(first posted 9/14/2013) Few Americans alive today remember a time before the extensive highway system we enjoy. We just get into our cars, and off we go.
But just 100 years ago, the nation didn’t have any kind of a road network. Existing roads were crude; it ranged from difficult to impossible to drive long distances. I have a book called Overland by Auto in 1913, a transcribed diary of a family’s journey from California to Indiana in their 1910 Mitchell automobile. In some Western states, they simply couldn’t find any roads and had to drive their car over whatever terrain they encountered!
This is the story of the American highway and how the automobile caused it to exist.
Humans have always wanted to follow the blazed trail. They started by walking the paths that animals had trodden. In the fledgling United States of the early 1800s, these were often the only roads. But as the United States grew, such roads became insufficient, especially to move people and goods into the West. Some better roads were built before 1850, notably the National Road, which stretched from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois. Most of it later became US 40. In its eastern states, The National Road was a rare hard-surfaced road, paved in macadam. But most roads were dirt, and some were filled with tree stumps. As long as the wagons could clear them, it was all good. But by 1850 the railroad came to prominence and the nation’s major roads were mostly left to rot.
After the modern bicycle came along in the 1880s, bicyclists found it difficult to ride out into the country because the existing roads were so poor. They especially couldn’t ride after it rained, as the available roads became impassable mud bogs. Shortly, riders organized to form the Good Roads Movement and pressed for well-maintained, all-weather roads.
The automobile’s growing popularity in the early 20th century really made the Good Roads Movement take off. At first, private groups stitched together existing roads into highways of sorts known as auto trails and sought improvements to them. The Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast highway, is arguably the best known auto trail. Thanks to Good Roads lobbying, states soon got into the road-building game. They took over most of the old auto trails and built new highways. That’s how our modern highway network got its start.
Roads were first improved with gravel and crushed stone, but states also experimented with hard surfacing. They tried brick and concrete first. Sometimes these early hard-surfaced roads were left behind by later improvements, such as this brick highway that was once US 66 in Illinois. Brick roads were very labor intensive to build – each brick had to be placed by hand. As a result, brick fell out of favor by about 1930.
Road builders even experimented a little with road width. This is a now-famous section of the “sidewalk highway,” an original alignment of US 66 in Oklahoma that’s just nine feet wide. Oncoming cars each had to drive partway off the road to pass each other.
Illinois tried nine-foot-wide roads too when it first paved some of its portion of the National Road. By the late 1920s it was clear that roads needed to be wide enough for two opposing streams of traffic. So Illinois added three-foot-wide concrete strips on either side of this narrow road; the original nine-foot section is in the middle. This road has been abandoned for about 60 years. This portion of it provides access to a basketball-loving family’s home.
The earliest concrete roads featured no expansion joints, so naturally they cracked. My research dates this concrete to about 1923.
It didn’t take long for road builders to figure out that expansion joints were necessary. This concrete is from about 1926, I think, and features a center joint and regular lateral joints.
It was common in our highway network’s early days for even major routes to feature several different road surfaces along its length. This is a page from a 1922 road guide that gave turn-by-turn directions between cities. Notice how the National Road, later US 40, between Terre Haute and Indianapolis was at turns concrete, gravel, stone, and vaguely “pavement.” Today, of course, the vast majority of highways are paved in asphalt, although concrete is still used here and there.
But by the late 1920s one could drive between most American cities on highways that were at least graded gravel and more likely paved in some hard surface. The kinds of cars being built in America reflected this change. Ford’s transition from the go-anywhere Model T to the more refined Model A probably best illustrates the trend.
World War II is roughly a dividing line in our nation’s road history. Before then, states were busy hard-surfacing their highways wherever they happened to lay. Steep hills and sharp curves were simply part of the American highway experience. It was simply too expensive, and sometimes physically impossible, for states to significantly shape the terrain for straighter and flatter roads.
