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PART 4: From Named Trails to U.S. Numbered Highways

not4.pdf (2.94 MB)

Richard F. Weingroff

On November 9, 1921, President Warren G. Harding signed the Federal Highway Act of 1921, a landmark law that would set the framework for the Federal-aid highway program for decades to come. In passing the bill, Congress dashed the hopes of many good roads boosters, including Judge J. M. Lowe, president of the National Old Trails Road Association. Long before passage of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 that created the program, Judge Lowe had fought for the Federal Government to build and maintain a system of long-distance interstate roads, including the National Old Trails Road.

As discussed in part 3, many officials of the named trail associations, some State highway departments, and related organizations urged Congress to create a Federal Highway Commission to build a national highway system to supplement State highway systems and intercounty connectors. By the time Congress finally took up the issue in 1921, however, a revitalized post-war Federal-aid highway program and a new, more cooperative chief of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) resulted in growing support for renewal and strengthening of the existing program initiated in 1916, but interrupted by World War I. The Federal-aid concept, ultimately, prevailed.

While Congress considered the legislation, the country was in a post-war economic downturn that held back the road building that was needed to restore the highway network from the damage it sustained during the war. Conditions, however, were improving. With implementation of the 1921 Act, BPR Chief Thomas H. MacDonald could begin his annual report for Fiscal Year (FY) 1922 with the good news:

Without overstatement it may be said that greater progress has been made in providing the means of highway transportation during the fiscal year 1922 than in any similar period in the history of the country. Industrial and financial conditions were better, as a whole, than they have been at any time since before the war, and as a consequence remarkable progress has been made in highway construction under the States and counties as well as under the joint control of the Government and States.

Ten thousand miles have been added to the Federal-aid roads alone, and doubtless more than an equal mileage has been constructed without Federal assistance. And there is now apparent a real public appreciation developed in large measure by the forceful words of the President in his message to Congress.

More significant, however, than the progress in the physical work of road construction, or any other accomplishments of the year, are two developments the results of which are not immediately apparent, and which can not be measured in miles or dollars and cents, but which promise results for the future unequaled by any developments of the quarter century of highway activity.

First of these is the passage of the Federal highway act with its plan for a connected system of roads for the whole Nation; the second is the extraordinary activity in economic and physical research in connection with the financing, location, management, and design of the highways. For more than two decades there has been in progress a slow but certain development of highway construction from a casual activity in the hands of unskilled local officials without plan or progress, other than to maintain an established minimum of facility in highway transportation, toward a reasoned industry in the hands of State and national officials, supplemented by intelligent local aid, the aim of which is to provide complete and economical highway transport service throughout the Nation.

Designating the Primary System

The Federal Highway Act provided for a system of public highways not exceeding 7 percent of the total highway mileage in each State. The 7-percent system was divided into primary or interstate roads and secondary or intercounty roads. The 1921 Act required that the primary or interstate highways may not exceed three-sevenths of the 7-percent system, but the State highway departments could use up to 60 percent of Federal-aid funds on these roads. The remaining funds were reserved for the secondary highways connecting or correlating with the primary routes. In addition, the system in adjoining States was to be correlated. As Chief MacDonald put it:

The selection of 7 per cent of the roads of the Nation for future systematic improvement is unquestionably the largest and most important task ever assigned to the bureau.

Even before President Harding signed the legislation, Chief MacDonald asked each State highway department to certify its total public road mileage. They certified a national total of 2,859,575 miles, which meant that the Federal-aid system – the combined primary and secondary systems – would be up to 200,170 miles long.

As soon as the bill was signed, BPR asked the State highway departments to submit maps showing their tentative Federal-aid systems for initial examination.:

At the end of the fiscal year [June 30, 1922] tentative maps showing the systems proposed by the several States had been received from all States except Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

While that task was underway, MacDonald asked one of his engineers, Edwin W. James, to devise an equitable way to test the State systems. James assembled a task force of BPR officials who used data from the Census Bureau and other sources to calculate county-by-county indices based on population, mineral products, forest products, and manufactured products. This data allowed them to calculate a composite index for each county. The Federal Highway

Administration’s Bicentennial history explained:

By October 1922, tentative system maps had been received from all but nine States. Most of the routes in these systems followed existing roads, and they agreed remarkably well with the BPR task force’s studies. Surprisingly, the largest deviations from what appeared to be the best interstate routes occurred in States such as New York and Massachusetts where a large percentage of the principal roads was already improved. In these States there was “a natural disposition to designate other roads of less importance as the Federal-aid highway system for the State.” These and other differences were smoothed out in conferences between the BPR and the individual States and by regional conferences between the States to coordinate across State boundaries. [America’s Highways 1776-1976: A History of the Federal-Aid Program, Federal Highway Administration, 1976 pages 108-109]

The first such conference, MacDonald explained in his annual report, was held in Troy, New York, “at which the tentative systems were correlated for all of New England, New York, and New Jersey.” [Annual Reports of the Department of Agriculture for the Year Ended June 30, 1922, pages 461-463]

Automobile Blue Book, 1921

For motorists in the 1910s and early 1920s, the Automobile Blue Book was essential for traveling the unmarked primitive roads of the period. As the title page of the 1921 and other editions put it:

The Blue Books cover the entire United States and Southern Canada in twelve volumes. They tell you where to go and how to get there, giving complete maps of every motor road, running directions at every fork and turn, with mileages, all points of local or historical interest, state motor laws, hotel and garage accommodations, ferry and steamship schedules and rate. A veritable motorist’s encyclopedia.

Instead of the road maps that would soon become the standard for road atlases, the Automobile Blue Book relied on descriptions that a motorist, or more likely a passenger, could read to stay on the intended road. Directions might involve turns at a stated building, a painted barn, a notable tree, a trolley, or a railroad crossing.

