Rhode Island Ramble

The Making of a Scenic Byway
By Mark A. DeWolf
  |  Gorp.com

As I cross the Mount Hope Bridge into Bristol, Rhode Island, I feel like one of the gulls that hover over town. At the bridge's apex, I can see all the way to Newport on one side and Fall River, Massachusetts, on the other, while the shimmering waters of Mount Hope Bay lie beneath. As I make my way into this small community in the eastern part of the state, the leaves are exploding in shades of yellow, red, burgundy, and orange. It's spring in New England, and there's no place quite like it.

As a boy, I used to travel this portion of Route 114 when visiting my grandfather. Following dinner, the family would pile into the car and go on what my mother called a "history hike," which meant driving along Route 114 while Granddad pointed out various points of interest. "That house belonged to Captain Nathanael Herreshoff," he would say. It didn't matter that every other house he pointed to belonged to "Captain Nat"—it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

The state of Rhode Island agrees with Granddad. In 2000, the state government declared the narrow, two-lane portion of Route 114 known as Hope Street and Ferry Road a scenic byway. And with good reason: Though only five miles long, the byway takes in the home of America's oldest Fourth of July parade, the largest giant sequoia east of the Rockies, the America's Cup Hall of Fame, and some of the most dramatic views in the state.

Going Byway?
Scenic roads fill an essential American need: Driving, of course, has been an obsession since the first automobiles rolled off the assembly line, and the search for great places to take those cars began immediately. Great drives now take on an almost mythical status.

So important are these roads to America that both local and federal government started recognizing them. The Department of Transportation established the National Scenic Byways Program in 1991; 10 years later, it includes 72 roads in 32 states, from one-of-a-kinds like the Las Vegas Strip to sprawling thoroughfares like the 1,707-mile Great River Road that cuts through Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Idaho.

"Our scenic byways are essential in defining the American experience," says Rob Draper, director of the National Scenic Byways Program. "People should look into the elements, the soul of America, and connect with the stories. It's not like you have to travel far to find something special."

When I drive on 114 through Bristol, where the center line is permanently painted red, white, and blue to celebrate its legendary patriotism, I can only think that Granddad could have told him that.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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