FEDERAL EFFORTS COME UNDER FIRE:
In 1912 a debate on the future of highway funding raged on the national level. Up until that time, the extent of Federal involvement in highways was the improvement of rural post roads, research, and the dissemination of information to the states. This had not been an inconsequential effort, but given the number of road miles in the nation, the federal government's resources were being spread rather thinly. It might also be an indication of the state of the nation's roads that the first ever cross country motor trip occurred only 9 years before... taking a full 83 days!
It was during this time that organizations such as the American Automobile Association (AAA) along with American Highway Association (AHA), then made up of state officials and industry lobbyists, contended that continued federal expenditures which focused solely on rural road improvement area was counterproductive to what should be the larger goal of an integrated national highway network. These groups contended that the main thrust of federal policy should create a network of trunk routes linking major population centers... rural road improvement would follow as a natural consequence. To that end the AAA/AHA proposed a 50,000-mile nationwide road system.
In 1914 State highway officials broke from the AHA to form the American Association Of State Highway Officials (AASHO). It was believed that a separate organization free of the taint industry lobbyists would be more effective in achieving their goals. Within a few years the AASHO became the de facto national highway planning organization.
THE TRAIL MOVEMENT:
As the automobile gained popularity and more people began to travel, dollar signs lit up in the eyes of roadside business owners. In 1913 an association was formed hoping to create the first transcontinental highway. If all went well, the highway might even be paved. It was to be named the Lincoln Highway, and even today probably remains the most famous of the numerous private transcontinental and regional "routes" which were to follow. Aside from the ambitions of some of the boosters to push for the first transcontinental highway, others just hoped such a road would bring a steady influx of travelers.
By 1915 many other groups had banded together to promote their own unofficial "trails" or "highways". By the end of WWI the proliferation of these trails was beginning to create chaos. The trails, of which there were over 250 nationally, often overlapped, and each was blazed with its own signs or particular colors painted on roadside power or telephone poles. The intense pressure from these commercial organizations to improve their particular roads, and only their roads, made highway planning in most states impossible. Such a development could only create more confusion for travelers since few states had any designated routes of their own. Yet, these trails and highways were the only transcontinental routes available at the time. An atlas called "Auto Trails and Commercial Survey of the United States" (1920?) lists 48 such "National Highways" with names such as the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway and the Yellowstone Trail... which seems to have run from Boston through Springfield on its way to Seattle, Washington.
The 1923 edition of the National Survey New England Road Atlas goes further. It has a name for nearly every major regional highway in New England. This pocket atlas calls the section of today's US-5, from Hartford to White River Junction the "Connecticut River Way". It ran from Old Saybrook, Connecticut to New Hampshire's White Mountains via the Connecticut River. To be fair, not all of these named trails had roots in commercialism. The first three listed below were mentioned in MHC/DPW Annual Reports. Also included are their current and old HCNES route designations. (HCNES was a highway numbering system put into effect in 1923:)
As was mentioned, here in Massachusetts the state named some highways as early as 1911, prior to the beginnings of the commercial "trail" movement. The then proposed new Mohawk Trail is the earliest example. Jacob's Ladder and the Berkshire Trail were also non-commercial in origin. On the other hand, some of the highways listed in the 1923 National Survey atlas do have clear commercial origins. Most notable is the Ideal Tour, which is not an actual highway route per se, but an arbitrary circuit. The Ideal Tour was crafted to carefully guide vacationists to those particular resort areas that sponsored the Ideal Tour guidebooks. Each resort just happened to be at the end of the day's pre-planned journey.
"US-5: A Highway to History" © Robb Strycharz, 1996-2006
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