By the early 1920s, the publisher employed official pathfinders in Blue Book cars to update the listings. As John T. Bauer noted in an article about the guides:

Today, the method of navigating by detailed mileages and turn-by-turn directions may appear cumbersome and unnecessary to some drivers, especially those who excel at map reading, but those techniques were ideally suited for the condi­tions of automobile travel during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Roads at the time were constructed with only local uses in mind and often lacked descriptive signage. Prior to the automobile, roads that stretched across the country, or even a state, in an unbroken fashion were unnecessary. Traveling that far was reserved for railroads. Therefore, anyone wishing to travel cross-country by automobile was forced to make hundreds of turns onto hundreds of different roads. Such details could not have been depicted at an appropriate scale on a sheet map because of the generalization that would have been required. Publishers and automobile enthusiasts turned to route guides such as the Official Automobile Blue Book and their turn-by-turn directions as a more effective solution. [Bauer, John T., “The Official Automobile Blue Book, 1901-1929: Precursor to the American Road Map,” Cartographic Perspectives, Winter 2009, pages 4-27]

In talking and writing about the National Old Trails Road, Judge Lowe gave the roadway as positive a description as he could. Segments were hard surfaced in many States, funds were available for hard surfacing, or the pavement was good except for a stretch here or there. The 1921 edition of the Automobile Blue Book, Volume T (“Main Trunkline Highways of the United States”) covered the National Old Trails Road/Santa Fe Trail broken into segments, each assigned a route number, found throughout the book. In addition to helpful directional guides, each entry commented on the road itself as observed by those without a vested interest in the success of the named trail.

The following compiles data on the National Old Trails Road, from east to west:

Route 198 – Baltimore to Washington – 39.7 miles

Via Elkridge, Laurel, Hyattsville, and Bladensburg.
Macadam and concrete all way. Summary: 6 miles concrete; 34 miles macadam.

Route 180 -Washington, D.C., to Hagerstown, Md. – 76.7 miles

Via Rockville, Gaithersburg, Ridgeway, Frederick, Braddock Heights, and Boonsboro.
Macadam and concrete roads.

Route 51 – Cumberland to Hagerstown, Md – 64.7 miles

Via Hancock.
Macadam with some short stretches of brick and concrete.

Route 350 – Cumberland, Md. to Uniontown, Pa. – 63.5 miles

Via Frostburg, Grantsville, Keysers Ridge, Somerfield and Hopwood.
Macadam with some short stretches of brick and concrete.

Route 349 – Uniontown, Pa. to Wheeling, W. Va. – 68.2 miles

Via Brownsville, Washington, West Alexander, and Elm Grove.
Macadam practically all the way.

Route 348 – Wheeling, W. Va. to Zanesville, Oh. – 74.9 miles

Via Cambridge.
Practically all brick.

Route 347 – Zanesville to Columbus, Oh. – 54.3 miles

Via Brownsville, Jacksontown, Hebron and Reynoldsburg.
Macadam, concrete, and brick.

Route 346 – Columbus to Dayton, Oh. – 67.8 miles

Via Springfield.
Macadam and asphalt roads.

Route 345 – Dayton, Oh. to Indianapolis, Ind. – 209.2 miles

Via Eaton and Richmond.
Hard surfaced roads the entire distance, with several badly worn stretches.
Summary: 8 miles brick, 15 miles macadam, 49 miles stone, 26 miles concrete, 5 miles gravel.

Route 535 – Indianapolis to Terre Haute, Inc. – 538 miles

Via National Road.
Gravel and stone all the way.

Route 536 – Terre Haute, Ind. to St. Louis, Mo. – 176.3 miles

Via Effingham and Vandalia
Approximately three-quarters of this route is hard surfaced; the balance will no doubt be closed in places for construction during the year.

Route 537 – St. Louis to Columbia, Mo. – 139.4 miles

Via St. Charles, Wentzville and Fulton.
Macadam to St. Charles, graded dirt and some gravel to Wentzville, balance stretches of dirt, gravel and macadam.

Route 538 – Columbia to Kansas City, Mo. – 152.8 miles

Via Boonville, Marshall, Waverly, Lexington and Independence.
Gravel to Rocheport, next 110 miles graded dirt, with stretches of gravel and macadam between Dover and Wellington; balance macadam and pavement. Summary: 102 miles dirt; 50 miles macadam, gravel, and pavement.

Volume T did not cover the Old Santa Fe Trail routing of the National Old Trails Road in Kansas, but did cover the rival New Santa Fe Trail, which departed from the National Old Trails Road between Olathe and Syracuse:

Route 600 – Kansas City, Mo. to Emporia, Kan. – 130.6 miles – New Santa Fe Trail

Via Olathe, Edgerton, Ottawa, and Waverly.
Pavement to Waldo; next 8 miles macadam; balance graded dirt. During dry weather, good average time can be made on this trip, especially where surface of dirt road has been dragged and oiled.

Route 601 – Emporia to Hutchinson, Kan. – 122.4 miles – New Santa Fe Trail

Via Cottonwood Falls, Florence and Newton
Graded dirt road all the way.

Route 602 – Hutchinson to Dodge City, Kan. – 154.5 miles – New Santa Fe Trail

Via Lyons, Ellenwood, Great Bend, Larned, Kinsley and Spearville.
Dirt roads all the way.

Route 603 – Dodge City to Syracuse, Kan. – 107.3 miles – New Santa Fe Trail

Via Garden City.
Dirt roads the entire distance.

Route 811 – Syracuse, Kan., to La Junta, Colo. – 114.9 miles

Via Lamar and Las Animas.
Practically all dirt roads, with a few stretches of sand.

Route 810 – La Junta to Pueblo, Colo. – 66.0 miles

Via Rocky Ford.
Practically all gravel.

Route 789 – Pueblo to Trinidad, Colo. – 89.3 miles

Via Walsenburg and Aguilar.
Graded gravel highway excepting some stretches of dirt between Walsenburg and Aguilar.

