Any Old Road
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The idea of a transcontinental highway had been around since the 1890's. General Roy Stone, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Road Inquiry (first ancestor of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)), suggested combining existing roads into a network and recommended that ". . . the most effective lines that could be adopted for this purpose would be an Atlantic and a Pacific Coast line, joined by a continental highway from Washington to San Francisco." The transcontinental route should link highways along the East and West Coasts. The League of American Wheelmen Bulletin and Good Roads magazine (November 19, 1987), quoted General Stone as referring to the idea as "The Great Road of America." He knew his idea was too bold to be adopted at the time, but he explained:
On March 4, 1902, nine auto clubs met in Chicago to combine forces in a new organization called the American Automobile Association (AAA). The new Board of Directors was instructed to begin immediate consideration of a transcontinental road from New York to California. The board chose a more northern routing than General Stone had proposed. The AAA proposal was for a macadamized road north out of New York City along the Hudson River and the shores of the Great Lakes passing through Albany and Buffalo, New York; Erie, Pennsylvania; Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Omaha, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City; Utah, and Sacramento, California.
An editorial in the May 1902 issue of Good Roads magazine considered the proposal an improvement over General Stone's idea because "it passes through many large and enterprising cities over a route a large portion of which already has improved roads and over which there will be an increasing volume of travel." Nevertheless, the editor, H. W. Perry, could not heartily endorse the plan. "The reason why a New York to Sacramento or San Francisco wagon road will not appeal to the public is because there is no need for such a road." The editor added, "The plan of a transcontinental highway is spectacular; but Congress cannot be induced to support a spectacle." Perry concluded:
On June 23, 1905, James W. Abbott, Special Agent (Mountain and Pacific Coast Division) for the U.S. Office of Public Road Inquiries, told the Fifth Annual National Good Roads Convention in Portland, Oregon, "We ought to have established one or more good through wagon roads from the Atlantic to San Francisco, and to the Northwest." He cited the proposal by Martin Dodge at a Good Roads Convention in Denver 5 years earlier:
Early advocates of good roads, while advocating long distance roads, soon adopted the idea of naming highways and forming associations to support the route. In early 1902, the Jefferson Memorial Road Association began promoting construction of a memorial road from Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the university he founded. The New York-Chicago Road Association formed on June 17, 1902, to advocate an improved public road between the two cities of its name. The July 1902 issue of Good Roads explained that ". . . the plan is to connect the present good roads along the route with new ones to be built by the states, counties and municipalities along the line."
By the 1910s, local organizations, chambers of commerce, towns, and good roads advocates throughout the country began to select old roads for improvement and to give them names as a rallying point. One of the earliest was the National Old Trails Road, which was an outgrowth of two movements in Missouri. The first was the drive for a cross-State highway from St. Louis to Kansas City. The second was an effort by the State chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D. A. R.) to mark the historic Santa Fe Trail, the old trader's route to New Mexico.
By 1911, the idea of a transcontinental highway was receiving increasing attention. The Fourth International Good Roads Congress, meeting in Chicago, endorsed a transcontinental route from New York City through Chicago to Kansas City, thence over the historic Santa Fe Trail to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and continuing to Phoenix and Los Angeles. Dozens of good roads bills were introduced in the 62nd Congress (1911-12). Some involved a specific road proposal, such as S. 6271, which would have authorized construction of a national highway from the Canadian border south of Winnipeg to Galveston, Texas, or the bill that would have authorized $10,000 to build a road through the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve in Colorado.
Among the more ambitious bills was one introduced by Senator Shelby Moore Cullom of Illinois on August 11, 1911, to create a National Interstate Highways and Good Roads Commission to build seven named national highways radiating from Washington. The plan included a road from Washington to Seattle, Washington (Lincoln National Interstate Highway) and two roads to California (Jefferson National Interstate Highway to northern California and the Grant National Interstate Highway to southern California) as well as shorter routes to Portland, Maine (Washington); Niagara Falls, New York (Roosevelt); Austin, Texas (Monroe); and Miami, Florida (Lee). (One critic, Representative Michael E. Driscoll of New York, dismissed the flood of good roads bills, complaining that all of them came from "the great broad states in the South and West of large areas, long roads, small populations, and small taxing power."