But after World War II, our nation had shifted from an agrarian to an urban lifestyle, and through the 1950s we increasingly moved out of cities into suburbs. More and more cars filled America’s roads, and they became ever more powerful. This created the next problem America’s road builders had to solve. Blind hills and sharp curves created very dangerous conditions on what had become very congested highways. Impatient drivers would get behind trucks struggling with a steep grade and try to pass without good line of sight, often with disastrous results. And as large trucks increasingly moved goods around the nation, narrow highways only 16 to 18 feet wide made encountering an oncoming truck a frightening experience. Fortunately, road-building technology had improved and it became within states’ financial reach to build wider, flatter, and straighter roads.
And so after World War II, road builders got busy cutting deeply into the earth and filling in valleys to create more level road surfaces. They blasted away rock so the road could go straight through rather than around. And as they laid new roads, lanes grew ever wider.
Soon, multi-lane highways started to be built. Some roads got this treatment before World War II; Indiana’s US 40 was among them. I understand that this was part of a larger national initiative to create roads that would allow easier military troop and equipment movement should it become necessary. Military uses were an important driver behind the Interstate Highway system that started to be built in the 1950s. But also, traffic was just terrible in many places, and more lanes meant swifter travel.
Four-laning of existing highways picked up speed after World War II. Soon, Interstate highways were built, often in the same corridors as existing US highways. I-70, for example, parallels US 40 across Indiana. When I lived in Terre Haute many years ago, the local paper ran a story on the effect Interstate 70 had on the area. Longtime business owners on US 40 were interviewed, and one of them said something like, “The morning I-70 was opened, it was as if someone turned off the spigot on US 40. One minute the traffic was bumper to bumper, and the next it slowed to a trickle, and it’s been that way ever since. Now it’s just local traffic on US 40.” In rural counties, it’s common to find US 40 to be empty, as in this photo.
Road geeks like me like it that way. The old roads are ours for the driving, and we can do silly things like pose right in the middle of a once-busy highway for a photograph. Let the cars rush by on the nearby Interstate.
Your old roads are better than a lot of our modern ones, even that blind hill of concrete is wide it is a 4metre lane road our lanes get down to 3metres trucks are 2.5 wide, then throw in tight corners, and you can begin to see why our roadtoll is so high, yeah we have some modern wide motorway style roads mostly in Auckland and extending south into the Waikato region but our highway network is 2 lane bitumen not flat certainly not straight like those roads and a lot of fun to drive on especially in a 50 tonne truck. Our road builders could go around anything and straight up the sides of hills is now considered an improvement on neverending switchbacks thats howcome I crawl up 1in8 grades at 20kmh in a 480hp truck, its underpowered for the terrain.
Great story Jim! Without the roads none of our cars could go anywhere efficiently, thank you for the trip through history. Great pix as well, it’s makes things such as the widening of old roads much easier to comprehend
I love articles like this that discuss the early history of automobile travel. I’ve picked up interest in the Bankhead Highway and the Dixie Overland highway here in DFW, and how much of the original road can still be travelled.
Do get out and explore those roads! And trace them on Google Maps first, with aerial views turned on. You may find some old alignment lurking that way, and find some old pavement for yourself.
I travel across the country several times a year, and I always make it a point to do as much driving off the interstates as possible. State 2 and 4 lane highways are usually kept just as nicely paved as the interstate, but with semi truck and heavy vehicular traffic removed, the stress is pretty much eliminated. Plus I enjoy getting to see all the cities from street level, it’s a much more intimate way to see the country. If I just take I-40, everything pretty much looks the same from NC to TX.
So true. Unfortunately, it’s considerably slower. But if you have the time, it’s well worth it.
Sidewalk or share roads were popular in rural Australia that sandstorm coming towards you is probably a roadtrain 3 trailers, hope like hell they’re on turntables not drawbars and pull over, you cant see until he’s past, no paint on the front is a sign of an outback driven car, at least the speedlimits on Aussie and Kiwi gravel roads is the same as bitumen, you still have to get there and the cars can take it even the little Japanese ones like you have ours arent the same suspension spec as yours but they look alike.
Yeah, I didn’t understand for years why Aus and NZ cars needed modifications for the available roads until I saw photos of those roads.
