Derby's Route 34

Main Street & Roosevelt Drive

A Scenic Highway?

Click on images for larger pictures

Scenes along Rt. 34. (Thanks to Mark Izzo for the pictures)

The Olde Birmingham Business Association is exploring the possibility of having Roosevelt Drive along Route 34 designated as a scenic road. Rt. 343 actually begins in downtown New Haven and ends in Newtown and encompasses New Haven Avenue, Main Street and Roosevelt Drive in Derby. What makes the stretch that begins in Derby so beautiful (and historic) is its close proximity with the Housatonic River that meanders along side. During the summer, the river beckons with relief from the stifling heat. In the fall, spectacular foliage rises from the banks of the river to the surrounding hills. And even after the foliage is long gone, the frozen winter river recalls earlier years when the ice was home to racing and the cutting of ice blocks stored away in "ice houses" for a future summer.

The road is already a major part of the Valley Heritage Driving Tour. Check it out by clicking on the link.

In a letter of support for the designation, Derby Historical Society Director Rob Novak prepared the following brief history of the river:

            "An ancient byway, the road dates back all the way to the 1600s, and used to connect the Old Town of Derby, then located along the east bank of the Naugatuck River, with the shipyards at Derby Neck. Derby Neck is the area that now includes Osbornedale State Park and the Kellogg Environmental Center.

            Formerly known as River Road, or simply “the river road” in earlier centuries, the highway is now known as Roosevelt Drive, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who passed along this road several times during his administration. “Roosevelt Drive” first replaces the name of River Road in the 1938 Derby Directory. The route was one of the only means to travel between Danbury and New Haven, a situation which, in large measure, still exists today.

 Parts of Roosevelt Drive include Sugar Street, the majority of which was submerged when the Ousatonic Dam was completed in 1870. Sugar Street was named for one of the principal imports at the old shipyard, along with rum and molasses, which was carried on during the 18th and 19th centuries with the West Indies.

From the Seymour line south, Roosevelt Drive features breathtaking scenery of the Housatonic River to the west, and steep river valley bluffs to the east. Much of the scenery across the river is Shelton’s Indian Well State Park, while the eastern bluffs include Osbornedale State Park and Kellogg Environmental Center. The road winds around Pink House Cove, a shallow inlet still in its natural state, home to many species of fish and wildlife.   

South of Derby Neck, travelers come upon the area which once encompassed the industrialized borough of Birmingham. The Derby Canal, which I believe is an official state fishing area, can be seen on both sides of Roosevelt Drive, as well as the canal gatehouse and the Ousatonic Dam. Many of the 19th and early 20th century mills and factories which once drew power from this dam are still standing.

An example of the types of firms housed in these buildings can be found in a 1904 city directory. These include the Williams Typewriter Company (inc. 1889), the American Typewriter Company (inc. 1893), the United States Rapid-Fire Gun and Power Company (inc. 1902), and the power plant for the Derby Gas Company. The power plant was the scene of a heroic battle by volunteers with pumps and sandbags against rising water during the catastrophic Flood of 1955. It is worth noting that war-related munitions were manufactured along Roosevelt Drive during the Spanish-American War all the way up to World War II. Later firms included Hull Dye, Trim Products, and Derby Cellular. 

With its unique combination of breathtaking scenery and proximity to nearby State Parks, coupled with the historic shipyard and the industrial development that occurred along the road’s last half mile, the Derby Historical Society firmly believes Route 34 ought to be seriously considered as a State designated Scenic Highway."

For some further thoughts on the road and some of its earlier names go to

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