With interest growing, several States decided to take it upon themselves to identify the best route within their borders for a transcontinental highway. These State efforts grew out of the belief that, someday, such a road would be built. Designation of the route in advance, they thought, would give the State control over the location.
This was a misstatement. The Office of Public Roads (another of the FHWA's early names) had not routed the transcontinental highway. Shortly before Hill prepared his report, the Office had published a map of nearly 15,000 miles of transcontinental, interstate, and trunk line roads contemplated around the country. Reporting on the map, Better Roads magazine (August 1911) pointed out that if the plans were fulfilled, they would result in "a network covering the whole country." The routes depicted on the map were:
The Office did not endorse the route. As Better Roads explained, the Office had published the map ". . . merely for the purpose of gauging the extent of the good roads movement as fostered by individuals, associations, and communities."
The Missouri Good Roads Committee had planned a woman's national movement to awaken interest in a national highway from ocean to ocean, along the old trails of the nation's pioneers . . . . T he Kansas City Chapter, Santa Fe Trail Committee [of the D. A. R], first suggested to and urged upon the Governor and State Highway Engineer of Missouri that the old trails of the State should be reblazed into modern roads as a monument to the pioneers of the State. Due to five years of untiring efforts, this committee is acknowledged by the State Board of Agriculture as the vital force that carried this project to its culmination and dedication as the Missouri State Highway--the Old Trails Road--on Oct. 28th, 1911.
The Missouri Good Roads Committee, appointed by the State Regent, was the result of this achievement. The dream of this committee is to make the Missouri highway, but a link in a national highway--to extend the Old Trails eastward over the Old National Road to Washington; westward over the old Santa Fe Trail and Kearny's Road to San Francisco; north-westward over the Oregon Trail to Olympia . . . . The women of the seventeen Trail States will be vitally interested and the women of other states will see the value to human welfare of a national good road, which will serve to unify and bind together the D. A. R. interests of the country.
The D. A. R. of each trail state should insist that the trail be adopted as their state highway. Fifty road bills are before Congress. It will take a strong and united effort by the D. A. R. to win out.
The map in the pamphlet showed the contemplated road. The Oregon Trail branched off the Santa Fe Trail in Gardner, Kansas, just as the original trails had separated. At Fort Hall, the California Trail to San Francisco split from the Oregon Trail, again as had the historic trail. The Old Trails Road also followed the Santa Fe Trail and its Cimarron Cut-Off, the short-cut through a territory with less access to water and more danger from Native Americans than on the main line.
The two routes connected south of Raton, New Mexico, then continued through Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Gallup. In Arizona, the road passed through Holbrook and Flagstaff before turning southwest to Prescott and south to Phoenix. From Phoenix, it moved west again to Yuma and San Diego. The trail ran up the West Coast to link with the California Trail in San Francisco. The map identified the route through the Southwest as "Kearneys Route Santa Fe to Monterey & link to San Francisco."
Mr. and Mrs. Thos W. Wilby, of New York and Washington, have just finished a motor round-trip of these trails-10,000 miles-to lay out and log the road for the Government. They praised the scenic beauty and historic value of these trails, their practicability and charm for motor travel.
The fascination of the road is known to all travelers, whether it be by camel, stage coach or motor car, and the call of the road to its lovers is as insistent a note as the call of the sea to the sailor or the call of the desert to the Arab.
Wilby was a Special Agent of the Office of Public Roads. The Office designated unpaid travelers as "Special Agents" to examine roads, take photographs of them, and report on conditions, type of construction, and economic facts. The Office, in some cases, provided photographic equipment.
As Special Agent, Wilby described his mission as laying out and charting two transcontinental roads, as well as conducting an inspection tour. Wilby and his wife Agnes traveled in a touring car manufactured by the OhiO Motor Car Company and driven by Fred D. Clark. (Transcontinental tourists during this period often employed drivers.) The car was nicknamed the "Mud Hen" based on its successful experience in the Munsey Tour of 1910. Clark was a well-known driver who had completed a heavily publicized 4,767-mile trip that began in New York City on November 22, 1910, and ended in San Francisco, via a southern route, on January 14, 1911. "No automobilist," publicist Guy Finney of the OhiO Motor Company wrote, "completing an extended journey need now hold back for fear of 'the unknown.'" 2b1af7f3a8