Monument to Progress

East-West Highway Interchange Spanning Capitol Avenue just west of Arrow-Hart Electric.  Drawing by Richard Wellilng, December 8, 1966.  The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of the Richard Welling Family, 2012.284.5664

East-West Highway Interchange Spanning Capitol Avenue just west of Arrow-Hart Electric. Drawing by Richard Wellilng, December 8, 1966. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of the Richard Welling Family, 2012.284.5664

Richard Welling had a way of coming up with perspectives that make us see familiar subjects in a new light. In this view of the construction of Interstate 84 in 1966, the piers that will support the highway loom like ancient monoliths, like the remains of a lost culture. What might future civilizations make of us if they someday unearth the ruins of our interstate highway system? The Eisenhower Interstate System was conceived as a defense network to help move troops and supplies in case of a national emergency. In fact, the interstates had an immediate impact on ordinary people’s lives, cutting off inner cities from their surroundings and obliterating whole neighborhoods, in Hartford and in other cities across the nation. The interstate highway system also contributed to the decline of the railroads as a means of moving people and goods. Trucks had already begun to take the place of freight trains and private automobiles had begun to take the place of passenger trains; the interstate highway system speeded up the process, enabling people to move farther faster than ever before. This not only meant that individuals could travel farther seeking pleasure. They could also live farther than ever from their place of business, depending on the interstate highways for a quick commute. The looming monoliths in Richard Welling’s drawing of I-84 represent a new way of coming into a city that was already undergoing massive changes, precipitating further changes that would affect everyone in and around it.

This drawing of “East-West Highway Interchange Spanning Capitol Avenue just west of Arrow-Hart Electric” is part of a huge gift of drawings, prints, and artifacts donated to the Connecticut Historical Society in 2012 by the family of Richard Welling. They will be featured in an exhibition that will open at the Connecticut Historical Society in the fall of 2014.

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