hauled to sawmills and boulders that were being cleared from fields. But too much snow was a problem too. The Blizzard of 1888 brought snowfall that began March 11 and lasted through March 14. The community came to a halt, and even nine days later very little was moving. Warmer weather brought some relief by March 29, but brought crippling floods and mud.

Wagons and carts for sale by W.A. Towner, Patterson. (Putnam County Historian) Cornwall Bridge in Towners, as seen in this 1917 postcard. This bridge was probably located on Cornwall Hill Rd. at Muddy Brook, near the present Metro North Railroad tracks. The Towners section of Patterson extended at least that far north. Most of the land surrounding Cornwall Hill Rd. at that point was part of the Cornwall Hill Farm, which was approximately 300 acres in size. The farm stretched from the Couch Road intersection north across the railroad tracks, and included the area now used by Patterson for the Recycling Center, the Town Highway Garage, the former Town dump, and the areas across Cornwall Hill Road. The farm was open pastures with four houses. Cornwall Hill Farm was a model Guernsey Farm producing certified milk for Bordens. The intersection of two "roads" in Towners, as seen in this 1911 postcard. A c.1916 postcard by W. C. Wood of Towners shows the "entrance to Cornwall Hill". The dirt road is probably Cornwall Hill Road. The bridge can be seen at the center.

The Beginnings of a Formal Road Network

Roads were needed for general travel, but Patterson's farmers and millers also needed dependable roads to ship their goods. An early postal service needed a road network to introduce the Rural Free Delivery system in our area in 1896. Rural Free Delivery was a much desired service that was sought by the local Grange, the business community, and by local government officials. Reliable roadways were needed, and they needed to be maintained.

Mud and wagon ruts were two of the primary problems with dirt roads. One solution that was tested involved the placing of wood logs in wet sections in a corduroy pattern. This resulted in a bumpy and very uncomfortable trip that made this a very unpopular idea. Wood planks were also tried, and this method provided a smoother and more comfortable ride. New buildings materials, such as macadam, were being tested by the close of the 19th century in an effort to make roads easier to maintain and more comfortable on which to ride. Wagon technology was also improving, and more durable and comfortable vehicles were being built in the later half of the 19th century.

Road districts, the forerunners of our modern highway departments, were created in each Putnam County town to provide for regular road repair and maintenance. A creative method of funding the districts and providing the necessary labor was the requirement that land owners maintain the roads crossing their property. This labor would be used in lieu of paying cash for property taxes. For each day of labor not provided, the property owner was taxed $1, and that money was used to hire a contractor to do the work. The $1 tax could also be avoided if a property owner planted four shade trees or provided a water trough for passing horses. Property owners who did not fulfill the work or tax requirement were assessed a $1.50 daily fine. Maintenance meant keeping the roads passable by leveling bumps, removing obstacles like boulders or fallen trees, filling ruts, removing weed growth, and clearing snow drifts.

Toll roads in eastern Putnam County. The "Great Way" was a predecessor of NYS Route 22, and was frequently used to drive cattle to New York City markets. (Putnam County Historian) A typical toll gate seen in an undated postcard; this one was located in nearby Pawling. NYS Route 22 in Patterson is a narrow dirt path in this early 20th century postcard published by Patterson's Harrie M. Wright. This c.1909 postcard shows Main Street (NYS Route 311). Note the wooden hitching posts for the horses.

Many of the first main roads in the Hudson Valley were stagecoach routes and postal routes. In addition, turnpikes and toll roads were built by private corporations as early as the first quarter of the 19th century. On the toll roads, fees were charged to both vehicles and animals, much as modern-day toll roads assess fees on tractor-trailer trucks based on the number of axles. Milestone posts marked each mile.

