What Becomes A Landmark Most? By Suzanne Clary
I am kneeling in damp grass marveling at an anachronism in the world of Ubers andWaze: a sandstone marker about two feet high, hand- carved with an old fashioned “24 M…” and missing its remaining “iles to New York.” It is mortared into a long wall and looks out on US 1 like some Knight Templar of American history. In the 1800s, this is how you might have found “the old Jay place” in Rye. Even with its inscription fragmented, it conjures visions of mail carriers on horseback, with dirt-streaked, buckled shoes wedged into stirrups looking for a familiar guidepost to tell them the distance to their secret assignation or a good beer down the road. This popsicle-shaped road sign was requisitioned by the Boston Turnpike Commission in 1800 to replace an earlier marker from the 1700s likely made of granite and assigned the number 29 (back when the path to New York was slightly more circuitous). What had been previously called the Pequot Path or the King’s Highway was widened to accommodate increasing numbers of stagecoaches and clomping herds of cattle driven by foot to Manhattan. In the case of this and similar milestones found throughout New England, a local artisan would have been hired to cut it, chisel it and perhaps even bury it deep into the ground. Over the last two centuries, Milestone 24 has been licked by acid rain, stained with muffler soot and mottled scarlet by colonies of lichen. It was moved, truncated, splashed with ice melt, pierced with screws and rods to accommodate a copper plaque reminding people not to deface or move it. It has been threatenedwith jackhammers and relocation to a diminished spot indoors where it would be “safe.” Defiantly, it continues its intrinsic purpose as a landmark and a witness to history along the Boston Post Road. But will it survive the next 100 years? The next 50? Are physical landmarks still essential in this handheld, virtual age?
Behind 24 lies another landmark, the Jay Estate, all that’s left of the childhood home of an all too modest but pivotal American patriot and native New Yorker, John Jay. Jay had an unparalleled career of service to our nation that began long before he donned the robes of our country’s premier jurist. This “Founding Guy” with a smart, vivacious wife and toddler son was 31 years old when he sought to abolish slavery CONSERVANCY. PHOTO BY CARL SVERLOV; ERIC JAFFE, AUTHOR OF "THE KING'S BEST HIGHWAY" STANDING ON BOSTON POST ROAD NEXT TO MILE MARKER 24. PHOTO BY NATE DORR; ARCHAEOLOGICAL TESTS IN THE BPR DISTRICT AND JAY ESTATE HAVE UNCOVERED 4,000-YEAR- OLD QUARTZ PROJECTILE POINTS LIKE THIS ONE. CLOCKWISE FROMTOP: AERIAL VIEWOF JAY ESTATE AND MARSHLANDS
through legislation (he was overruled) and drafted New York’s Constitution in 1777, a document that in his own interpretation protected many inalienable rights, including religious tolerance: “Every man is permitted to consider, to adore, and to worship his
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