Wilmington, Delaware and US-202 North
Hello again, Roadtrip-'62 ™ traveler…or potential traveler, or armchair traveler. It really doesn’t matter how you travel; you can travel along with me just by reading this column. Today we’re going to do a few days’ worth of sightseeing, 1962-style, starting from Wilmington, Delaware and traveling north along US-202. Route US-202 runs about 627 miles from Bangor, Maine to Wilmington, Delaware. It was approximately the same in 1962, with only minor changes at each end. For most of its length, US-202 is signed as an east–west highway, though it travels nearly the same distance north-south. We’ll begin on a northbound segment. Since 1938, the route has been continually widened in pieces throughout Pennsylvania, including projects that continue to this day. In 1964, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways proposed constructing an expressway in the US-202 corridor for 59 miles, but only portions have been completed.
In 1962, we might have been staying at the Tally Ho Motor Lodge, right on US-202. Today, the site has been transformed into a shopping center and a Days Inn, probably by demolition of the older building, though the current motel looks very much like one of the older buildings. After leaving, our first stop of the day is the Brandywine Zoo, right in Wilmington and on the Brandywine River. On only 12 acres, this small zoo hosts mostly animals native to the Americas. You can see river otters, Andean condors, bobcats, sandhill cranes, llamas, and the world's largest rodents, capybaras. The zoo opened in 1905 and beginning in 1952 a major reconstruction created the Children’s Zoo section, which we would have seen complete in 1962. It had small, child-sized buildings based on Mother Goose characters, similar to some we saw on our US-6 roadtrip at Fejérváry Park in Davenport, Iowa. These types of attractions were very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Children’s Zoo logged 46,000 visitors its first year. The Mother Goose themed section survived until the late 1970s in its original form even though the main zoo had fallen into disrepair. The main zoo closed while the Children’s Zoo remained open, but has since been rebuilt and expanded.
After the zoo, we head north from Wilmington through a suburban area of strip malls and "big-box stores" along the Concord Pike, where all the small towns have merged together. In fact, even the large towns have merged together, as the entire Wilmington area is now a part of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania metro area! You really can’t tell where you are except by reading the signs. We’ll see a few isolated pieces of countryside today as we travel between towns, but you’ll have to look quick as we travel up the historic Brandywine River valley. There are some scenic places left along here, though we start out seeing mansions and malls. The area has been settled since a group of Quakers laid out the city of Wilmington in 1731 and, as we will see, it played a part in the Revolutionary War.
Still in Delaware, we pass Brandywine Creek State Park. The property was a dairy farm owned by the duPont family at that time. Many of the museums, mansions, and a spectacular garden in this area owe their existence to the duPont family, who arrived in 1803 and became wealthy producing first gunpowder and later other chemicals. DuPont’s well-known stretchable fabric Lycra was first made commercially available in 1962, after two decades of research. As we know today, Lycra’s stretch and recovery properties give clothing comfort, fit and freedom of movement. Also that year, the chemical Nafion was invented by DuPont. This product was first used in fuel cells for the Gemini Space Project in 1967, and is expected to become more important in the future as cars may use fuel cell technology. But we could not have visited Brandywine Creek State Park in 1962, because it did not become a state park until 1965. Even so, there are parts of the park that are much older. Its gray stone walls were built in the late 1800's and Tulip Tree Woods contains a majestic stand of 190-year-old tulip poplars.
Less than two miles west of US-202, and right on US-1, is the Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site. This site commemorates the Revolutionary War Battle of Brandywine, where approximately thirty thousand British and American soldiers fought in September, 1777. The Battle of Brandywine was the largest land battle of the American Revolution. The historic site was established by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1949 and is on the location of the Continental Army encampment. It features exhibits such as General George Washington’s headquarters. Also offered are battlefield tours, a twenty-minute film about the battle, and a museum. Farther up US-202, at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, is the more famous Valley Forge National Historical Park. I’m sure you could spend an entire day learning about the battles fought in this area!
Just inside New Jersey, about 6 miles north of US-202, is New Jersey’s only remaining covered bridge, the 84-foot Green Sergeant Bridge. The current bridge is a reconstruction of the second bridge to occupy the location. The first bridge here was built in 1866 and a second bridge was constructed on the existing abutments over Wickecheoke Creek in 1872. By 1960, this modified queenpost bridge had become unusable. The bridge superstructure was dismantled to allow construction of a modern bridge, but local residents protested to preserve the bridge. So, the state rebuilt it using materials they had salvaged from the dismantled covered bridge. To upgrade the crossing, because the bridge was too narrow for two-way traffic, they then constructed a new concrete and stone bridge for the eastbound traffic. The reconstructed covered bridge is now westbound only. Wooden bridges were often covered in the 1800s, as a way to protect the structural parts from water, ice, and wind. This area of western New Jersey once contained many covered bridges.
Our last Revolutionary War historic site of the day is Morristown National Historical Park. This park commemorates various sites of General Washington and the Continental Army’s winter encampment of 1779-1780, which was the coldest winter on record for the area. The fortifications were originally constructed during 1777, under order of General Washington to Jeremiah Olney to “…Guard the Stores of different kinds…Strengthen the Works already begun upon the Hill near this place, and erect such others as are necessary for the better defending of it, that it may become a safe retreat in case of Necessity." The park includes several sites, including the Jockey Hollow Encampment, the Wick House, several reconstructed soldiers’ huts that were restored by the National Park Service in 1937, Washington’s headquarters, a museum, and hiking trails. Also included is the location of a beacon site at the edge of Morristown, New Jersey. During the war, beacons of 18-20 feet high were constructed of a loose frame of logs with smaller combustibles filling the center. Records show this beacon was set afire at least twice in June, 1780 to warn local militia to respond to a battle. The eastward view from the hill encompasses the entire New York City skyline on a clear day, and otherwise, you can see most towns between Morristown and New York City. The derivation of the name "Fort Nonsense" is unknown and the name was not used during the war.
Highway US-202 meets our US-6 roadtrip at Bear Mountain State Park, New York and they travel across the Hudson River together. You can find out more about the state park on that page. The bridge was completed in 1924 and it held the record for the longest suspension bridge in the world for 19 months. One unique feature of the bridge is the pedestrian walkways on both sides of the bridge. This allows the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to cross the Hudson River. The highways separate at Peekskill, New York, but run parallel only a few miles apart to Brewster, New York. There, they travel together once again into Connecticut. But we’ve gone far enough for one day, 169 miles, so we will say goodbye to both routes here at Peekskill. See you next time on Roadtrip-'62 ™ for more fun on US-numbered highways and in 1962.
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
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