By Arthur H. Gunther III
Blauvelt to West Nyack, N.Y. — Along the Western Highway, simply named centuries ago because so few roads existed that there was no need to use developers’ favored children’s monikers, a three-mile walk to the great hullabaloo of suburban growth that is a major shopping center brought quiet that you can never get in a car here, even an effortless, whisper-like electric model.
I had an errand to run and someone to meet, and I drive enough locally to hit 16,000 miles yearly, so, on a decent day, with sun out and the temperature in the 30s, I combined exercise with contemplation. It was a trip of nostalgia, history, appreciation and relief. It was also hairy at times since Western Highway is a major road that has endless traffic, no sidewalks on my section and motorists who think they are heading in a race for a pot of gold, so fast they drive.
Western Highway is as famous as many others in roads in this nation. Washington and Lafayette went down it in wagons. It led to the major Northeast supply depot for the Continental Army. President Martin Van Buren, dining at the Clarksville Inn, came along. Long before that, of course, the original Native Americans forged the trail, and the Dutch built sandstones along it. One such house, the old Leiper manse, was a stopover for U.S. Army personnel and family during World War II, as it was near Camp Shanks, the largest Army embarkation port in the world. The Order of Battle for the D-day invasion was set at Shanks.
When I was a child of the 1940s-’50s, my father would take us to look at Shanks’ remains, then called Shanks Village as it became housing for returning GIs studying under the GI Bill at Columbia University. Situated along Western Highway, Shanks Village was visited by university President Dwight Eisenhower, who called it “the best damn place to live in the world.”
Also along the road, the Hackensack River wanders in and out of a marsh, or what remains of one after suburban development. Species of the same birds and critters, including long-living turtles, call the marsh home. It offers the greatest peace on Western Highway, for looking at it is the reverse of studying “progress.”
It took just about 40 minutes to get to the hullabaloo of noise, commerce and people that is the mall, but by then I was fortified enough by the appreciation of what has happened over the centuries along my old road. You see so much more on a walk than a drive.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.