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Planning a getaway, 1950s style

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The stylish, information-heavy cover made me want to learn more. Photos by author.

If you are anything like me, you get nostalgic each time you see references to 1950s (or 1960s) family vacations or holiday travel, be they in vintage ads, pamphlets, magazines, books or anywhere else. Depictions of these excursions seem to touch a nerve for anyone who longs for the exciting summertime and/or holiday family activities of our childhoods.

Ironically, my earliest recollections of these family road trips are rooted in the 1970s, not the 1950s or 1960s, so I suppose in my case credit must go to the artists and writers whose efforts still evoke my wistful thoughts, even though I hadn’t been born yet when their work first published. Or possibly, our own family vacations and holiday road trips create timeless idyllic memories that can be stirred simply by seeing similar examples from other eras.


As would be expected, a lot of material was packed into its 100 pages.

Many families carefully plan and budget for a vacation or holiday trip, and that requires information to help them decide where to go and to anticipate what they can experience once they arrive. Numerous sources are available to aid families today thanks in large part to the internet. Back in the 1950s, however, they mostly relied on word-of-mouth and printed guides and the like to gather facts on their proposed vacation destination.

While rifling through some vintage magazines at an antique store a few weeks ago, I unearthed this gem of 1950s leisure-time literature—the Connecticut Holidays and Turnpike Guide 1958-59 Edition.


This is the route of the Connecticut Turnpike.

The guide measures just under 8.5 x 11.5 inches and is packed with feature stories on attractions, activities and special events, directories for food and lodging, an event calendar, maps and much more.

Features that caught my interest were “The Connecticut Turnpike Story”, “120 Miles An Hour—And It’s Legal,” “Castle in Connecticut” and “Mystic Seaport.”


A history of the planning and construction of the Connecticut Turnpike was an interesting read.

“The Connecticut Turnpike Story” provides an in-depth background on its construction, in an article that meanders through 10 ad-laden pages and ends at the back of the book. It reported that the $464,000,000 Connecticut Turnpike, which runs 129-miles from Greenwich to Killingly, featured 90 interchanges, eight toll stations and eight high-level bridges. In urban areas, 53 miles were lighted. It was said that rest areas would be equipped with gas stations and Savarin restaurants or lunchrooms operated by the Union News Company and open 24 hours. The speed limit was 60 MPH and the Turnpike traversed 28 Connecticut towns and cities. (The Turnpike stopped taking tolls in the 1980s, and was renamed the Governor John Davis Lodge Turnpike shortly thereafter.)


Also presented in the guide were two racetracks where sports car aficionados could test their driving skills. Note the photo and caption of a young Briggs Cunningham III, son of the famed racer, sports car builder, race team owner and entrepreneur.

“120 Miles an Hour—and it’s Legal,” is a 3-page overview of auto racing activities in Connecticut at Lime Rock Park and Thompson Raceway. The article discusses the rise in popularity of sports cars and sports car racing, mentions the SCCA as the governing body of the sport and provides details on how Lime Rock was conceived and built. Both storied facilities remain in operation today. I’ve been to Lime Rock in the past and really enjoyed it.


In the center of the guide is larger map that highlights various attractions. A comprehensive directory of hotels, motels, inns and resorts is on the back of it.

“Castle in Connecticut” is a two-page story about Gillette Castle in East Haddam, which was built by actor and author William Gillette, who was known for his stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. I visited the castle with my wife (then girlfriend) back when we were in our early 20s. What made an impression on me were the interesting gadgets and inventions that Gillette developed, some of which were intended to perform certain tasks with a minimum of fuss.

As a kid, a teenager and a 20-something, I visited Mystic Seaport with my family. Even a few of my school field trips from Northern New Jersey and Southern New York State were to Mystic. It was always fun to check out the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship, the village and other attractions at the seaport.


There are even interesting advertisements in this guide for car guys—ads for Lime Rock Park and Thompson Raceway, Torrington (bearings and other products) and New Departure, which was a division of General Motors.

What’s most entertaining about poring over this guide is seeing what various destinations in Connecticut looked like in the mid-20th Century and gaining some insight about what it was like to visit them. Ultimately, a quiet room, a comfortable chair and this guide provided time travel back to late 1950s New England for a $1. Not a bad way to spend a few hours.