Fabulous piece. I find these old roads fascinating, though I seldom get out to explore them. I recall reading years ago that the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940 and is considered the first superhighway in the country. Some of the older sections had become very narrow by the 80s.
That’s right, Jim, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was a revolutionary road for its time. It was narrow by modern standards, and some of the tunnels narrowed to one lane. Those tunnels were abandoned and are quite famous destinations for lovers of old roads and abandoned places.
There were roads such as the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut and the Arroyo Seco Parkway (fka Pasadena Freeway) in California that were all being built around the same time as the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They influenced one another, and there would have been a lot more like them if it hadn’t been for the Depression.
You could say that the first US urban expressway was the elevated West Side Highway in NYC. They made a lot of mistakes in designing that one; it taught the engineers what not to do next time.
The first limited access highway in the world was the Long Island Motor Parkway, some of which was completed before the First World War. It was a privately operated toll road that went out of business. No, the design standards were nothing close to those of modern freeways.
Fun factoid RE The Merritt Parkway – no too bridges are alike..each is it’s own little art piece, which is making updates vexing. When I’m back home that is by far the preferred method of getting from Pennsylvania or NYC to New Haven, even if it means an extra half-hour. Beautiful drive.
The Merritt is a great scenic drive but very unsafe with fuel/rest stops dating from the 30’s with short pull off / re-entry lanes and little parking. Never mind that it was designed for much lower speeds and has no lighting. Last drive I took on it, I was witness to three accidents within 25 miles. This was at night with no traffic.
And not to mention they fly on that road. If you’re not passing, stay out of the left lane. I think people use this as a scenic (and in their minds) high speed bypass to avoid the traffic on 95 in Connecticut.
The unique bridges are beautiful though.
I haven’t driven up this way in over 10 years though. I wonder if it’s still like this?
Thanks for this; I love stumbling on “orphaned” sections of old highways that were abandoned after a rebuild. There’s quite a few along Hwy 101, where a new bridge or a new cut enabled a wider curve, or such.
Your pictures remind me of how many of these narrow old highways were still in use in Iowa when I lived there. Very narrow, and many there had rounded curbs, which were a bit disconcerting. Although they did come in handy one very challenging trip back from Madison in an ice rain: I repeatedly used the curb to keep my VW on the road! Maybe that’s why they were built in the first place?
Iowa’s rolled curbs are famous in the roadgeek community. I don’t recall why they were built, but it’s said that they stopped building them because they actually became a hazard. An inattentive driver would brush up against the curb, flip out a little, overcorrect, and end up slamming into an oncoming car.
I am very hungry to get to California, Oregon, and Washington to explore old alignments. Some of my roadgeek buddies live out that way and send me photos of tantalizing old roads, some in use as local roads and some abandoned.
A lot of steep climbs on our hwy 5 are curbed it helps keep understeering vehicles on the road rather than stuck in a bank or worse. Also water runoff doesnt scour the verges.
Yes, they were horrible (except in that one instance). And I’d rather not repeat that night; possibly the hairiest drive ever. They were actively removing them during those years, and adding a little flat widening strip instead.
That was Hwy 151 that still had them, and the very next year (1973), it was completely rebuilt.
There are some old alignments of Iowa highways that still have the rolled curbs. I’ve seen pix. I’d love to see them f’real someday.
This has some pix: http://nbratney.tripod.com/us34/
Great pics Jim; thanks for the link.
As Wikipedia quaintly puts it:” Vertical faced curbs are used to discourage motor vehicle drivers from leaving the roadway.”
Nice history lesson about the old roads in your area. The modern interstate set up is not even 60 years old and was built (more or less) due to the Soviet threat in the Cold War. It stands to reason that if the Soviets are invading one of the coasts of the USA and all your military equipment is on the other coast then you best be able to get that stuff over to the fighting pronto
Military fears were a big driver, but not the only one. The two-lane highways really were becoming choked with cars.