The Automobile Brings Changes to Patterson

Horses remained the main means of local transportation into the 20th century, and Patterson's roads remained mostly dirt. Long distance transportation still meant the New York Central or New Haven Railroads. The October 26, 1900 edition of The Putnam County Courier mentions the new "Patterson Stage Line", a new stagecoach service that was in its second week of existence. The paper noted that business was seven times greater during the second week as compared to the first. The paper called it a "great accommodation to the public". Things changed with the introduction of the automobile, which gave people the ability to travel more freely and for greater distances than by horse. Dirt roads were barely suitable for horse and wagon, but were even more troublesome for automobile owners. Car owners began demanding paved roads. And, by the 1920s, car owners also were demanding that they be able to use their vehicles in the snow. A highway department was now needed to maintain the paved roads, and to plow snow off roads. Sand and salt were also introduced to provide traction on icy roads.

The bridge over the Croton River, as seen in this 1912 postcard. This may be a view of old NYS Route 311 as it passed over the East Branch of the Croton River. The road was rebuilt and moved slightly to the north, and some houses were moved to make way for the relocated road. In September, 1900, Patterson Highway Commissioner St. John supervised the paving of both sides of Main Street (NYS Route 311) starting at the American House, located where the present Patterson Town Hall stands, westward for some distance. The postcard was published by Harrie M. Wright, an optician and jeweler who had a shop on Railroad Street (Front Street). NYS Route 311 is a dirt road in this early 20th century postcard. Partially hidden behind the brush and trees is a portion of old Main Street/Route 311 that lies just south of the present NYS Route 311. The bridge over the river is long gone. The thin white line helps to discern the roadway from the brush. The old roadway currently serves as a driveway to Petersen Landscaping and Patterson Greenhouse.

In 1926 the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce was formed. The organization saw the automobile as the means to bring new businesses and customers into Putnam County, and sought the construction of new roads. Much road construction took place during the 1920s, and in 1929 Putnam County had a total of 513.7 miles of roads, with rural Patterson having only 66.1 miles, by far the smallest mileage count in the entire County. The road construction boom lasted until the stock market crash of 1929 and the resultant Great Depression. Only 200 miles of Putnam County roads were paved in 1931, but a 1930 count had already indicated that the County had 1 car for every 1.8 residents! To help bring America out of the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt created a number of public works initiatives collectively known as the "New Deal" to lift the country out of depression. Under the New Deal initiatives, the Federal government would provide direct economic relief to the nation by providing jobs to the unemployed, and by providing the capital to pay for both the jobs and the materials to be used for the various public works projects it would create.

Construction of "Improved" Roads Begins in Patterson

Before the turn of the 20th century, local governments showed little interest in improving roadways. In a very few short years, this apathy was reversed and governments began to demand an improved network of roads throughout New York State. Starting in 1899, several "good roads" conventions were held between New York State's town supervisors and state engineers to discuss the need for improved roads. "State" roads were sought by communities hoping to benefit from these "improved" and well-maintained road surfaces that would allow people to travel long distances easily. These roads would unite villages and towns, and bring new business to the local stores along the roadways. They would allow local farmers to bring their produce to market. And, perhaps best of all to local governments, their construction and maintenance costs would be borne by the State of New York. The town of Patterson, like other eastern Putnam County communities, sought the construction of state roadways. The western towns of Putnam County were less enthusiastic about the projects in eastern Putnam County because they did not directly benefit from them.

In December, 1899, there was much interest in developing a new state road in eastern Putnam County, affecting the towns of Carmel, Kent, and Patterson. The exact route was still open to discussion. Sentiment in favor of this road was so strong that a petition was drafted and signed by several of the largest taxpayers in eastern Putnam County. The signers included owners of property assessed at more than $20,000 - a considerable sum in 1899. The petition drive was the first organized movement of its kind in the County, and might have created the necessary political pressure to force the construction of the road if not for the ownership of about ten miles of the proposed route by the City of New York, which owned the Croton Watershed and its network of reservoirs. One proposed route had the road going over Townsend's Ridge to the Mud Road to the east up to Lewis Robinson's, all in the town of Carmel, and then continuing on to either the village of Patterson or Ludingtonville in Kent. The Patterson option would allow the new road to be extended into Pawling in nearby Dutchess County, and would give the village of Patterson similar economic benefits as the hamlets of Mahopac and Carmel in the town of Carmel.

