How the Wilbur Cross Parkway Changed the Character of Centerville
(As seen from the air in 1934 and 1965)
From the State of Connecticut Digital Collection (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
The Wilbur Cross Parkway, often and erroneously referred to as the "Merritt Parkway," is that part of CT Route 15 that runs east of the Housatonic River. It originally extended all the way to the Masschusetts border, east of Hartford, over what is now I-84. But now it ends at the Berlin Tpke in Meriden. The Merritt Parkway, which is older, starts at the NY state line and ends at the Houstonic River in Stratford.*
Although the Hamden stretch of the Wilbur Cross Parkway was planned long before World War II, the War delayed the completion of the parkway until 1949.
From the demolition of the Web Shop in 1940 to the completion of the West Rock Tunnel in 1949, the Wilbur Cross Parkway significantly altered Hamden's landscape from one end to the other. The radical changes to Centerville between 1934 and 1965 can be seen in the above identical aerial views of Whitney Avenue south of Dixwell Avenue (CLICK photo to enlarge).
The 1934 view shows Centerville long before the State of Connecticut purchased and demolished the Web Shop property, which had become a massive complex. The 1965 view shows how dramatically the parkway changed Whitney Avenue south of Dixwell Avenue. Nearly 50 years later, the 1965 configuration of the street lines has remained pretty much the same.
The only two structures in the photos that survived from 1934 to 1965 were #2285 Whitney and the Web Shop's executive parking garage, which was saved by the highway department to store maintenance vehicles, although it was eventually removed a few years after the 1965 photo was taken.
Today, the lone surviving structure from the 1934 photo is #2285 Whitney Avenue, which eventually became a restaurant known by three different names: The Carriage Drive, The White Turkey Inn and the Royal Footman. More recently, the original building was expanded into a multi-building store and office complex.
The Howard Johnson Restaurant (now Hamden Town House) and Motel were built in 1959. Worth Avenue, Centerbrook Road and the Meadowbrook co-op apartments came along a couple of years later.
In the 1965 photo, it appears that site preparation for the Centerville-Mt. Carmel post office on Worth Avenue is underway. The building was completed later that year. The post office for northern Hamden was previously located in a small row of stores in Mt. Carmel at the corner of Whitney and Ives. The stores were torn down in the mid-1970s to make way for the Rt. 40 Connector.
The Worth Avenue post office was badly damaged in a January 1994 fire. After relocating to 2248 Whitney for a couple of years, a new Centerville-Mt. Carmel post office was completed in 1997 at 2508 Whitney Avenue, opposite Lincoln Street, where American Appliance had stood for over twenty years.
Construction of the Wilbur Cross Parkway also resulted in changes elsewhere in Hamden. Did you ever wonder why the house numbers on Mix Avenue start in the 400s? It's because Mix Avenue originally began at Circular Avenue, not Benham Street. Around 1948, construction of the Wilbur Cross Parkway bisected Mix Avenue between Benham and Roosevelt Streets. The southern half of what had been Mix Avenue, from house numbers 1 to 333, became Battis Road.
Hobson Avenue runs east of, and parallel to Dixwell Avenue just south of the Parkway. Hobson Avenue originally ran all the way from Wheeler St. to Marietta St. (opp. the high school). In 1948, the Parkway made Hobson Avenue a dead end street just north of Miles Street.
*Larned, Larry. Images of America - Route 15, The Road to Hartford (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing: 2002)