Dwight Eisenhower, while serving in WWI, rode with a convoy across the country on the Lincoln Highway. At that time, that road was a mix of surfaces and conditions. It is said to have sparked a dream in him of a much better road for military transport. He got it done as President forty years later.
Do come out to Washington State, One major road that is still in use is old US 99, now a state highway.
Last summer (2012), I decided one Friday in August, to take a little scenic trip, head east on I-90 to Issaquah, take SR 18 its entire length through the Kent Valley to Federal Way, getting onto SR 99, and headed north through Federal Way, Midland, Sea-Tac, Des Moinses, the Duwamish, and then into South Seattle. It took me about 2 hours to do that entire trip, but it was fun, and I had a blast and it was a why not, because I could kind of thing. 🙂
I’m intrigued by brick and cobblestone roads, because they seem to hold up so well. Look at the one in your top picture. And when I was In Iowa City this summer, I was surprised to see a number of brick city streets still in use, even ones that have had heavy bus traffic for decades.
It seems to me that their intrinsic flexibility, settling without creating major cracks, is their forte. Of course, they have their drawbacks too: slippery, especially with just a touch of frost on them. As I remember all-too well.
In Europe, concrete pavers/cobblestones seem to still be used much more than in the US. I suspect for exactly the reasons I just mentioned: no cracking and long life. More expensive too, undoubtedly.
Definitely more expensive, one local inner-city council here just abandoned a decision to replace old cobble laneways with concrete in the future after there was a backlash – people like the character of the bluestone cobbles and said the extra cost is worth it. I think they said it cost 40% more to rebuild a cobble lane than to concrete.
Those cobbled roads are why BMW rethought the number of spot welds in their cars for downunder export and why early Falcons didnt survive great roads but really hard on cars.
No these are laneways that used to see very smelly traffic, now either used to access back yards or off-street parking for the terraced houses
Used to play in those lanes as a kid. The wheel patter over the cobbles was a dead giveaway there was a car coming.
Brick is very hardy, but it can deteriorate. Here’s an example:
I wonder if that brick stretch of old 66 was restored. However, my hometown has some brick residential streets downtown and the ones I’ve driven on are all in very nice shape.
You’re right; brick is super slick when not dry. I also understand that in snowy places, it is a pain to plow.
Thank you for this article. Roads are such an extension of automobiles (or is it the other way around?) – they simply go hand-in-hand.
I’ve been fortunate enough over time to stumble upon a few sections of old and/or abandoned roadways. One method here back in the early days was to have one mile of road paved in concrete and the next left as it was.
There is an old four-lane section of US 66 near Ft. Leonard Wood that I’m on periodically. Except for condition, it’s a throwback to 1950 and a study on how things have changed. There are no more curb and gutter sections being built in my state outside of urban areas; a blocked drain or two can cause pooling (or icing) on the roadway plus hitting one at speed can throw someone around like a pinball. The curbs also create an issue with snow removal.
While visiting the state fair last month, the Missouri DOT had a display at their building celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year – Missouri also has the sixth largest highway system of the 50 states and the most bridges over 1000′ in length due to crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, as well as various lakes. Given the anniversary, I would imagine a lot of other states are having similar milestones.
Missouri has a lot of good old-road stuff going on. They were an early state to create its own DOT. Indiana’s didn’t come along until about 1917. Wisconsin, by the way, was the first state to number its highways, and it was an idea that caught on.
I wonder if that has something to do with why Wisconsin also has county highways designated with letters. I’ve never seen either the concept of county highways or lettered highways in any other state.
Some others road gaps didn’t got the same fate. Hwy-2 in Ontario had been flooded with the construction of the St.Lawrence Seaway forcing Hwy-2 and CN railroads on a new alignment http://www.aaroads.com/forum/index.php?topic=6132.0
Some open pit mines in Thetford Mines forced the relocation of a part of the town as well as realigning PQ-1 (known now as PQ-112 since the renumbering of the early-to-mid 1970s).
I think Gordon Lightfoot’s song “Carefree highway” will be a nice fit for the subject. 😉
Let’s get even more roadgeeky with an early expressway, Lake Shore Drive in Chicago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjNSmAl7hF0
Check out some of the older photographs in the clip.