These illustrations from the December 15, 1899 edition of the Putnam County Courier made it clear that sentiment was in favor of rebuilding Putnam's dirt roads into paved, macadam surfaces. Doansburg Road is a dirt road in this 1930s photograph. The photo was teken in front of the present Green Chimneys School. (Dr. Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross)

In November, 1901, Putnam County's Board of Supervisors invited a state engineer to plan the new road, which was now expected to run from Baldwin Place on the Westchester/Putnam County line through the Putnam towns of Carmel and Patterson, into Dutchess County. By February, 1902, a state engineering crew was already at work. Six engineers, led by H. W. Degaff, were surveying through Carmel at a rate of one mile per day. The goal was to construct a 16 foot wide road, with a 12 foot wide paved macadam surface. A road called "Mud Road" (presumably the current NYS Route 52) was determined to be the only feasible route from Carmel to Patterson. The road past the County Fairgrounds (Fair Street) was considered too difficult to use because it was too hilly and would be too costly as a result. In October, 1902, the State engineer told the road committee of the Putnam County Board of Supervisors that he would agree to have the new road follow the route of a present road past Lewis G. Robinson to the top of Deacon Smith's hill, and then west and north to Merrick's place and then on to the Patterson village. The original plan was to construct a new road from a point near the former residence of Isaac Lockwood and then east to Deacon Smith's. In February, 1903, New York State highway engineers were in Patterson surveying the last part of the proposed road. The engineers were working in the vicinity of Deacon Smith's hill near the Four Corners area in Towners (NYS Routes 311/164). Actual construction would take several more years, and it would become NYS Route 311.

In December, 1907, surveys were being completed for a state road from Carmel to Patterson. Work was to begin in the spring of 1908. Also in December, 1907, a dangerous railroad crossing in Peck's Corners was eliminated when a railway trestle was built, and the roadway was taken under the CNE railroad tracks. The trestle remains near the Patterson Baptist Church on the road now known as NYS Route 311.

In April, 1909, work began on the Patterson portion of the state road now known as NYS Route 311. Work commenced near the Towners (Patterson) Baptist Church, located in the Four Corners area, now the intersection of NYS Routes 311 and 164. The work crew consisted of Italian immigrants. Seventy-five of them were given temporary residence on the first floor of the cigar factory, with a small cooking shanty built nearby for their use. By June, 1909, the steamrollers had reached the village of Patterson.

In 1901, New York State was progressing with a construction project that would bring a new road into eastern Westchester County. In February, 1902, the Putnam County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling for New York State to extend that road northward through the Putnam towns of Southeast and Patterson, to intersect with the new Baldwin Place-Patterson road, currently under construction. The two roads would intersect at Akins Corners, which is now the intersection of NYS Routes 22 and 311 in Patterson. Under Putnam's proposal, the extension would begin at Dean's Corners on the Brewster-Croton Falls Road, then head north on the east side of the Croton River, past the Bordens Milk Factory, through the communities of Sodom, Milltown, and DeForest Corners, to Akins Corners in Patterson, a total of 12 miles. The Putnam portion of the state road, now known as NYS Route 22, was planned in March, 1912, when NYS Highway Superintendent C. Gordon Reel offered a proposal to spend $380,000 to construct a road that would run along the eastern border of New York State from New York City to Valatie, in Columbia County. A network of state roads was being built throughout New York, opening great portions of the state for the first time. The eastern border road was seen as opening a beautiful area of the State to tourists, and benefiting local landowners and businesses from the resultant increase in property values. The Putnam County portion of the route was ten miles in length, stretching from Brewster and ending at the Patterson/Pawling line. Plans had been completed in March 1912, and bids were being solicited.

