The road that built us

How the Post Road wrote New England’s history

Without knowing it, you’ve almost surely walked it or driven it, maybe on your way to the grocery store in Wayland, or a restaurant in the South End.

Since it became America’s first mail route back in 1673, the Boston Post Road has connected Boston to New York City, delivering messages, guiding travelers, and tying the Northeast together. In that time, some legs of the route have shifted, and most of it is now known by other names — Washington Street, Route 20, Main Street, or Mass. Route 9. But if you know how to follow the thread, you can still trace the Post Road beneath our modern streets and highways. A few stretches, as residents of Marlborough and Sudbury know, among others, are still called Boston Post Road.

The road in its Colonial form began in downtown Boston, at the Old State House, and followed modern Washington Street over what was once a thin neck of land into Roxbury. It split into two branches at the “parting stone” near what’s now Roxbury Crossing; the northern branch linked Boston and Springfield (with a spur up through Cambridge) before hooking toward Hartford, while the southern branch ran through Providence to New Haven. There the branches unified en route to New York.

To trace the Post Road through its history is to witness how important one connective thread can be to a growing region — and how it can still determine the shape of the city and state hundreds of years later.

Eric Jaffe is the author of ”The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America,” recently published by Scribner.

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Full article and photo: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/10/17/the_road_that_built_us/