Milestones: Longmeadow's Littlest Landmarks

One may easily mistake it for a small tree stump. Standing less than three feet in height, and about thirty feet from the west side of the road, this ancient landmark does absolutely nothing to attract attention to itself. Traveling in your car, you have undoubtedly passed it hundreds of times. So plain and unattractive, it requires a close walk-by to reveal its purpose. Even to pass by it on a sidewalk one would see only a square stone column set in the earth. For only on the one facet that faces the road is the telltale inscription:


"22 Miles To Hartford"

It is one of Longmeadow's last remaining milestones. This particular marker is on Longmeadow Street just across from Storr's Library, and is easily visible on the elevated terrain. I have found very little information on Longmeadow's particular milestones other than that they date from the 18th century. The first photograph below is from the Longmeadow Sesquicentennial Official Souvenir book, published in 1933. The notation describes "a View of the 'arch' looking north over Wheelmeadow brook, before the days of the street railroad. The ancient milestone stands to tell the traveler 22 miles to Hartford. It is between the Charles Tenney house and J. B. Burbank's place." Obviously, it is a view that far predates the Sesquicentennial.


The second photograph is one I took last week. It is interesting to see how little things have changed…on the surface. Notice the profile of the stone. The silhouette of the top has remained unchanged over the years. When I examined the stone closely, I found that above the designated mileage to Hartford, it was inscribed:

"from Boston"

Apparently, at one point in time, the intact stone gave the traveler his or her exact distances from the two capital cities.

Traveling south on Longmeadow Street, I found the 21st mile marker precisely one mile away. Just a short distance north of Barkhaul Road, this marker sits again on elevated terrain on the property at 1206 Longmeadow Street. In close proximity to the house, and hidden behind a spruce, it did not lend itself to being photographed. Shorter and squatty, it is shaped entirely differently from milestone 22. Exactly one mile further south would be the state line, and the end of the old "Country Road". I found no stone. Where it should have been was the parking lot of a gas/convenience mart. Likewise, traveling north from marker 22, I again found no milestone. Where it should have been was the parking lot of the Longmeadow Community Market. If there were yet another stone, marking the start of the town boundary at the old Pecowsic Brook, it would be somewhere far beneath the 91 interstate. Pity!

The milestones probably date back to the very beginnings of Longmeadow Street when it was laid out in 1703, being four miles long, extending from Pecowsick Brook to the Enfield Bounds, and 20 rods wide. A lot can happen in 300 years. Perhaps the slope of the terrain saved the two extant stones, while the others were more vulnerable to mishaps being on flatter land. I would venture to say their demise far predates the advent of the gas station or the market.

How the distances between them were measured is another matter. An old Swamp Yankee once told me with absolute authority that the Boston Post Road was laid out and mile-measured by Ben Franklin. To do so, Franklin affixed a post to a wheel of his coach pointing parallel to the earth. Each time the wheel made a revolution, it would leave a mark in the earth. Knowing the circumference of the wheel, Franklin was supposedly able to accurately measure distances in miles using this post. Thus the name "Post Road". "Hogwash," I said, but not to his face. It was called the Post Road as Franklin set it up when he organized mail delivery on a national level.

Another explanation is found in the laying out of the Mason-Dixon Line during the 1700's. Most Americans know the Mason-Dixon Line as the divider between North and South; freedom and slavery. But the line's origins have nothing to do with slavery, and actually predate the formation of the United States. The line is, in fact, the result of a bloody land dispute between proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland when the country was just a collection of British colonies. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were not senators or politicians, but were surveyors and astronomers.

Mason was an astronomer employed by The Royal Society in Greenwich, England. He was devoted to studying the movement of the stars and the moon, and established lunar tables that could be used to determine longitude. Dixon was a surveyor from Cockfield in Durham County in England, and was capable of constructing high precision astronomical instruments.

Together, they worked at night and used the stars to calculate their path. The result was a 233-mile long boundary between the two states. The project took five years. It is estimated that it took a couple of weeks to make each set of observations. They would essentially lie on their backs and look through a six-foot telescope measuring the angles between stars and the meridian, the due-north line. Mason and Dixon actually used instruments made specifically for this application.

This same level of engineering skill and artistry may very well have gone into the laying out of our town milestones. Then again, old "Yankee Ingenuity" being what it is, our local engineers may have come up with their own unique methodology. Whatever they did, they indeed did it with accuracy and precision. At any rate, these last remaining milestones are indeed precious remnants of a bygone era. So plain to look at, but so valuable to a wayfaring stranger. If Springfield had billboards back then, one may have read:

"Visit Ely's Tavern in Longmeadow… Just past Milestone 22"


POST SCRIPT

It's always nice to see visitor's comments to the Longmeadow website. To our resident in Asia in the USAF I extend my personal thanks and glad tidings. Upon your return to Longmeadow, please contact me. It would be my distinct pleasure to let the town know you're back and what you've been up to! Thanks again!


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