In May, 1919, final plans were made to rebuild the Patterson-Dutchess County Line Road, now part of NYS Route 292. The existing dirt road was inadequate, and the need to have an improved road to open Patterson and Putnam County to neighboring Dutchess County and the city of Poughkeepsie seemed obvious. The dirt road was 1.61 miles in length, and stretched from Banks Corner to the existing state road in Whaley Pond. Patterson Supervisor George Jennings, along with a County Board of Supervisors committee, secured the land needed for the new road. The Putnam County Board of Supervisors approved an additional expenditure of $5,775 to pay for the County's portion of the construction cost, which totaled $15,225 according to a revised estimate of the project's cost. The State engineer estimated the total cost of the project to be $43,500. The highway commission began advertising for bids in April, 1919, and work was to begin in May, 1919. In May, 1919, The Danbury News reported possible auto routes from Danbury to Newburgh and Poughkeepsie:

"On the road between Sodom and Pawling turn left and run through Patterson and continue to West Patterson. From West Patterson a new road about one and one-half miles in length is under construction which connects with a good macadam road passing Whaley Pond and running to Stonehouse, thence continuing ... to Newburgh."
Not to be outdone, The Putnam County Courier reported an alternative in its July 18, 1919 edition:
"If Danburians want a practically all state road, then they should go through Carmel, thence over the Patterson road to the little brick house, thence north over dirt road about one mile to the Whaley Pond state road. About one half-mile only of this dirt road is under construction."

The new state Patterson-Dutchess County Line Road was completed in November, 1919.

In September, 1929, the Putnam County Planning Commission approved plans to reconstruct the Patterson portion of the road now known as Fair Street. The Commission submitted the plans to the County Board of Supervisors with the recommendation that the County advertise for bids. The road was then known as Fair St.-Fields-Deacon Smith Hill Rd., and connected the old Putnam County Fair grounds in Carmel with the Towners-Patterson State Rd., now known as NYS Route 311, in Patterson. The road was used by farmers to transport milk to collection depots, as well as by other area residents and businesses who were using motorized vehicles that could not navigate the dirt road very well. The plans called for reconstructing the 4 mile road with a bituminous macadam road surface with an asphalt and oil shoulder. The Board of Supervisors approved the request, noting that local property owners were donating all the land needed for the right-of-way of the improved road. The Board anticipated that the improved road would open more land to development, thereby improving the tax base for the Town.

Top Row: The construction of the bridge over the Quaker Brook, just west of the Connecticut State Line, is seen in the first three photos. This is the "old" Haviland Hollow Road, which was situated slightly north of the present road. The "new" road made the bridge obsolete, and the bridge and roadway fell into private ownership. The bridge and surrounding land was once owned by Walter G. Merritt, and much of his land became the Putnam County Park formerly known as the Walter G. Merritt County Park, and now known as the Michael Ciaiola Conservation Area. In the first photo, the concrete forms are assembled. In the second, the corrugated iron supports have been laid. In the third, foreman Wilcox poses next to the construction site. The fourth photo shows the completed bridge. All photos date from 1915. (Ed Scrivani)
Middle Row: Two views of the old Haviland Hollow Road near the Connecticut State Line. The first photo looks east towards Connecticut. The second looks west and shows part of the Barnum-Durga estate. The road became known as Rabbit Road once the road fell into private hands when the new road was constructed slightly south of the original road. Both photos date from 1915. (Ed Scrivani)
Bottom Row: Old Haviland Hollow Road under construction in August, 1912. Traveling east from the present NYS Route 22, motorists will observe the steep hill to their left. Haviland Hollow Road was carved into the rock that forms the lower part of that hill. Rock was blasted and removed from the site by a crew of Italian immigrant laborers, who also built other roads in Patterson. The first photo shows the Benjamin Cowl home to the right, situated on what is now known as East Branch Road, looking east towards Connecticut from approximately NYS Route 22. The area was known as "Cowl's Corners. The second photo shows a curious local residents posing at the rock debris pile. A grocery store is also visible; it was just to the left of the Cowl's home as seen in the first photo. The third photo shows the barely discernable figures of the Italian laborers, while the fourth photo shows a loose rock collection bin. All of the rock debris had to be removed mostly by hand and animal power. (Ed Scrivani)

