Synopses & Reviews
Route 20 was named a federal highway in 1926, and for the first half of the 20th century, it was Massachusetts's most important east-west road. Extending from Boston's dynamic Kenmore Square to bucolic Hancock Shaker Village on the New York border, the road's history, beauty, and contribution to Massachusetts's vitality were unmatched. Fortunately, almost all of the original road still exists and can be traveled by the modern motorist seeking a nostalgic adventure. In Along Massachusetts's Historic Route 20, more than 200 vintage postcards tell the road's story. Included are scenes along the Boston Post Road and Jacob's Ladder Trail, two of the highway's most historic segments, and also images of main streets, village greens, historic sites, scenic rural vistas, and, of course, the roadside tourist courts, diners, and gas stations that made automobile travel possible.
"Most people take an old established road for granted, but Dr. Michael Till saw more in U.S. Route 20.
The retired dentist and former dean of the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota grew up in a town in Iowa where Route 20 was the main east-west road, just as it was in Massachusetts. Over the years, Till traveled the entire length of the highway -- 3,365 miles -- and has collected more than 2,500 postcards from the communities and attractions along the way.
The result is his second book on the history of Route 20, ""Along Massachusetts's Historic Route 20,"" recently released by Arcadia Publishing.
Till explained to Reminder Publications that he always felt ""Route 20 had been given short shrift,"" in comparison to other legendary highways such as U.S. Route 66 and The Lincoln Highway (U.S. Route 30).
He said that Route 20 -- which begins in Boston -- was one of the first legs of the Federal Highway System established by Congress in 1926. The highway wasn't completed until 1940 and is interrupted only by Yellowstone National Park on its route to Newport, Ore.
Route 20 is the longest of those initial highways, Till added.
Although today many of those original federal highways have been incorporated into the Interstate Highway System or closed, Till said that Route 20 is about 90 percent intact.
""It's really a remarkable drive,"" he said. ""You can recreate drive from the 1930s and '40s.""
Route 66, which was celebrated with a popular pop tune and a long-running television series, hasn't been so lucky.
""You can hardly see Route 66 [which ran from Chicago, Ill., to Los Angeles, Calif.] anymore,"" Till noted.
The newer interstate highways were not designed over Route 20, but instead frequently ran parallel to it, he said.
Till's book contains images of the communities which were linked by the highway as well as the tourist attractions that grew up because of the road. The first system of federal highways had a large economic impact on communities, he explained, with communities thankful the roads ran right through a municipality's major business areas.
When by-pass routes were added to the highway system, allowing motorists to avoid the more congested downtowns, Till said the local businessmen fought them. They soon came to realize that people seeking accommodations, food and gas were still coming into the business districts.
The highway system also gave birth to the interstate trucking industry, he added.
Till explained the original federal highways were built over existing roads and in Route 20's case, in Massachusetts the Boston Post Road was its predecessor. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1751, the Boston Post Road was literally the route used by the Post Office to transport mail east and west in the state.
""Ben Franklin was very instrumental in Route 20, but he didn't know, Till said.
His book begins in Boston with the start of Route 20 and succeeding chapters bring the readers through Worcester and then into Wilbraham, Springfield, West Springfield, Westfield and the Berkshires.
The images show these communities in a different light, when the two-lane Route 20 was the major thoroughfare. Till said that one fascinating aspect of Route 20 today is how many of the buildings from the time the highway was founded are still intact.
With two books down, Till hopes to complete volumes covering most of the states of which Route 20 is a part. Although the road travels through 12 states, it is only briefly in Pennsylvania and Montana.
""I truly enjoy traveling the road and talking with people,"" he said."
--Reminder Publications, G. Michael Dobbs
About the Author
Michael J. Till is a retired university professor. He grew up on Route 20 and has had a lifelong interest in the road. All illustrations are from his personal collection of more than 2,000 vintage Route 20 postcards.