Route 611 – Trinidad, Colo., to Las Vegas, N.M. – 138.4 miles

Via Raton, Maxwell, Springer, and Wagon Mound.
Gravel highway to 15 miles beyond Raton. Natural dirt and prairie roads extend to Wagon Mound. The surface is generally fair, but in wet weather traveling will be poor near Maxwell and Springer. From Wagon Mound to Watrous the road is hardly more than a trail and some very poor rocky stretches make only the slowest of progress possible. A dirt road which is very fast in dry weather connects Watrous and Las Vegas.

Route 612 – Las Vegas to Santa Fe, N.M. – 72.6 miles

Via Tienda, Rowe and Pecos.
The average condition on the first 60 miles of this trip is only fair; balance gravel highway. Constant improvements are carried on towards the establishment of a permanent highway between the two terminals.

Route 613 – Santa Fe to Albuquerque, N.M. – 64.6 miles

Via Domingo and Alameda.
With the exception of about 8 miles of sand along the foot-hills, skirting the Rio Grande, road conditions on this trip are good. There are long stretches of graded dirt and natural prairie road where excellent traveling will be encountered. Steep grades and sharp turns on La Bajada hill require slow and careful driving. The length of this grade is one and one-half miles.

Route 614 – Albuquerque to Magdalena, N.M. – 109.8 miles

Via Isleta, Los Lunas, Belen and Socorro.
Graded gravel and dirt road to Belen; natural prairie roads then predominate to Socorro, with a few bad stretches of sand and some rough crossings on dry river beds; gravelly road from Socorro to Magdelina.

Route 615 – Magdalena, N.M., to Springerville, Ariz. – 130.5 miles

Via Datil and Quemado.
Dirt Roads with stretches of natural gravel are traversed to the Arizona line, balance gravel.

The Blue Book did not cover the road from Gallup, New Mexico, to Holbrook, Arizona, following instead the Springerville routing.

Route 616 – Springerville to Winslow, Ariz. – 135.8 miles

Via St. Johns, Petrified Forest National Monument and Holbrook.
There are long stretches of graded highway and a good dirt road between Holbrook and Winslow. With the exception of a few poor stretches thru Petrified Forest and thence to Holbrook, this is a good road and fast time can be maintained during favorable weather conditions. The trip can easily be made in one day with plenty of time for sight seeing in the Petrified Forest.

Route 617 – Winslow to Flagstaff, Ariz. – 64.89 miles

No intervening cities noted.
Gravel and dirt roads, with about 10 miles of rough and rocky surface.

Route 618 – Flagstaff to Grand Canyon, Ariz. – 87.4 miles

Via Grand View Point
First 70 miles prairie road, with some short stretches of rough sand and rock; balance graded dirt. There are no accommodations or supply stations between terminals.

Route 620 – Grand Canyon to Williams, Ariz. – 64.8 miles

First 25 miles natural dirt and sand road; balance graded gravel and dirt. There are no stopping or supply stations en route.

Route 625 – Flagstaff to Kingman, Ariz. – 177.4 miles

Via Williams, Ashfork and Seligman.
Graded gravel and dirt to Seligman, poor road to a point 6 miles east of Peach Springs, good road to Hackberry, followed by graded gravel to Kingman.

Route 626 – Kingman, Ariz., to Needles, Cal. – 71.0 miles

Via Yucca and Topock.
Good graded, gravelly dirt to Yucca, fair to poor road to Topock, good road to Needles. Good time can be made between Kingman and Yucca and again from Topock to Needles, but the intermediate distance slows travel, owing to many cross washes. The route traverses a desert country, crossing the Colorado river on a steel bridge at Topock. Make local inquiry regarding road via Oatman which may be preferable to text here given.

Route 627 – Needles to Barstow, Cal. – 166.2 miles

Via Goffs, Amboy, Ludlow and Daggett.
The road is either of gravelly sand or of an oil surface. Between Amboy and Ludlow the old road is still preferable to the new road which follows the south side of the RR. Both, however, are in very poor condition. Average road conditions on this route are good and very fast time can be made except between Amboy and Ludlow. This route crosses the Mojave desert and owing to the intense heat during the summer months, tourists frequently make this run at night.

Route 628 – Barstow to San Bernardino, Cal. – 81.7 miles

Via Victorville.
Gravel and sand road to summit of Cajon pass, balance macadam and concrete. After crossing the western edge of the Mojave desert and reaching the summit of Cajon pass, the tourist is suddenly confronted with a magnificent panorama of incomparable grandeur. Descending on easy winding grades over splendid roadway with high mountains towering on all sides, the tourist almost abruptly finds himself within the semi-tropical vegetation of southern California.

Route 629 – San Bernardino to Los Angeles, Cal. – 63.3 miles

Via Foothill Blvd. and Pasadena.
Paved roads all the way.

The D.A.R. Continental Congress – 1922

In April 1922, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) met in Washington for its 31st Continental Congress. Mrs. William H. Talbott, of Rockville, Maryland, was allotted only 5 minutes for her report on the work of the National Old Trails Road Committee. She said, “It is impossible that in the five minutes allotted for this report I can give you the results of this work. It will be published and you will receive it later.”

The proceedings contained Mrs. Talbott’s full letter report. She began:

While we do not come with hands laden with work accomplished, your Chairman is glad to report we are getting back to our original object which, of necessity, was laid aside during the war. At that time this committee was encouraged to search out local pioneer trails, and since then much valuable history has been brought to light, and this research is greatly stimulating that degree of patriotism which is building the National Old Trails Road, our Memorial to the Pioneers. Today we are more closely united, more definitely concentrated upon one road than in any previous year.

To “conserve energy and prevent loss of time,” she had asked each State chairman “not to undertake any local work this year, except that which bore directly upon the National Old Trails Road.” The chairmen were asked to “organize a study course whereby the Chapters would search out their own pioneers, and then, in their honor, establish a National Old Trails Road Fund for our road signs”:

When reports show that only the States through which our road runs have expended funds upon this road we know it is entirely due to misunderstanding, and all that we now need is to get together on some plan for raising funds.

