I’d driven passed this tiny little park in Mamaroneck, New York half a dozen times before I decided to stop. I finally had to find out what that fenced-off stone in the middle was. It’s about the size and shape of a gravestone but it turned out to be a milestone. Eroded by the years, you can still clearly make out “23 Miles from New York.”
A small plaque from 1930 reads:
Milestone originally erected 256 yards east of this spot by the Westchester Turnpike Company, February 4, 1805.
It stands on the Boston Post Road, one of the oldest highways in the United States. Connecting New York City with Boston, some sections of it are pre-Columbian. In the seventeenth century, it was used primarily as a mail delivery road, hence the “Post” part of its name, even though it was called the King’s Highway until the Revolution.
Walking about mile north, toward Rye, you can see another surviving milestone. This one is now set in a wall in front of the historic Jay House. A plaque reads:
This is one of some 230 markers erected on the Boston Post Road in 1763. Their locations were fixed by Benjamin Franklin, then Deputy Postmaster General, who for that purpose drove a chaise with a distance recorder over the route. Restored to this its original Position June 1st, 1927 by the Village of Rye.
I was in awe: could I really be looking at a pre-Revolutionary milestone? It seemed absolutely incredible! Nearly illegible, I could just make out the number “24” on the stone.
While it is true that Franklin did, indeed, set the positions of the original milestones along the King’s Highway, something didn’t seem right. The stone and its shape were identical to the one in Mamaroneck, which was placed 40 years later. Coincidence?
More tellingly, it has the wrong number on it. If this were, indeed, one of the original milestones from the eighteenth century, it would have said 28 or 29: the route of the Boston Post Road was shortened by about four miles in 1795 when a new bridge connecting Harlem and The Bronx was constructed.
Unfortunately, then, this milestone has been mislabeled: it, too, is one of those added by the Westchester Turnpike Company in 1805.
Nonetheless, this is a pretty incredible survivor. To give some context: in February 1805, Thomas Jefferson was weeks away from his second inauguration as third President of the United States; Lewis and Clark were wintering at Fort Mandan in what’s now North Dakota; and the Michigan Territory had just been established by an Act of Congress.
Walking another mile along the Boston Post Road, I came across a sadder sight. With winter encroaching, another—seemingly damaged—milestone had been partially covered and protected against the elements and collapse. This one, I fear, may need to be moved to a safer location to preserve it.
I think the most incredible thing for me (and there are many more surviving milestones, especially around Boston) is how these little beacons of history are true survivors. People drive or walk by them every day—heck, I’ve no idea how many times I passed them by, oblivious to their existence. It’s finding things like this—on my very doorstep in this case—that show me why I love doing what I do: finding history in the oddest of places.