1929 saw the construction of the new Haviland Hollow - Connecticut State Line Road, now known as Haviland Hollow Rd. The road connects NYS Route 22, then known as the Brewster-Patterson State Rd., with Connecticut State Route 37 in New Fairfield, Ct., then known as the Danbury-New Fairfield State Rd. Haviland Hollow Rd. was the first road improvement project undertaken by the Putnam County Planning Commission and was the first link completed in the County network of roads. The road was the first connection between New York and Connecticut in the Harlem Valley for a distance of 30 miles. The land needed for the right-of-way was deeded to the County by local landowners without cost. An arrangement was made with the State of Connecticut to build a 200 foot stretch of road from Route 37 to the New York State Line to connect with Haviland Hollow Rd. The new road brought Patterson residents and businesses 6 miles closer to Danbury, and was built by the construction firm Shakkett-Scolfield Co. of Beacon, NY. Towners-Haines Corners Road, now known as NYS Route 164, was completed at approximately the same time. Both roads together, were regarded as a primary east-west route in the northern part of the County. At a dedication ceremony for the two roads, New York State officials noted that only a few of the wealthier counties in the State had embarked on such an aggressive program of road building like Putnam County. The State officials were so impressed with the construction quality of the roads that they announced that the State would assume the maintenance costs of the roads. Camarco Construction Co. of Ossining was low bidder for the Towners-Haines Corners Road, bidding $110,533, outbidding eleven other construction companies. The road connected the State highway at the Towners railroad station with Elm Tree Road in Haines Corners, which is the area at the present intersection of NYS Routes 164 and 22. Both roads were constructed of macadam with a stone base. Another County road, Ludingtonville Rd., connecting NYS Route 311 in Patterson with the Town of Kent, was nearing completion.

In December, 1930, it was announced that Cornwall Hill Road would be paved, using the proceeds from gasoline taxes, motor vehicles fees, and State and County money. Work began in the spring of 1931. In July, 1931, work began on a replacement span over Muddy Brook. Piers were sunk 20 feet into the swamp muck near Muddy Brook. A 36 foot bridge, constructed of reinforced concrete, was built over the Brook, replacing a wooden structure. Typical of old road construction, the old bridge had been supported by a foundation of hewn logs that were sunk into the mud, layer by layer, until the logs settled. Workers discovered logs layered as deep as 8 feet.

In 1931 it was proposed that a new road be built in eastern Putnam County. The new NYS Route 22 was to run for 10 miles from the Town of Southeast north to Penny's Corners in Patterson, which is now the intersection of NYS Routes 22 and 311. The roadbed was to be constructed of concrete, with a width of 30 feet. Land was purchased from local property owners for the project. Patterson Supervisor George E. Jennings, in the midst of a re-election campaign, donated a one-half mile strip of land in October, 1931. Jennings donation failed to help his electoral effort; he lost to Republican Howard Kelly Jr.. A land condemnation commission announced financial payments for the land seizures May, 1933. The following payments were reported by the Putnam County Courier on May 5, 1933:

In September, 1934, major road construction began in Patterson's new community of Putnam Lake. Residents of the Lake community had been asking for a formal road to connect Putnam Lake with the surrounding area. A paved road had been completed at Wellcurb Corner, and a connecting link that was to be known as Haviland Drive was now under construction to bridge the one mile gap to the Connecticut State Line Road. Work on Fairfield Drive, part of the new connecting link, was to begin once the County Engineer designed the road, and the funding was allocated by the County Board of Supervisors. Patterson Supervisor George E. Jennings requested the construction effort at a meeting of the County Board of Supervisors meeting. There was much discussion as to the type of surfacing material to be used, since the Depression made funding tight, and preference was given to techniques that would provide the most jobs to the large numbers of area unemployed. Macadam roads would provide a durable surface, but would leave a minimum of money to provide jobs. The County Highway Department had also experimented with a surfacing project called Col-Probia, but the materials expense was considered out of proportion to the number of men that could be employed, an important consideration during the Depression years.

