History of the Merritt Parkway

The parkway is named for Congressman Schuyler Merritt, who represented the southwestern part of Connecticut in the U.S. Congress and who championed the construction of a parkway to parallel U.S. Route 1. The section through Trumbull was completed in November 1939, which means that in November 2014, the parkway will turn 75 years old.

Trumbull has the distinction of harboring the youngest original parkway underpass (Frenchtown Road, built in 1942) and the oldest parkway overpass (White Plains Road, built in 1934). The White Plains Road overpass was constructed of reinforced concrete and encased steel-girder design at a cost of $47,532 and was financed by NRA grants and Connecticut Highway Department funds. The overpass is not a typical parkway structure — it was designed prior to the parkway concept being adopted in 1934 and reflects the newer state highway bridges seen throughout Connecticut during the early 1930s.

Another interesting fact related to the Merritt Parkway in Trumbull is that upon completion of the parkway, George Dunkelberger, designer of all 69 original bridges, was asked to sketch a bird’s-eye view of a parkway scene he particularly enjoyed. Dunkelberger chose the Park Avenue underpass in Trumbull with the Sport Hill Road underpass and Morehouse Highway underpass in the distance. The sketch, with Park Avenue as a focal point, was used on the cover of the 1940 Highway Commissioner’s Biennial Report and was also used to symbolize the parkway on the state of Connecticut anniversary commemorative plate issued in 1943.

In the late 1970s, the parkway underwent modernization when the Route 8 interchange was updated and the original Huntington Turnpike overpass was demolished and replaced. Only the trellis grille cast-iron castings were salvaged and reused on the new overpass. The seal of the town of Trumbull, cast in concrete, was moved to the Nichols Green. Route 25 was built intersecting the Merritt with modern overpasses, and the 1935 railroad bridge was abandoned.

Preservationists, upset by these changes to the parkway, worked to prevent other bridges and overpasses from meeting the same fate as the Huntington Turnpike overpass. A movement to preserve and protect all the bridges and overpasses was successful, and they were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. However, it was named one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places in 2010.

More recently, trees and shrubs were removed along the parkway in Trumbull and replaced with native species and new wooden guardrails, and improved drainage was installed as a part of a massive restoration.