- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Benjamin Franklin’s milestones still mark the way on the Boston Post Road, which winds its way though the nation’s history with a tale at every turn.

The route from New York to Boston was blazed by order of King Charles II of England, who demanded better communication among his Colonial governors.

The first post rider galloped out of Manhattan on Jan. 22, 1673, to open the monthly mail service with Boston. His name is lost, but he covered the 250-mile route — through New Haven and Hartford, Conn., to Springfield and then east to Worcester and Boston — in two weeks, arriving Feb. 5.

More than 330 years later, the beginning and end of the Boston Post Road are tangled in urban traffic. In places, the old Indian trails the anonymous rider followed have become superhighways.

In the middle, though, the Post Road wanders past the villages and historic inns of central and western Massachusetts. In some places, it slips off the pavement altogether to become once again a trail through the New England woods.

For leaf-peepers and other autumn travelers, following its path can be an interesting way to enjoy the season. Thanks to Franklin, you can, with a little investigating, still follow the route that George Washington took when he rode north to take command of the Continental Army.

Years later, Washington followed the same path on his victory tour after being elected as the nation’s first president.

Franklin was put in charge of the Colonial postal system by the British government in the mid-18th century. His first challenge was to assuage the suspicions of his Yankee customers, who were sure they were being cheated on postage assessed by the mile.

So in the summer of 1753, Franklin set out on the Boston Post Road in a carriage with a homemade odometer attached to the wheel. Every mile, a stake was driven into the ground. A crew followed, setting stone markers.

Most of the red sandstone markers show the distance from Boston. Others also include the distance to Springfield.

“I drove past them for years without noticing them,” says Brian Hamil of Warren, Mass., who has posted photos of the stones on the Web. “But they are remarkably accurate. And once you start looking, you get hooked. It’s like unraveling a mystery.”

Two decades after Franklin passed this way, the galloping hoofbeats of a young post rider, Israel Bissell, thundered along the Post Road as he raced across five colonies to raise the Patriot forces after the first shots of the Revolution rang out at Lexington and Concord.

Bissell covered the 345 miles to Philadelphia — where the Continental Congress was meeting — in five days and six hours.

Boston and other communities still have a few milestones. The longest unbroken string of the 250-year-old markers, however, is the 16 between Leicester, Mass., just west of Worcester, and Warren.

It’s actually 17 if you count the one in the custody of Brookfield police. That milestone was returned years ago by a remorseful man who had swiped it decades earlier as a teen.

“You could spend a few hours or weeks on that stretch of the Old Post Road alone,” says Bob Wilder, an amateur historian from Brookfield who has been researching the Post Road for 40 years.

Some are in barnyards. Others are set against stone walls, beside country roads or in front yards neatly landscaped with flowers.

West Brookfield has cemented the stone on the Town Common into a miniature memorial wall. Civic leaders had the mileage whitewashed — 68 miles from Boston — so it stands out against ancient red sandstone.

No. 69, barely legible, stands in front of W.H. King Realty on state Route 9. No. 70 is tucked into an overgrown juniper bush on state Route 67, about a half-mile across the town line into Warren.

No. 72 was moved to the front of the white-steepled Federated Church, across from the Warren Town Common, when a portion of the Post Road was flooded to form Comins Pond.

No. 59 is at a bus stop in downtown Spencer, by the parking lot of the Price Chopper supermarket.

No. 56 is across the street from a still-operating drive-in theater in Leicester.

Everywhere, there’s a story. Not far from the 67-mile stone, on Foster Hill Road in West Brookfield, is the scene of a 1675 Indian attack.

On East Main Street in Brookfield, a granite marker, twined with poison ivy, marks the well where Bathsheba Spooner had her husband murdered in 1778. She was later hanged with her accomplices.

Bring a good map. No guidebooks exist to mark the way. If you get lost as the Boston Post Road leaves the state highway to wander amid country lanes and old stone walls, you won’t be the first.

• • •

For detailed directions on following the original route of the Boston Post Road, visit web.mit.edu/spui/www/boston/oldpost.html.

Information about local stretches can be found at www.samnet.net/esso/Fmm.htm for Warren, www.westbrookfield.org/oldpostroad.htm for West Brookfield and www.brookfieldma.us/History.htm for Brookfield.

The longest stretch of surviving mile markers along the Boston Post Road is west of Worcester. Most of the red sandstone markers list the mileage from Boston and are on the north side of the road.

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