In response to many requests regarding “the exact location” of the National Old Trails Road, the committee had prepared a brief history of the road that went out in February, “and immediately there were requests for hundreds of copies.” This experience led to a puzzle:

While preparing this letter it became necessary for me to learn why our road, clearly defined and with a historic record, and which traversed 12 States, had gradually taken in under its name other trails of historic value, but not in any way associated with our National Old Trails Road, and it was found that originally there was, and still can be, but one National Old Trails Road; yet, while searching out pioneer trails our road had added to it lateral trails until it included a system of roads instead of one definite highway.

From this review, she concluded, “There was but one thing to do.” With the concurrence of D.A.R.’s president general, Mrs. Talbott had spoken with Representative Frederick N. Zihlman of Maryland to ask him to amend his bill to coincide only with the original National Old Trails Road:

All past and present bills were compared and changes noted as they appeared, and it was definitely determined that with several bills in Congress asking legislation for the National Old Trails Road the only possible hope of favorable action was in having all bills describe definitely one road, so steps were taken to amend our bill. We stand pledged to sign this road. When the States were encouraged to search out local pioneer trails they were not authorized to mark them, yet we find our committees working upon the Lincoln Highway, the Lee Highway, the Dixie Highway, the Old Spanish Trail, the Natches [sic] Trace, as well as marking old trails in nearly every State.

On January 25, 1922, Representative Zihlman had introduced H.R. 101165, the Daughters of the American Republic Old Trail Act to “provide a national ocean-to-ocean highway over the pioneer trails of the Nation.” It had been referred to the Committee on Roads, from which it would not emerge.

Much valuable work, Mrs. Talbott continued, had been accomplished in many States during the year, “but I am sorry to add that every bit of work, even by our committee, which is not related to our road properly belongs to another committee.” She added, “please remember, we can only report matters relating to our road.”

The committee had established a fund to pay for monuments to the pioneers who “reduced the dense wilderness to broad fields for cultivation . . . until, at last, they laid their lives upon the altar of patriotism”:

Where are the monuments to mark their resting place?

We are asked to commemorate their sacrifice; what do we offer in return? What could be more appropriate to commemorate their heroism than for their descendants to contribute towards a fund which will be used to memorialize their sacrifice?

. . . You will recognize the importance of having a fund in the hands of the Treasurer General, which will enable us to make a contract for road signs.

To that end your Chairman has asked each State Chairman to suggest a plan by which we can raise this fund. Every reply but one urged the per capita tax as the only equitable plan, and this is the only plan by which the small Chapters will not be overtaxed.

Your Chairman further asked for a contribution this year, and a definite pledge for next year. So far, five Chapters in Pennsylvania have given $25 each; five Chapters in Florida have given $10 each; Wisconsin has given $30; Iowa sends $15; one Illinois chapter has raised $119; one Alabama Chapter gives 15 cents per member; and other States favor the plan.

To stimulate patriotism in our work, the National Chairman has donated 5,000 little seals, “The Madonna of the Trail,” with the request they be used on your letters. Ours is the only National Committee that can use such an emblem, and we must give to our work the distinction which is added by this appealing, and oft-time pathetic picture . . . .

There are many highways, stretching in every direction, but the Daughters of the American Revolution were the pioneers in the desire to build a road as a Memorial, and we must maintain the integrity of our road or we lose our identity.

She reported on State activities around the country, including those the National Old Trails Road passed through.

In Pennsylvania, the road was in “fine condition,” and “the old Mile Stones are in good condition and will be preserved.”

West Virginia reported that “upon the 16 miles of the National Old Trails Road have been erected four handsome bronze tablets and the funds are in hand for the fifth one, when the bridge of the Baltimore & Ohio Company is completed. The unveiling of each tablet was conducted by special program, with prominent speakers and special music”:

The National Old Trails Road is in excellent condition, the whole having been recently rebuilt, and the old Mile Stones which were placed by the Government are in fine condition and are kept just as they were placed over 100 years ago.

The Ohio chapter reported:

The State Highway Department has widened the road (the Old Cumberland Road) to 80 feet, and it is being rapidly paved. Portions have been marked by the Highway Department with a red band on a white background, painted on telegraph poles; there are no permanent road signs erected, so far. Old Mile Stones are being reset and permanently preserved.

The Ohio chapter also was offering prizes to school children for the best essay on the National Road, “and one Chapter has presented a prize of $25 for the best essay on this subject.”

The Maryland chapter was not relaxing its efforts “to get the State Highway Commission to erect our road signs in accordance with the authority given them by our legislature.” She added, “Maryland has a beautiful stone road which, with but a slight difference, follows Braddock’s Road and the Old National Pike across the State.”

After summarizing State activities, Mrs. Talbott added, “Nearly every State has expressed its interest in our work – the kind of interest that will, in time, bear fruit”:

Many have stated they did not understand their efforts belonged to one road, and they manfully pledged “loyalty to the Society and the National Old Trails Road.”

It is but natural that committees want to see results, and this led many into local work, without realizing that if it is not related to our road then our energy and our funds are benefiting other committees.

She could report “what belonged to our road, but other committees will give the States full credit for what has been done.”

She concluded with an emphasis on the committee’s work:

It was not intended that we should erect even bronze tablets – we were specially organized to erect permanent road signs, which display our insignia and the words “National Old Trails Road” upon bands of red, which, and blue.

This must be our work for next year. If you can do nothing more, get your State to pledge 2 cents per members – just a postage stamp. Two cents per member today would produce over $2,000. Is not this worth while? Do we realize that a pledge of 10 cents per member, now, will enable us to make contract for road signs?

Having presented her 5-minute report, Mrs. Talbott asked to add a word or two about the road signs:

Just as I left my home this morning I received by special delivery the picture I hold in my hand of our road signs, with complete details and specifications. We will present to you later a plan for erecting these road signs, with complete details, the cost of each set in the ground, etc. That we will submit to you for your consideration another year. [Proceedings of the Thirty-First Continental Congress of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, April 1922, pages 101-105]

In addition to reporting on the committee’s work, Mrs. Talbott prepared an article for The Washington Post on the history of the National Old Trails Road, beginning:

The National Old Trails road is composed of five sections, with a space of almost 100 years between the opening of the first and the last.

