PBS highlights the roads, bridges, canals and monuments that changed the country


’10 That Changed America’ – Streets and monuments and bridges, oh my!

Geoffrey Baer

Anyone with a fascination for the nation’s built environment would do well to check out a three-part documentary series returning this week to PBS.

In “10 That Changed America,” which airs consecutive Tuesdays beginning July 10 (check local listings), host Geoffrey Baer takes viewers on a tour of 10 of the country’s most significant streets, monuments and feats of civil engineering, talking to experts and revealing stories about how they came to be and the people behind them.

Tuesday’s opener, “10 Streets That Changed America” counts down the 10 roads that help shaped the country, among them New York’s Broadway, Los Angeles’ Wilshire Blvd., Detroit’s Woodward Ave. and the Boston Post Road between Boston and New York, which was originally built in the 17th century as a mail delivery route but wound up playing a critical role in American independence a century later.

“The guy I interviewed who is an expert on streets and roads,” Baer says, “said that the roads were the internet of their day. Roads and information were interchangeable. If you wanted to get information somewhere, you needed to physically go there. You needed a road. And so … this road that the king himself had built ended up spreading revolutionary fervor across the colonies – you know, Benjamin Franklin was involved, Paul Revere – allowing the news and the planning of the revolution to spread.”

On July 17, “10 Monuments That Changed America” highlights shrines obvious (Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, St. Louis Arch) and not-so-obvious (monuments to the Confederacy, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the AIDS Quilt), while the July 24 “10 Marvels That Changed America” focuses on the feats of engineering that seemingly defied the laws of nature, such as the Erie Canal, the Hoover Dam and the Transcontinental Railroad.

One, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge between Cincinnati and Covington, Ky. (named for the builder who designed it and the Brooklyn Bridge), seemingly defied the political climate of the time.

“One of the things that’s amazing to me,” Baer says, “is that it connects a northern state and a southern state during the Civil War, which is kind of crazy. But there were a lot of politics involved in it.

“In order to get the bridge approved, the builders had to agree that any slaves that escaped across the bridge from Kentucky would be returned. And also, the bridge could not line up with the street grid in Cincinnati. So the bridge comes flying over the Ohio River and lands, and then you have to make this big jog to actually line up with the street grid. But anyway, the technology worked.”


George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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