A LITTLE RYE HISTORY: Turn Left at the Watering Trough

When automobiles first started appearing on Rye streets, there were no highway numbers, let alone markers.

A11 Bairds Square
Published April 18, 2013 7:53 PM
4 min read


A11 Bairds SquareWhen automobiles first started appearing on Rye streets, there were no highway numbers, let alone markers.


By Paul Rheingold


A11 Bairds SquareWhen automobiles first started appearing on Rye streets, there were no highway numbers, let alone markers. Early automobilists needed some written guidance about how to go from here to there. 


Very quickly, private companies saw a market and created started guides and maps. (Being commercial enterprises, these publishers did not miss the opportunity to sell ads.)


Over many years as a collector of old postcards and automobile guides, I have studied early guides to discover how they described Rye.


The American Legal Association in its 1923 Green Book ($3) has Rye on its Trip 13, which starts in New Haven. Heading south, leaving Port Chester at mile 47.9, one then went to mile 49.5 “Rye. Bear right at the watering trough.” And at 49.8, “bear right across stone bridge” (and then on to Mamaroneck at 53.1).


The first thing we note is that directions are all calculated in miles. Motorists needed to have a good odometer! This turn-by-turn route appears to be following the Boston Post Road. The watering trough was most likely at what was then called Baird Square, where Milton Road starts off from the Post Road. The stone bridge is probably across Blind Brook near the present high school. (In any case, the horses knew where it was.) 


Pondering why an automobile association should have “legal” in its name, my hunch is that it arose to fight against legal restrictions that towns were placing on automobiles, such as restricting speed limits to 10 mph.


A11 McCarthys InnThe 1923 Green Book has a half-page ad for the Westchester Biltmore Country Club, which had opened the year before, and also for its outpost on Manursing Island. There is also an ad for Lawrence Inn in Mamaroneck (where the Montessori School is today). 


Trip 317 in the ALA 1920 Green Book offers fewer directions but does include an ad for the Quilting Bee Tea Room, which featured a “quaint environment.” (I believe this building was on Elm Place.) 


The Automobile Blue Book  (a competitor of the Green Book) in its 1926 edition has Rye on Route 1 (before it was so designated in the late 1920s). Heading north, from four corners in Mamaroneck at mile 21.4, one came to “Fork; right” at 22.0 and another right fork at 23.9, and then at 25.2, “RYE, fork at flagpole. Right upgrade,”which is where today Purchase Street  turns off to the left. And then at 26.4, “4-cor. at trolley; left on Main Street” and you were in Port Chester. 


The Blue Book carries an ad for Manger’s Bath & Pools at Oakland Beach (where Water’s Edge is today). Were there really 5,000 bathhouses as it proclaims? There is also a short statement about Rye. On Manursing Island, one could see “the summer homes of many people of wealth.” (Today, one would change only the word “summer.”)


An earlier book is Scarborough’s 1917 Office Tour Book. Rye is on Trip 35, north from New York City to New Haven. After leaving Mamaroneck we have 24.7 Rye. “Soon take right fork” and at 26.2 “Go under railroads, entering Port Chester.” 


Since coming back south on this route might confuse someone reading an odometer backwards, this guide also offers the trip in reverse, Trip 1345. Here, at 49.8, one finds “Rye. Bear to left at watering trough onto Milton Ave., then .1 mile later,” bear right onto Milton Road, leaving trolley” at 50.8 is a “cemetery on the right. Soon bear to right at three corners” and at 51.1 “Turn left at four corners onto Rye Beach Ave., and go up hill” et cetera, and turn left on “Dearborne” Avenue and “turn right and take ferry.” 


The poor motorist who thought he was headed to Mamaroneck has instead gotten himself onto the Rye-Sea Cliff Ferry to Long Island!


An alternative type of travel guide for this early era had maps and the book describing each town. For example, the 1927 edition of the Official National Survey Maps describes Rye as: “A noted residential town and summer resort.” Points of interest include Paradise Park (where the Playland parking lot is now); and “Old Town Hall (formerly Gen. Washington’s headquarters)” —sorry, wrong — but he did sleep at the Square House; his HQ was over in White Plains. 


For those readers who thirst for more knowledge about the early days of auto travel, one need only look to Google. On its site, the AAA has a long article on “A Journey in Road Maps.” It points out that a predecessor to these auto guides were ones put out by bicyclists, who also had wanderlust. And it traces the start of national highways, the Lincoln Highway, for example, often marked with colors on posts. 


At first glance, all of these turn-by-turn directions, based on mileage, sound horribly antiquated. Today, we have major highways with large signs and every street has a name (and is paved). However, you could also say that in the intervening century we have just gone from analog to digital. If we are planning a trip, we use MapQuest or Google maps and directions. What do they say? They have you going so many tenths of a mile and turn. And come to think of it, that is what my GPS does, too! 


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