After summarizing the history of the segments, she concluded:

Thus we have a road from the waters of the Atlantic across the continent to the Pacific, a large portion of which was opened by the Federal government for military purposes, and all of it financed by authority of Congress.

Under the authority of Congress this road was surveyed and taken over a national road from the capital of the nation to St. Louis, Mo. Then taken as a military road under Kearney for the capture of the Southwest. It thus became a “national” road and, being based upon these “old trails,” is properly called the National Old Trails road, and there is none like it either in its national characteristics or historic interest.

The National Old Trails road committee was organized to urge the construction by the government (and by the States through which it passes) of a permanent roadway over these old trails, and to erect thereon the National Old Trails road signs of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a monument to and a memorial of the hardy pioneers who carried civilization from the Atlantic to the Pacific and through whose patriotic action the flag of our country now floats over a united people across the continent. [Talbott, William Hyde, “National Old Trails Road,” The Washington Post, April 17, 1922, page 6]

In addition to Mrs. Talbott’s report, the proceedings included a report on Patriotic Lectures and Lantern Slides during the congress, including one on “National Old Trails” that had been “rearranged with the contour of the regular map, showing the various States where the D.A.R. has put up the boulders and bronze markers. As our Society was the first to commence the marking of these old trails, these markers are of special interest.” [Proceedings, page 138]

Mrs. Alice Bradford Wiles read her report on the Legislation in the United States Congress “as rapidly as I can, and please no one ask that I read more slowly, because if I do I cannot get through and the last part is the most important.” After going through several issues, she pointed out that some issues were “a matter for State rather than National legislation”:

Since the making of good roads and their suitable marking is under State control, the raising of money for the Old Trails Road and for its proper marking was referred by the board to the legislatures of the twelve States through which the road passes, with the hope that this might be included in the appropriations for good roads in those States. West Virginia has marked the road with four boulders at suitable distances and with bronze tablets upon them telling the story of the road. Illinois has completed this year the road through its boundaries, from Vincennes to East St. Louis, and will ask the road commissioners to place historical markers upon it. Other States have done likewise, but the data are not in my possession, as is the work of our very capable and enthusiastic National Committee on “Old Trails Road.”

(Mrs. Wiles’ “most important” reminder at the end of her report urged all D.A.R. chapters to support the National Society’s legislative goals through gathering information, educating others, and contact with Members of Congress.) [Proceedings, page 139, 141]

Missouri's Centennial Road Law of 1921

Under the Federal Highway Act of 1921, only roads identified within each State’s 7-percent system were eligible for improvement with Federal-aid highway funds. Judge Lowe understood the importance of ensuring that every mile of the National Old Trails Road would be designated as part of each State’s primary or interstate road system. Considering the prominence of the National Old Trails Road, that goal was not as easily attained in Judge Lowe’s home State of Missouri as he may have expected.

Voters in Missouri had approved a $60 million bond issue in November 1920. Despite high expectations, the measure proved unworkable due to a defect in the law that prevented revenue from automobile licenses to be used as intended to back the bonds. In December, John M. Maland, superintendent of the State Highway Department, issued a tentative map along with his plan for using the funds:

The general idea of the plan is to have five main highways to be built of concrete; two east and west through the more thickly settled portions of the State; two north and south, one following generally the bank of the Mississippi River, and the other generally the western border of the state, with a fifth road extending from St. Louis southwesterly to the Kansas line, generally following the Frisco railroad.

Work should, in my opinion, proceed simultaneously on both primary and secondary roads. Primary roads should cost slightly less than $140,000 a mile, and the secondary approximately $10,000 a mile. [“Look Out for the ‘Peacock Trails,’” The Farmington Times, December 24, 1920, page 2]

On December 18, the Commercial Club of Columbia appointed a committee to fight the Malang plan because it did not designate the entire Missouri portion of the National Old Trails Road as a primary road. The primary route proposed between Kansas City and St. Louis would include the Old Trails road only as far west as Fulton, where it departed for a southern route that would run through the State capital, Jefferson City.

E. W. Stephens, president of the Missouri Old Trails Road Association, headed the committee that would attend a meeting of the executive and legislative committee of the Missouri Good Roads Federation in St. Louis to explain the protest. He said he had communicated with the commercial clubs of Boonville, Arrow Rock, Marshall, Lexington, and Fulton. They were, he said, “all aroused and enthusiastic about the Old Trails route as a primary road across the state.” The towns intended to send representatives to the St. Louis meeting.

Judge Lowe was among those protesting vigorously against any action to make part of the National Old Trails Road a secondary road. He wrote on December 20 to Malang to protest the announced plan. Judge Lowe cited the unfairness of Malang’s proposed system and intimated that the trails association would go over the head of the board and carry the matter to the legislature. In addition to many other reasons, Judge Lowe called attention to the fact that the National Old Trails Road in Missouri had already been selected as the official cross-State route and that this action, taken years ago, must stand.

