|It's something to see, but safely! The Blakeslee Monument, in all its|
highway-island glory. Photo by Bill Coughlin, January 10, 2012,
The really cool aspect of this monument on a traffic island is what it celebrates: a roads advocate. At the same time, a guy who dedicated his life to reducing the hassles of driving, becomes, himself an impediment to those road enthusiasts who want to honor him with a visit.
Ironies aside, the Blakeslee Monument celebrates the contributions of one George E. Blakeslee, who is said, by some, to be the father of good roads or the pioneer of the modern highway. The tangles of macadam and concrete we rely on today had to come from somewhere, and people like Blakeslee had the foresight to realize that without sound pavement and logical routes, motorists and commerce would, well, go nowhere.
As we learned from our look into the confusing history of our numbered state roads, New Jersey's first concerted effort to standardize the highway system came in 1916 with the passage of the Egan Good Roads Bill. Through it, the state established funding for 13 numbered highways linking our major cities. Travelers accustomed to roads designed for horse-drawn traffic would now enjoy the benefits of more durable thoroughfares engineered for more punishing motor vehicle traffic.
|Photo by Bill Coughlin, January 10, 2012, |
Blakeslee's motivations weren't completely altruistic: he had his own parochial interest in improving the state's road system. Having first sold bicycles in the 1890s, he later opened a Cadillac showroom on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City and owned a network of gasoline stations in Hudson County. He'd clearly benefit from an improvement to the unreliable patchwork of existing roads, but, as he said himself, the wide variability of road conditions spoke for itself.
The Good Roads bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor James Fairman Fielder, yet required approval through a public question on the November 1916 ballot. Despite the concerns of the State Chamber of Commerce, which questioned whether motor vehicle fees and fines would sufficiently cover the expense of the bond issue, voters approved the bill, and the state highway commission was formed a year later.
When a vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River was first proposed a few years later, Blakeslee advocated for a viaduct connecting what was then the Lincoln Highway to what became the Holland Tunnel. Not surprisingly, it appears to be just about where the Blakeslee Monument stands today. Originally dedicated in 1931, the marker memorializes the naming of Route 1 as the Blakeslee Route in honor of his dedication to the improvement of the state's and nation's roads. The Father of Good Roads didn't live long enough to see it, though: he died of pneumonia in 1919, having taken ill when returning to Jersey City from Detroit via train.