The National Recovery Act (NRA) was passed in 1933, and allocated $95,000,000 for road improvements to secondary or "farm-to-market" roads. This money helped restore some of the momentum for local road construction. Patterson farmers were eager for new roads that would help to get their produce to markets. In January 1935, the State announced that it would build a new "farm-to-market" road from the corner of the Brandon farm near Towners, to the Daniel Barnes Corner in the Dykemans section of Southeast. The road would measure 3.10 miles in length, and would connect two "improved" State roads. The cost was estimated at almost $32,000 dollars. The roadway would have a gravel surface and be 18 feet in width. Camarco Contractors of Ossining, NY won the contract with a low bid of $26,258. Seven acres of land were donated by eager local property owners. The road is now officially known by the name of Farm to Market Road, and connects the roads now known as NYS Route 164 and NYS Route 312. The State had planned to continue the new road into the village of Brewster, but was unable to fund the project because Putnam County, suffering from the poor economic conditions of the Depression, could not afford to buy the properties needed to create the right of way.

Mrs. Byron Henry Brewer proudly poses in her Jackson model automobile in front of her home in Towners. (The Putnam County Historian) Orchard Street was a narrow dirt road when this postcard was taken at the turn of the 20th century. Mooney Hill Road: the former Philipstown to Patterson Turnpike. (The Putnam County Historian)
Two views of Center Street. The first may date to the late 19th century and the second is from 1911. Wagon wheel ruts are still visible in the road. In October, 1901, Charles Pick and his crew installed a sewer, and made other sidewalk and road improvements on Center Street. South Street in 1913. In May, 1901, the sidewalk was leveled and straightened in preparation of a macadam surface that would be completed the following month.

Some of Patterson's road construction was the result of necessity. In March, 1936, a heavy, two inch rainfall mixed with melting snow caused water levels in brooks and rivers to rise several feet. The resulting floods washed out bridges and roads, flooded basements, caused mudslides, and left property owners with leaking roofs. In the area known as Penny's Corners, now the intersection of NYS Routes 22 and 311, the bridge carrying NYS Route 311 over the Patterson Swamp, as the Great Swamp was then known, was lifted off its concrete foundation. The pressure of the water and melting ice cracked the foundation of the 20 foot concrete bridge, and the bridge was swept into the Swamp where it disappeared beneath the waters.

In the mid-1930s, three first aid stations were opened along the major highway routes in Putnam County as a service to long distance travelers. One was in Garrison and another was in Carmel. The third station was opened on NYS Route 22 in Patterson in The Elms Restaurant in July, 1938. In September, 1942, two new first aid stations were opened. Carmel Lumber on NYS Route 6 hosted one facility, and the second opened in Patterson's Putnam Lake community in the Knight Club, located on Fairfield Dr. near the New York and Connecticut border.

World War II brought construction to a trickle, but America's emergence from the war led to a resumption of local road projects. More roads were built, many dirt roads were paved, and many old wooden bridges that were unsuitable for fast automobile traffic were replaced by steel and concrete bridges. By 1946, 65% of Putnam County Roads were paved.

Increased traffic led to the widening of NYS Routes 164 and 311 in the fall of 1969. Funds for the project came from the Transportation Bond Issue of 1967, and the project was approved by acting Gov. Malcolm Wilson. Both roads measured 18 to 20 feet in width, and would be widened to a uniform 22 feet. Temporary flashing lights would be installed along the detour on Route 164 at the train overpasses. In December, 1969, the Town made a request to the State Dept. of Transportation that the flashing lights be made permanent. In October, 1977, funds were appropriated for the construction of a car pool "park 'n ride" lot on NYS Route 311 near exit 18 of Interstate 84.

