by Dave Dunleavy
Some call it the Road to Nowhere. Built over a two-year period, the "high road" that parallels Macedonia Brook Road is an impressive two-mile thoroughfare that was built along the eastern base of Cobble Mountain.
What makes the road so outstanding is that its solid workmanship was performed by young men who had little skill in road construction other than the ability to perform hard labor day in and day out. But 75 years after its completion, the craftsmanship has mostly survived the ravages of Mother Nature and a forest that has grown up around it.
The road was one of the thousands of projects that were built throughout the United States as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was the brainchild of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was meant to give work and meaning to hundreds of thousands of Americans and those families still struggling from the effects of the Great Depression.
The CCC not only built roads. Programs included erosion control, tree planting, bridge construction, stream improvement, foot trails, airport landing fields, insect control, and even predator eradication. The majority of the work took place in remote areas to improve rural lands.
Today, the CCC road in Macedonia is used mainly for hiking and cross-country skiing. When it was built from 1935-1937 the purpose was to take traffic off of narrow and occasionally steep Macedonia Brook Road. That road cut through Macedonia Brook State Park, as it does today, but there were periods, especially in the spring when it was impassible due to muddy conditions. And brook washouts weren't uncommon.
The new road would allow safer passage to motorists on their way north to Sharon and New York State. Ironically, there are no records to indicate that the road was ever open to traffic. No grand opening announcement and no evidence that cars ever used the route.
"The government liked grand openings and ribbon-cutting ceremonies," said Bill Bachrach, a Kent Historical Society member. "I still haven't found anything yet to show that the road was ever opened."
The present route was built in sections. The land had to be cleared but most importantly solid stone walls had to be erected to keep the road from washing across Macedonia Brook Road. Young laborers between the ages of 18 to 25, built those fortifying walls. In some places, the walls reach 14 feet in height with large boulders set at the base.
Despite the rugged terrain, only two sections of the wall have breached and those were fixed three years ago thanks to a $75,000 federal stimulus grant originally secured by former Gov. Jodi Rell.
Stone was collected from natural "slides" at the base of Cobble Mountain by approximately 40 workers who labored daily. One such worker, Charlie Bigelow, came back to Kent in April of 2012 to visit the roadway and to give a public talk on the CCC in Kent.
"We had a small bulldozer, air compressor and dump trucks," said Bigelow, 92 who now lives in Enfield. "I helped load the trucks with rocks we gathered in the woods. To this day I still have back problems that I attribute to that hard work.
"On the job, we had to use a lot of dynamite. One guy, Joe Gories from New Britain, was in charge. He got paid a little extra for his work. Just before they lit the charge I had to go to a safe area. Then they'd yell "fire in the hole."
Bigelow remembers living in Camp Macedonia Brook which was built on the east side of the Housatonic River, several miles north of the center of town on Route 7. Nearly 200 men lived at the camp in barracks which were complete with a mess hall, recreational hall, showers, and a "12-holer" outhouse. In winter the barracks were heated with coal stoves.
"The center of the camp was like a town square with paths leading to the flagpole," Bigelow said during a recent interview. "This was where we gathered each morning for roll call and the raising of the flag. There was also a bell they rang for meals."
When it rained Bigelow said everyone worked near camp instead, building walls along the nearby railroad tracks of the New York, New Haven & Hartford line. But for the six months he stayed at camp, Bigelow spent most of his time at Macedonia, which was designated a state park in 1919. Like the others, he was paid $30 each month of which $25 was sent to his family.
If you wondering what these young and unmarried laborers did back in Kent in the 1930s the answer is not much. In fact, the locals were a bit fearful that their young daughters might meet up with these out of towners.
One such worker, Elmer Trombly, ended up meeting and marrying a local girl from Cornwall named Beatrice Thompson. They spent the rest of their lives together in Kent. Elmer was stationed at another CCC camp called Camp Cross, near Housatonic Meadows State Park in Cornwall. Many of those laborers worked at Kent Falls State Park although Elmer before he passed away in 2009, remembers raking gravel along the roadbed of the road in Macedonia Brook State Park.
Workers from the Cross and Macedonia camps were also pressed into service in 1936 to help with the cleanup from the massive local flooding of the Housatonic River.
At Camp Macedonia, Bigelow and others were transported to and from Macedonia Brook State Park in U.S. Army trucks. Although the Army was in charge of the camps, the men fell under the direction of the U.S. Forestry Department while on the job.
For two years the working crew literally fought an uphill battle. The road begins near the present park ranger station and continues slightly uphill for nearly two miles before ending at Weber Road.
There's little doubt the wall was the most difficult portion of the project. It runs intermittently depending on the landscape and slope. Even to this day, the stones are still firmly and evenly interlocked into place. The road is now a grassy path, as wide as 20 feet in places, with a few sections covered in gravel. At some points it moves away from the lower road before angling back in sections, passing by a number of the campsites.
Although three-quarters of a century has passed since the completion of the road, the surface is still smooth and firm enough to easily allow the passage of the present-day automobile. Its enduring legacy is a tribute to the back-breaking work of young laborers who came from all parts of Connecticut eager to make a better life for themselves and their families.