Malang replied in part:

I have your favor of December 20 subject, tentative map and plan for building state system of roads, at hand. We are in the midst of moving our office and as I am trying to get away for the holidays, I beg of you to permit me a little more time to answer your letter in detail. I beg to say, however, that I have no desire to discriminate against anyone or any road, and hope to be able to show my disinterestedness when I answer your letter more fully. Thanking you for writing me on the subject, I beg to remain. J. M. Malang [“City to Fight for Place on Primary Road,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, December 23, 1920, page 1; “Columbians Go to St. Louis Road Meeting,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, December 28, 1920, page 1]

The Missouri Old Trails Association met on January 5, 1921, as the General Assembly session convened in Jefferson City. Columbia would not be on a first class highway under the bond issue, Stephens said, unless the cities and counties along the Missouri Old Trails Road, fought for it. The association unanimously adopted a resolution that set forth the delegates’ sentiment:

We the undersigned members of the Resolutions Committee of the Missouri Old Trails Association recommend to the Association:

Whereas – The Old Trails Road was established in 1911 through Legislative act by the State Board of Agriculture as the first official cross-state highway after due deliberation and authority on the part of the board –
Whereas – The Missouri Old Trails Road is a link of the historic National Old Trails Highway connecting with official cross-state roads in states on the east and west and is a part of the only transcontinental highway through the state –
Whereas – The Missouri Old Trails Road is the logical route serving the state from
St. Louis to Kansas City, traversing the counties of great population, great wealth per capita and serving the greatest amount of traffic at present and promised in the future –
Whereas – The Missouri Old Trails Road is the shortest route traversing the state from the east to the west and is best physically adapted to construction –
Whereas – The Missouri Old Trails Road as now laid out is one third constructed with hard surface and the remainder is organized and financed –
Be It Resolved – That the Missouri Old Trails Road be recognized as designated and that whatever provision is made for the designation for other primary roads in the state whether by direct action of the Legislature or through a highway commission, every precaution be taken not to permit the repudiation or setting aside partially or completely the action already taken in this connection under authority of the Legislature by which this road was officially established as the first cross-state highway in Missouri –
Be It Further Resolved – That a committee be elected by this association with ample power and authority to present the claims of the road to the Legislature and before such other agency as may be constituted to have charge of the designation and administration and construction of the roads under the $60,00000 bond issue.

The association appointed a committee to present its resolution and claims to the General Assembly. Judge Lowe was among the members. He had been unable to attend the meeting, but sent a telegram:

I recommend the adoption of the following resolution:

“We favor a system of state highways; through roads reaching every part of the state to be designated by act of the Legislature and constructed and maintained under the supervision and control of a state highway commission.” I also suggest that a committee on legislation be appointed.

Much depends on this convention. Vigilance is the price of success. We must not sleep at the post. Having come up through tribulation our crown of victory will be the greater – [“Recognition of Old Trails Road is Asked,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, January 5, 1921, page 1]

The Missouri Old Trails Road was not alone in seeking designation as the cross-State highway under the $60 million bond issue:

The Missouri Old Trails Association is not alone in organizing for a fight to get a cross-state highway built under the $60,000,000 bond issue. One hundred and twenty- five delegates representing eighteen of the twenty two towns between Kansas City and St. Louis along the route of the Missouri North Cross-state Highway met in Moberly Thursday and reorganized to conduct a vigorous campaign before the Legislature to make this road the chief east and west cross state highway under the 60 million dollar road building campaign.

The road passes through Excelsior Springs, Brunswick. Moberly. Mexico and St. Charles and traverses the counties of Jackson, Clay, Ray, Carroll, Charlton, Randolph, Boone, Montgomery, Warren, St. Charles and St. Louis. [“Rival For Old Trails,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, January 8, 1921, page 1]

The General Assembly attempted to develop road legislation to correct the bond law, but the issues were too complex to be taken up during a regular session filled with many other matters. A special session was called for the summer to consider the issue, getting underway on June 14. The legislature was sharply divided, with members from large cities and members from small towns and farm areas wanting different things, as did the Senate and the House.

(With the new administration of Government Arthur M. Hyde taking office on January 10, 1921, Superintendent Malang resigned his $5,000-a-year post to enter the contracting business. [“Personal Mention,” Good Roads, February 2, 1921])

During the special session to consider legislation to revamp the State’s highway program, Stephens appeared before the House roads and highways committee to call for a State system of hard-surfaced highways and designation of the National Old Trails Road between Kansas City and St. Louis as the cross-State highway. He reminded committee members that several years earlier, the State Board of Agriculture had chosen the National Old Trails Road as the official cross-State highway between those two cities – and the importance of a hard-surfaced road connecting them.

As summarized in a newspaper report, Stevens explained that “the counties the road runs through . . . have a larger population, greater automobile registrations, higher assessed valuation and greater value of farm products than the counties through which any of the competitive routes run.” Four-fifths of the State’s public institutions are located along the road. “There are more than 15,000 in the denominational and eleemosynary institutions located in the towns on the road, he said, and $450,000 has just been raised for the construction of a bridge across the Missouri River to join the north and south sections of the route.” [“E. W. Stephens Makes Strong Road Appeal,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, July 7, 1921, page 1]

In mid-July, Stephens took strong exception to a claim by Representative David Bagby, Jr., of Howard County that the legislature had not received any propaganda from the Missouri Old Trails Road Association. Stephens said that a detailed statement about the comparative resources of the competitive cross-State highways had been placed on the desk of each member of the legislature. He admitted, however, that the literature had not been mailed until the preceding Thursday and may not have been distributed until the following Monday:

An erroneous impression as to the publicity given to the Old Trails road in the legislature has been created by the statement of Mr. Bagby. We have not believed it necessary to devote much time to advertising the Old Trails road before the General Assembly because it has not seemed probable there would be any cross-state highway designated.

However, the Old Trails road is the only highway, according to the information I have obtained for which arguments have been presented to the House road committee . . . .

Afterwards, on learning that other routes have been sending in literature for distribution among the members of the Legislature, we sent to Jefferson City to be placed on the desk of both houses a full statement of the comparative resources of the counties through which the different cross-state highways pass. The figures contained in the statement are official, dependable, impartial, and not inflated. They cannot be refuted.

The three cross-state routes that have been most under consideration are the Old Trails road, the North Cross-State highway, and the suggested route through Fallon, Jefferson City, and Sedalia.

The figures we have collected from official sources show that in the grand total value of the farm products the counties through which the Old Trails road runs lead those of the North Cross-State by $9,328,510 for the past year and those of the suggested Sedalia route by $7,904,531.

In the same way, the Old Trails road leads the North Cross-State by 2,738 automobiles and the suggested Sedalia route by 3,615. In population, the Old Trails road exceeds the North Cross-State by 3,598 and the suggested Sedalia route by 27,147. In assessed valuation, the difference in favor of the Old Trails road over the North Cross-State is $597,792,236. Furthermore, the Old Trails road is more than fifteen miles shorter than either of the other two routes.