The east entrance to the Patterson Hamlet in 1960, from the film "Our Town - 1960". The barrier to NYS Route 311 has just been moved, reopening the road to traffic, in this photo from the March 26, 1970 edition of the Putnam County Courier. Patterson Town Hall, the former Towners School can be seen on the right. New York State Dept. of Transportation workers replace wooden planks with steel girders as the bridge carrying NYS Route 164 over Muddy Brook is replaced in this photo appearing in the August 27, 1975 edition if the Courier.
A portion of an old Route 22 is still visible south of Haviland Hollow Road. The abandoned road leads to a concrete bridge that carries the road over a portion of the Great Swamp. The old roadway and bridge, just west of the present NYS Route 22, is barely visible through the brush and trees. The thin white line helps to discern the roadway from the brush. A closer look at the bridge. The rusty steel guard rails are still visible over the concrete sides of the bridge.

The Interstate Highway System Comes to Patterson

Planning for a national network of roads began as early as the Franklin Roosevelt administration. In the 1950s, the justification for the Interstate Highway System came from a need to create jobs and from Cold War hysteria and the perceived defense needs. Planning for the road that would pass through Patterson began as early as 1949, when the New York State Department of Public Works (NYSDPW) proposed an east/west route that would be New York's contribution to a new road that would link Pennsylvania to Connecticut. This route would require a crossing over the Hudson River, and the bridge that would be the only toll portion of the road.

Very little in the way of roads can be seen in this 1937 Socony road map of Putnam County. NYS Route 164 was then known as Route 216, and it followed a portion of NYS Route 311 and continued into Dutchess County on the road now known as NYS Route 292. Socony was the Standard Oil Company of New York. Eastern Putnam County and the Town of Patterson long before Interstates 84 and 684 were constructed, as seen in this 1957 Esso road map. The Interstate 84 portion in Patterson is under development at the time this map was released in February, 1965. New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller proposed a 1965-66 budget that would include funds for the construction of a 3.2-mile piece that would connect NYS Route 311 in Patterson with Ludingtonville Road in Kent. Still to be funded was the 5.8-mile piece from NYS Route 311 in Patterson east to Route 22 in Southeast. Note that the road now known as I684 was designated I87.

Many different routes were discussed for the road, with a 1951 plan taking it as far south as Rockland County with the Hudson River crossing to be at the Tappan Zee Bridge. New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey wanted the new route to be a toll highway that would connect, and become part of, the New York State Thruway system. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956. $41 billion dollars was targeted for the construction of 41,000 miles of roads by 1972. With this influx of money, it was decided that the future I84 would now to be part of the network of toll-free roads that would comprise the Federal Interstate Highway System. 90% of the construction costs would come from the Federal government. The road was redesigned to be a supplemental east/west route to US Route 6, and its new route would take it through Putnam County with a new Hudson River crossing to be built in the Newburgh-Beacon area. This location would provide an important new river crossing, and even today it is the only river crossing in the 30-mile stretch from Bear Muntain Bridge to the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie.

By the late 1950s construction was underway on the other New York State portions of the Interstate Highway system. But work had yet to begin on the future I84. Work finally began in 1960 on the 16-mile stretch between the NYS Thruway (exit 6) and US Route 9 in Fishkill (exit 13). The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and this first section of roadway were opened to the public in November 1963. Another 6-mile stretch east to the Taconic Parkway was completed in 1964. Progress then slowed for various reasons.

"I shudder to think what's going to happen to Main Street in Carmel when all the trucks come off of 84 at 311, and roll through from across the river and upstate."
A comment on a new development project in Patterson? No! This was the comment from a local resident, a Mr. Hickman, at an open hearing on the last phase of I84, as reported in the March 27, 1969 edition of the Putnam County Courier.