A portion of US 36 in western Indiana was submerged as part of a flood-control project. Part of the old road is used as a boat ramp:
Nice article Jim, one I can really relate to having seen (& driven on) some of those 1920s brick & concrete roads. Very interesting to see different road/traffic conditions even if things are largely the same as here. I would say the roads are generally a bit wider but at least speed limits can be higher on the interstates. Drove on a new section of highway bypassing a small town yesterday, excellent 4-lane highway with a 110km/h limit, felt like you were crawling. Then 10 min later (having turned off the highway) crossed an 1871 iron bridge – 40km/h limit there to preserve the bridge plus it is narrow and has a tight curve on the approach.
An interesting one that we didnt really see as it is still under construction was the tunnelling of Hwy 1 south of SF due to constant landslips – reminiscent of a different solution locally in the Sea Cliff Bridge south of Sydney.
In Victoria you’ll still find the occasional single-lane bridge in use once you turn off the main roads. And the occasional ford as well.
Yep, I see lots of Fords when I go for a drive in the country.
Sorry Pete, couldn’t resist it .:-)
Jim, when were you on Dixie Highway and how far up north did you go?
I live in a DH state (Indiana) so I’m on it frequently. I’ve driven it into Michigan a little bit, on M-51, but not very far north.
How far up into Michigan did you go?
Not far. Dowagiac? Maybe a bit farther north but not much.
In Houston, my grandmother would collect money from the neighbors to shell the roads. They would take sea shells from the gulf and use them to pave. Probably added a lot of calcium!
I thought in Dallas, the very old roads were made of bois d’arc trees.
Nice article and one I know much of since I began reading of old highways sometime last year.
I found a site showing old abandoned sections of old US 99 through many areas of California’s desert areas.
If you’ve not done so, a great website for all highways, both large and small in the US is AA Roads.com. They show sections of various highways at major exits and such so you get an idea of what the route/highway looks like.
Some places I’d like to drive, one, Rt 66, I’d love to do Hwy 61, but also US 101 as its northern terminus begins at Olympia Washington, heads more or less north to the top of the peninsula, then across the peninsula before heading south, largely inland to begin with and then more or less paralleling the coast from central Washington coastal areas (Aberdeen south), and of course, do all the coast of Oregon, and I thin California too.
Plus there are plenty of areas in and around Washington State that I have not traveled on. Two state highways I enjoy are SR 16, that begins at I-5 at its eastern end, then across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (itself now two bridges, with each span doing one direction) and up northbound up the Kitsap Peninsula to the town of Gorst where it then intersects with SR 3 that then either continues north to the Hood Canal bridge and slightly beyond, or south to just south of Shelton where it then intersects US 101.
There is a highway built around 1964 that spans the land between SR 16, and SR 3, and that is SR 302 from Purdy, just off of SR16 to the small town of Allyn that straddles SR 3. It’s a curvy highway, but a beautiful one though as you plunge deep into the woods and various communities, and skirt around various lakes and Fjords that are part of the sound through there before popping out at SR 3.
I had hoped to do more road trips this spring/summer, but it just didn’t happen this year but I hope to do the driving to good friend’s beach cabin out on the Washington Coast on the 27th of this month, and later do the North Cascades Highway (SR 20 that begins at Sedro-Woolley and goes up over Washington Pass) before it closes for the winter sometime around the 20th of Nov.
Another beautiful route here is SR 410, up through Chinook Pass, also known as the Chinook Pass Scenic Highway, it too closes in Nov, and reopens in April due to not being able to remain cleared during the winter months.
Because it’s through the Cascades, it’s twisty, hilly, and can be scary at times if you are afraid of heights, but man is the scenery stunning, craggy peaks often with snow still in places, even in the summer months for miles. The last time I actually went up that highway was in 1997 in a 1965 GMC pickup truck with my best friend.
I’ve been on AARoads for years. I find that they talk a lot more about new roads. I get more traction sharing old-road adventures at the forums for American Road magazine: http://americanroadmagazine.com/forum/index.php. It has the advantage of light traffic — less to churn through.