In addition to the statement containing the facts and figures regarding the Old Trails road, we have prepared the material for an illustrated booklet giving in full a great deal of other information concerning the highway. This booklet will tell of the schools, colleges and state institutions located along the Old Trails road, and set forth the advantages of the new bridge at Bayville. It will also call attention to the connections of the highway east and west and point out that the road has been the official cross-state highway in the past.

Many other facts will be included in the booklet, which we will publish at the proper time. We have not thought that the Legislature will designate the routes to be improved, our opinion being that the designation of the principal highways will be left to the State Highway Commission. To the commission, all the facts and other information concerning the road will be presented when we deem it advisable. We have no doubt as to the selection of the Old Trails road as the official cross-state highway.

The Commercial Club was mailing maps to the legislators showing the route of the National Old Trails Road across the continent. [“Better Roads Data Goes to Legislators,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, July 19, 1921, page 1]

Theodore Gary, who would become chairman of the new Missouri State Highway Commission, wrote about the General Assembly’s deliberations resulting in the Centennial Road Law on the anniversary of Missouri statehood. The law, he said, “was a last day compromise to end what seemed to be a hopeless deadlock and neither members of the House and Senate who finally voted for it nor the governor who approved it felt that it was satisfactory”:

Nearly all the men who had led the bond campaign were grievously disappointed. Road experts declared it “a miserable mess.” It was freely predicted that it was impossible of execution. This general opinion warrants a brief study of how it was fashioned. There had been no adequate data on which to base the amount of the bonds. The Hawes law had provided for 3500 miles of road and the McCullough-Morgan amendments had provided for 6000 miles built by Federal aid, state aid and local “match money.” Federal aid of over $2,000,000 a year might be reasonably expected for the estimated twelve years of road building. Advocates of the bonds naturally expected a state system. The memory of the cross-state highways designated in the Hadley administration was fresh. The Senate readily passed a bill, of which Senator Ralph, of St. Louis County, was author. It provided continuous, connected hard-surfaced state roads, such as Missouri would doubtless have built first, had its representation in the House reflected the population more and geography less.

The House struck out the entire Ralph bill and substituted one of its own, designating a state road system, dealing with each county separately, in alphabetical order. It was virtually a town to town designation. Each member of the House knew his own county, its towns and roads. He had the advantage of field surveys. Connections with neighboring counties were arranged among neighboring members. Scant consideration was shown the “peacock lanes,” as they dubbed the Senate highways. The House, overwhelmingly rural, talked farm to market roads. Some members did not believe that any roads except dirt roads could be built in Missouri. But for the conditions of Federal aid and the necessity for final concurrence by the Senate, many members would have disposed of the funds in the old fashioned way, by distribution among the counties. The 4000 road overseers would have found a way to spend the money. The metropolitan press and other advocates of “peacock lanes” styled the House members “dirt roaders” or “daubers.”

When the House bill was returned to the Senate, that body in turn struck out everything the House had adopted and put back the Ralph measure.

The resulting conference to reconcile the two bills was so contentious that many legislators thought that the special session would end in failure:

Road friends had come in from all points of the state to help in solving the problem. Largely through the influence of Speaker Sam O’Fallon, of Holt County, the House agreed to certain provisos written by him, under which the State Highway Commission was permitted to designate as higher type than claybound gravel road approximately 1500 miles of the outlined state highway system to connect the principal population centers and one-third of the proceeds of the bond money and an additional $6,000 a mile from the other two-thirds was allotted to the higher type roads.

With that and other provisos, the House and Senate agreed on the bill. It passed the House by a vote of 129 to 2 and the Senate by 28 to 0. [Gary, Theodore, "The Road History of Missouri," Missouri, Mother of the West, Volume 2, The American Historical Society, 1930, pages 614-615; “$60,000,000 Road Measure Passes Missouri Legislature,” Good Roads, August 17, 1921, page 91]

On August 4, 1921, Governor Hyde signed the Centennial Road Law. The law replaced all previous sections of State road laws. Chairman Gary wrote that before this law, Missouri did not have ". . . legal provision, funds and proper directing force for building a state highway system." [Gary, page 597]

As Stephens had predicted, the battle of the cross-State highway would be settled by the new commission.

The Memorial Highway

In April 1921, Judge Lowe announced in Columbia that he had a plan to make the National Old Trails Road in Missouri a memorial to the soldiers, sailors, and marines from the State who had died in the World War. He had written a bill that he would submit for consideration during the special session on road legislation:

An act to authorize the acquiring and holding of lands along and adjacent to public highways for the purpose of beautification and adornment, and as a Memorial to the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines of Missouri in the late World War, by any corporation or association engaged in the promotion and building of a highway or highways across the several states, including the state of Missouri, and particularly from Washington, in the District of Columbia, to Los Angeles, in the state of California, and commonly known as the National Old Trails Road.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Missouri, as follows:

Section 1. Any corporation or association engaged safely in the promotion, marking out or building of a highway or highways between the City of Washington, in the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles, in the State of California, crossing or passing through the several states between such points, including the State of Missouri, is hereby authorized and empowered to receive and accept donations, conveyances and dedications, or purchase, strip or strips of land not exceeding 100 feet on each side of the right of way of such highway as may be in, or pass through, the State of Missouri.

Section 2. Such association or corporation is empowered and authorized to condemn such strips of land not exceeding 100 feet (100 ft.) in width, without expense or cost to the State of Missouri or any county therein; the proceedings for acquiring such strips of land by condemnation shall as nearly as may be the proceedings for acquiring or condemning for rights-of-way for railways, under the laws of the State of Missouri. Provided, that nothing in this Section of this Act shall authorize any condemnation of strips of land in any city, town, or village in this State, nor of any land which is occupied by any public road or the right-of-way of any railway, nor of any land upon which there is any improvement in the nature of a building.

