June 19, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     You don’t have to dig into eons past to see history.

     A road beautification project in Pearl River, N.Y., a hamlet in the Gotham suburbs but in the country when I was young, has modern planners trying to “calm traffic,” as they put it. Islands of paving stones are being  placed in the middle of a road to reduce speed.

     The idea is to tame the hurly-burly of “progress” which could have been managed a lot more sensibly and cheaply if there hadn’t been overbuilding in the first place. Yet the “calming devices” may not actually tame but frustrate motorists hellbent in a rush. You must navigate carefully around the stone islands, especially in big vehicles.  And most “cars” are big today. Driving with care is sensible, of course, though it may compete with today’s rush living.

     Anyway, not to digress from discovering history locally. In the Pearl River project, decades of asphalt are being removed, down six inches or so, to allow for the traffic islands. The areas uncovered reveal the original concrete pavement, seemingly in great shape, so you wonder why “progress” required paving over. And over. And over.

     The concrete was in place for perhaps 50 years before asphalt covered history. The road in question, Middletown, once state highway Rt. 304 until a new one was built, is a principal route from Nanuet to New Jersey, with Pearl River the border community. The road was busy in the first half of the last century since Pearl River had industry, including Lederle, a leading pharmaceutical developer, a true downtown and neatly placed homes. The next decades, into present time, have seen Middletown Road an even busier route as super growth has hit Rockland County.

     The original concrete road went through a half century of just fine use, thank you, but ever-faster “progress” has required six inches or so of asphalt in the 50 years since.

     A lesson in archeological history. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.