US 101 should be a great trip. I’d love to do it one day. A major poster at the American Road forum is in Washington State and has posted a lot of great stuff about the old roads there.
Genuinely fascinating article, and great photos. A little bit zombie apocalypse!
Really really great article. Grew up in a town with brick streets (Dodge City) and they were still brick the last time I was back. Wanted to do a trip on 66 but it mostly seemed to be gone. Stretch of it west of calumet okla was still there. Think I am more likely to read about it than drive it. Thanks for the highlights of your trip. Hope there is more coming.
Great book for driving 66: EZ 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan. Turn by turn directions. A must have.
It’s hard to imagine life without highways, although I experienced a bit of a wake-up call when I moved to my current town, two years ago. Where I live now in Hanson, MA is about 15 minutes in from 2 highways either direction. Considering there’s absolutely nothing in Hanson, I had to get used to driving 15-25 minutes on “State Highways” (a.k.a. 2-lane roads) to go anywhere.
In our area, a local named Simon Benson spearheaded a road down the Columbia Gorge in, I believe, about 1913. It was driveable from Troutdale to the Dalles until about 1982(?), when a stretch around Mosier was closed to cars. It was my favorite unknown travel trip, as when we were assigned to the western zone in 1977, we would go exploring around the area, while trying out the rural golf courses. The Gorge provides an unmatched scenic trip from one side of the river east to Biggs, across the river and back to I-5. Golf in Hood River, the Dalles, Stevenson and Bonneville. A great mini-vacation over a three day weekend. The backroads will show you the “roadside attractions” that used to make the trips memorable. Like the Wall Drug signs that used to dot the midwest showing the distance to Wall, South Dakota. Or the old Burma Shave signs. Great memories of my youth. I got my kicks on route 66.
I’ve been through a lot of towns where “Main St” was part of one of the old highways and it was always interesting to me to see how a bypass just killed the traffic and businesses in these towns. I have to admit, some of those old roads were/are pretty scary. One road near Toledo was really bad with endless semi traffic and the occasional fatal crash. The bypass has eliminated almost all the truck traffic and I notice the pavement has held up much better than it had ever done before.
Finally I got a chance to read this article, late as I may be to this party!
Memories of a Sunday drive to Meramec Caverns back in the late ’50’s, and seeing pieces of the old road snaking back and forth, the original alignment, criss-crossing the current road dad drove on to the park.
I love old roads, and in 1976, a buddy and I traveled through Missouri and lived out of my truck for a week traversing the faded blue highways, such as then de-commissioned old U.S. 36 and others through the state.
Up to around 25 years ago, there was a section over in Illinois outside Edwardsville – Poag Road, that ran from the Wood River area to Edwardsville that was a single strip of concrete – one slab wide that I had to get out and measure. 15 feet wide, no shoulder! A single pour around 30 feet long each section! So that meant each lane, according to the striping, was 7½ feet wide!
I had a ball driving that from time to time until the road was improved and rebuilt, so that section no longer exists.
I haven’t been back to that area since before we moved out to Cincinnati in 1992.
I still like the old, still-in-existence old alignments whenever I happen upon them, and can actually still drive on them if time permits.
In addition to old cars, old roads come next!
That MO trip in ’76 sounds like a blast. So much has changed since then.
I would have loved to see that road near Edwardsville, IL. A fellow who follows my personal blog tells about the one-lane concrete roads in Champaign County, IL that he remembers. He says most of them have been either removed or widened.
Cool, cool, cool! I am inspired to see if there are any “retired” roads near the Quad Cities. I have driven Highway 61 between Davenport and Burlington several times.
Thoroughly enjoyed this article the first time around. Thank you Jim. I share your interest and passion in the history of our roads.
I shared this link with you before, but this is a truly amazing website that documents the history of virtually every road in the Province of Ontario. This being one of my favourite automotive sites. The depth of research here, and value of the historical photography, is stunning. Truly a labour of love.
