Today in Transportation History – 1958: The Connecticut Turnpike Opens to Great Fanfare

The Connecticut Turnpike was formally opened. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the new expressway were held in the morning at its western terminus in the town of Greenwich and then during the afternoon at the eastern end in the town of Killingly on the Rhode Island border.

Abraham A. Ribicoff, Connecticut’s incumbent governor, took part in both ceremonies. He was joined by six of the Constitution State’s former governors at the time; they were John Davis Lodge, Raymond E. Baldwin, James C. Shannon, Chester Bowles, Wilbert Snow, and John H. Trumbull. Elizabeth McConaughy, the widow of one-time Connecticut governor James L. McConaughy (who died in office a decade earlier), cut the ribbon during the ceremony in Greenwich.

Another honored guest at the Greenwich event was Craig Firtick, a 10-year-old resident of the town of the town of Fairfield in southwestern Connecticut. The Westport-based Town Crier newspaper described how this fifth grader earned a special invitation to the opening of the Connecticut Turnpike’s westernmost point.

“It happened to Craig this way: Fascinated by anything in the construction field, he took to spending most of his spare time at the scene of construction near his home,” the newspaper reported. “Pretty soon he became known to work crews building the highway, and in no time at all was helping them by handing up buckets of cement, handing them tools, running errands for the men, lending some of them his bicycle, putting water in the trailer tanks, filling in mud puddles ‘to keep little children from getting hurt.’” Craig sent Ribicoff a letter highlighting how he “helped to build” the turnpike. Ribicoff, in turn, invited Craig to attend the ceremony in Greenwich and even secured the young man’s excused absence from school that day.

Following the ceremony in Greenwich, Ribicoff led a motorcade that traveled approximately 128 miles (207 kilometers) eastward to the similar event in Killingly. As Connecticut’s oldest living former governor at the time, 84-year-old John H. Trumbull cut the ribbon at this end of the expressway. Both ceremonies also featured various clergymen who each bestowed their blessings on the new statewide route.

Construction on the Connecticut Turnpike – the state’s largest public works effort up to that time – had started nearly three years earlier. Ribicoff took time to commend Connecticut State Highway Commissioner Newman E. Argraves for “meeting an impossible timetable” to complete the expressway on schedule. The governor also talked about the “immense benefit” of the Connecticut Turnpike for motorists and called the new route “a road of national importance.” In addition, Ribicoff emphasized the expressway’s safety features. “The most modern highway construction methods contributing to safe driving have been engineered into this road,” he said. “Now it is up to the public to take proper care in driving so that accidents can be kept to a minimum.”

At the time of its debut, the Connecticut Turnpike was widely regarded as serving a longer stretch of urban and suburban communities than any other modern expressway. The Connecticut Turnpike (officially renamed the Governor John Davis Lodge Turnpike in 1985) is signed as Interstate 95 between Greenwich and East Lyme and as Interstate 395 between East Lyme and Plainfield, with short overlaps with U.S. Route 1 from Old Saybrook to Old Lyme and Connecticut Route 2A from Montville to Norwich. A short and unsigned section known as State Road 695 continues the Connecticut Turnpike to Killingly.

For more information on the Connecticut Turnpike, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connecticut_Turnpike.

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