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Savery Avenue, a template for future transportation

Savery Avenue, Carver Massachusetts
John Phelan
CC 3.0
Savery Avenue, Carver Massachusetts

Whenever I have occasion to go to Boston and don’t need to rush home, I often avoid the divided highways and take a different route back to the Cape. One of my favorite alternatives is to take Route 58 south from Abington to Carver just before the Bourne Bridge. This two-lane highway winds through a series of picturesque small towns – Whitman, Hanson, Halifax, Plympton, and Carver. It skirts several scenic ponds and extensive cranberry bogs and goes through town centers that have managed to escape the suburban sprawl that has overtaken most other communities in the region.

The last time I took this route back from Boston, I stopped in Carver at an historic plaque marking “Savery Avenue.” Touted as “the first divided highway in America,” Savery Avenue is a curious artifact from the 19th century. It is a divided boulevard about a half-mile long, lined by tall, straight white pines with a narrow unpaved median strip also planted with pines. It is bordered to the west by thirty-three acres of conservation land, and on the east by the present-day Route 58, which is adorned with substantial Victorian homes. It has something of the aspect of a French allee. though it basically runs from nowhere to nowhere.

According to the historical plaque, “Savery Avenue” was built by William Savery, a native of Carver and a prominent businessman who owned an iron foundry and a lumber mill. Savery built the highway to provide a boulevard for the residents of the fashionable homes to drive their carriages through on Sunday afternoons. He gave it to the town in 1861 with the provision that the pines be preserved “as ornaments and a source of shade for man and beast.”

But who, I wondered, uses it now? On the day I stopped there, there were only two vehicles parked on the avenue’s shoulders. Both were commercial trucks whose drivers, I presumed, were taking a break. I also encountered a young man walking along the boulevard, carrying a small animal trap. He told me that he was engaged in a “catch and release” program for chipmunks, trapping them off his property and releasing them here into the bordering woods.

Other than that, I wondered, what function does it serve today? Well, it seemed that it would be a perfect place for young people to park after dark, if in fact young people still “park.” Alternatively, it might provide a convenient place for drug deals to go down. Finally, given the name of its donor, Savery, I couldn’t help but think it would be an appropriate place to have a food truck, thus providing a miniature version of the service plazas on today’s divided highways.

At any rate, Willam Savery, in building “the first divided highway in the country,” created a template for the future of vehicular transportation in America, though perhaps not the future he had in mind.

A nature writer living in Wellfleet, Robert Finch has written about Cape Cod for more than forty years. He is the author of nine books of essays. A Cape Cod Notebook airs weekly on WCAI, the NPR station for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the South Coast. In both 2006 and 2013, the series won the New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.