Not only does this site document the history of every highway in the province, but also the evolution of road engineering, safety and signage standards, and road building equipment. As well as including many historical street scenes.
It’s a great site for vintage car spotting as well.
I see he Highway 7 signage, but cannot recognize the town. Somewheresville in small town Ontario? Thanks for posting the Kings Highway, I must visit that some more.
Anyone interested in old roads and some of the history going into the making of them would probably enjoy Earl Swift’s The Big Roads. It’s an interesting history of the development of the highway systems in the USA and the people involved. Iowa was mentioned above as being special – probably no coincidence as the head of AASTO had been from Iowa- Thomas MacDonald. Very interesting.
I missed this one in 2013, so enjoyed it greatly today. Born in the early 1950s, I don’t remember the mid-50s announcement of the Interstate System, but did gradually see portions open in and around my NE OH roots.
Not sure if this one has appeared on CC before: 1957 promotional film (Caterpillar) narrated by the Walter Cronkite, with the opening of the Interstate System. Around 14:20, we meet the folks of Rolla, MO (Jason Shafer territory?), assuring us that local business isn’t being hurt, etc., etc.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqWi_jPWr4c
Sometimes, I just like the things you can find on these old narrow roads…
Last night, it would not except my picture, and I thought I had deleted this post. Since it came back, here the picture I was trying to attach.
It’s one of the last covered bridges in Maryland (maybe only 1 of 2) and it’s only about 7 miles from my house. A favorite destination when I want to exercise my pleasure car…
They did a nice job restoring the bridge a few years ago and now the place is a park including a mill under restoration and some nice hiking trails.
Upon further review, it looks like there are 6 of these left in Maryland. Now I’m on a quest to find them all! ;o)
Indiana has 98 covered bridges, 32 of them are in Parke County which is just north of Terre Haute. Most of them have now been bypassed by the road but there are still a few that you can still drive across. Parke County has an annual Bridge Fest every October that now attracts tens of thousands of people annually. Up until five years ago or so you could attend the festival on a weekday and not experience the crowds that came on the weekends but now even Monday and Tuesday are crowded. If you just want to see the bridges there are five (I think) marked routes you can drive around at your leisure. The routes all start and end in Rockville, which is the county seat. Maps are usually available at the visitors’ center in Rockville.
An important element of the “Good Roads Movement” is the Glidden tour of the early 1900s. The tour was partly a test of the endurance of the cars of the time and also proof of concept that automobiles were capable of going the distance. Also, I’ve seen paved one mile sections of US 30, the Lincoln Highway, that were meant to help public support for paved good roads. Think about it…you were encouraged to drive your car some miles out of town on the bumpy, dusty roads of the time to enjoy a mile of bliss on a nicely paved stretch. Then go talk to your local politicians.
I also remember Lake Shore Dive when it had hydraulically operated lane dividers that added a lane to the inbound or outbound traffic as needed for the morning or evening rush hour.
Leafing through an old Nat Geo from 1971, I came across this ad which seemed apropos to your topic today. Great article, thanks!
Leafing through an old Nat Geo from 1971, I came across this ad which seemed apropos to your topic today. Great article, thanks!
Fine article, nicely traces development of better roads and the reasons for the movement. Always a delight to find one of the surviving sections in good condition to drive leisurely.
Locally, The Foote Company, Nunda, NY was an early manufacturer of road paving equipment.
Guess I qualify as my parents drove my sister and I back from California (my parents actually reverse-migrated from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh in 1961) via route 66. Our house was only a mile or so from Foothill Blvd in Covina…
My relatives all lived in NEPA, and we always took state roads to visit them…you can
use interstate 80 now but mileage wise I think the state roads are shorter. I remember frequently we drove in the evening and the smudge pots used to mark road construction. My Dad probably hated it but for non-driving me it is a fond memory from childhood.
One trip I took in 1997 from where I live in central Texas to western South Dakota was maybe 1600 miles roundtrip and I was on interstates for maybe 50-60 miles of that trip..so state roads still can be short distance (but accomodations can be hard to find unless you’re a camper).