One delay was due to indecision about where to build a new north/south route to be known as I87. An interchange between the new I87 and the new I84 was considered very important, and the location of I87 needed to be decided first. I87 was first intended to link I84 and the NYS Thruway in the Newburgh-Beacon area south to Elmsford in Westchester County. When this idea fell through in 1961, I87 was relocated to the east and was intended to connect with I84 in Brewster, and run south to White Plains in Westchester County. This idea was eventually adopted, but the road designation was changed to I684, and the I87 designation was given to the portion of the Thruway between Elmsford and Newburgh. Other delays were monetary in nature. The State had to buy or seize land for the right-of-way, and there were complaints about the size of the payments that were made to the property owners. Other delays were caused by the hills, wetlands, and rock that are characteristic of Putnam and Dutchess Counties.

The final portion of I84 to be built east of the Hudson River was the stretch from NYS Route 311 to the Connecticut border. This 6-mile stretch opened at 2 PM on May 12, 1971; the I684/I84 interchange had recently been completed. This portion of the road cost $33.3 million to build, under a contract awarded in 1968 to the construction firms of Edward Balf Co. and Savin Brothers, Inc. of Bloomfield, Connecticut, which took the project as a joint venture. Funds were provided by the Federal government and from the New York State 1967 Transportation Bond Issue. Only a short portion of I84 west of the Hudson, from the Thruway to NY Route 208 in Orange County, remained to be completed. New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller stated, "Opening this vital segment in Putnam County in time for the New York State Transportation Week is most timely. The improved service offered as the result of the completion of Interstate Route 84 between the Connecticut line and the Thruway will benefit many who travel in this eastern region of our State."

The Interstate has had its share of tragic automobile accidents, but on August 6, 1976, the tragedy came from the air when a helicopter crashed on I-84 near NYS Route 311 in Patterson, killing the two occupants of the helicopter. Witnesses reported seeing the craft flying low, but in no apparent difficulty. Just east of Route 311, the copter became entangled in power lines over I-84 and tumbled upside down onto the eastbound lanes of the Interstate. The pilot and his passenger were contractors from Ulster County, and had flown from Stewart Airport in Newburgh. 4,000 electric customers in Patterson, Lake Carmel, and Kent lost power. Eastbound traffic was stopped for several miles until the shoulder was opened to ease the backup. Putnam County Sheriff's deputies responded to direct traffic. New York State Police investigators examined the scene. Several dozen firefighters from Lake Carmel and Carmel assisted. The helicopter was removed to Danbury Airport pending an investigation by Federal authorities, and the roadway was reopened 2 1/2 hours after the crash.

The Legacy of I84

Planning and construction of I84 began before the NYS Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was passed in 1969. As a result, there were few impact studies done. Under SEQRA, a formal review process must be followed to judge the impact of a major project on the community, as well as on environmental resources or historical resources. NYS engineers held public hearings, but construction otherwise proceeded without much regard for what was being bulldozed or filled. The Interstate allowed long distance motorists to zoom past Patterson perhaps without even noticing that they passed through a town. And the Interstate allowed Patterson residents to discover distant shopping areas, to the detriment of local shops. The I84/I684 combination, along with improving rail service, made Patterson an attractive bedroom community with easy access to job centers in White Plains and New York City. As a result, a demand for housing eventually converted farmland into housing subdivisions and commercial projects to service the new residents.

With the completion of I84, plans began to emerge for large scale commercial projects in the area where the towns of Patterson, Carmel, Southeast, and Kent adjoin. The Putnam County Planning Deptartment and the Putnam County Industrial Commission proposed truck and rail terminals, a small jet airport, and a large industrial complex, all to be connected to the Interstate via "improvements" in local roads. Even though these projects were never built, the same sites have seen a major shopping center, a smaller industrial park, and plans for housing developments.