Section 3. Reasonable access over such strip or strips of land to and from the land adjoining such strip or strips of land, shall not be denied or obstructed.

Section 4. Such strip or strips of land shall be held and kept for the purpose of adornment of the highway or highways adjoining them by the planting and cultivation of trees, shrubbery and such other ornamentation as may be determined upon by such association or corporation as a memorial to the soldiers, sailors and marines from Missouri in the great World War.

Section 5. It shall be a misdemeanor for any person to injure damage or destroy any trees, shrubbery or other ornamentation on any such strip of land. [“Bill For Road Memorial is Now Prepared,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, April 1, 1921, page 3]

Judge Lowe prepared a flyer on the proposal displaying the National Old Trails Road in Missouri. The horizontal center contained three panels. The left panel contained a drawing of memorial trees along a roadside. The center panel contained a road map of the State of Missouri with the National Old Trails Road highlighted. The right panel was a copy of the bill.

Below the panels were the words:


As provided for in the Accompanying Act by the State General Assembly. About 250 miles of Highway across the State (exclusive of City and Town Streets). A 60-foot Roadway Flanked by 100-foot strips of Memorial Parkways. [Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Accession Number: M1357]

A revised version of the bill came up for debate in the Missouri House during the special session on July 20,1921, and was defeated, as reported in the news the following day:

An effort to provide for the paving of the Old Trails road between St. Louis and Kansas City as a memorial highway was defeated in the House late yesterday afternoon after a lengthy discussion in which the rural delegates denounced peacock lanes at every opportunity.

The paving of the road was included in the provisions of an amendment to the House road bill offered by Judge J. Allen Prewitt of the First district of Jackson County. A substitute for the amendment providing for five primary roads based on the plan suggested by John Malang, former state highway superintendent, was also defeated.

The amendment offered by Judge Prewitt provided for the designation of the Old Trails road as a memorial to the soldiers, sailors and marines of Missouri who gave their lives in the war with Germany and to the sturdy pioneers who blazed the Old Trails across the state. The amendment specified that the road was to be constructed of material most practical for a permanent hard surface road and that as a part of the construction of the road a monument of Missouri granite was to be erected at each mile post. The contents of the amendment were practically the same as those contained in the bill introduced in the House by Judge Prewitt but killed by the House committee on roads and highways.

Immediately after the amendment was offered by Judge Prewitt, William P. Elmer of Dent County tried to put through the substitute, causing the lengthy discussion of “peacock lanes.” The substitute offered by Elmer provided for five primary roads reaching from St. Louis to Kansas City, from St. Louis to Joplin by way of Springfield, from Hannibal to St. Joseph with connecting spurs to St. Louis and Kansas City, from St. Louis north and south along the eastern edge of the state, and from Kansas City north and south along the western edge. The adoption of the substitute and the approval of the amendment would have left the Old Trails road out of the primary system since the road from St. Louis to Kansas City in the substitute ran by way of Jefferson City and Sedalia.

In support of the amendment, however, Judge, Prewitt made a strong plea. “The Old Trails ought to be hallowed ground,” he said, in reviewing the history of the road across the continent. “The paving of the road,” he continued, “will serve the double purpose of commemorating the memory of those old pioneers as well as the boys who crossed the water.” He then called attention to the colleges and state institutions located on the route saying that ‘it is a burning shame that Columbia, the educational capital of the state, does not have better transportation facilities.”

When questioned regarding the amendment, Judge Prewitt said that he estimated it would cost $9,000,000 to construct the cross-state highway.

Opposing the amendment, Elmer claimed that Prewitt was attempting to take the Old Trails road, “or whatever else they called it,” from the class of all other roads and put it in the so-called primary class. “He seeks to weave around that all the sentiment he can,” Elmer added, and then began his argument for the primary roads included in his substitute for the Prewitt amendment. He pointed out the primary roads had been laid out by the state highway commission and that they connected almost every important town in the state, including St. Louis, Kansas City, St. Joseph, Joplin, Carthage Springfield, Cape Girardeau, Hannibal, Jefferson City, and Sedalia.

Both the amendment and substitute were opposed, Prewitt and Elmer being severely criticized for attempting to designate primary roads. “This tomfoolery ought to stop,” declared William A. Hubbard of Lawrence County, in concluding a short talk against the proposals.

The substitute and the amendment were both voted down by acclamation. [“Old Trails Memorial Is Badly Beaten,” The Columbia Evening Missourian, July 21, 1921, page 2]

Seeking Recognition for the Old Trails Road

The resulting Centennial Road law called for designation of a State road system that the legislation specified by county. The bill called for improvement of a system of approximately 7,700 miles of as described in the legislation. They were to be “properly bound” gravel, but the new State Highway Commission was to “designate the routes and types of the higher type roads of approximately 1500 miles connecting the principal population centers of the state.” In the last minute compromises that made the bill possible, this provision for 1,500 miles of hard-surface highways satisfied the advocates for primary roads and was acceptable to those who favored farm-to-market roads. In addition, the commission was to make changes in the routes as deemed necessary “in the interest of economy and directness of routes, and it is authorized to commence the construction of said higher type roads at such place or places on such routes as it may deem advisable.” The only limitation was “that no changes in designation shall increase the total mileage of the state highway system.”

The August 1921 issue of the Missouri Road Bulletin explained:

Everybody is greatly interested in the new highway law as passed at the special session. The Highway Department has been requested to outline its program under that law. To those who have read the law it is no doubt plain that its interpretation into the actual construction of highways in 114 counties of the state involves much preparation and much thought. The building of such a system of highways of approximately 7,700 mi., can not be planned in a month or in two months. As the program of construction actually develops, new features will occur which may be overlooked at the beginning.

Taken in connection with the extension of the present law, it is evident that the carrying out of its provisions means a great undertaking. The Highway Department faces the new law with full courage, but without, as yet, a complete knowledge of what the new highway commission will desire. The highway engineer has no fears of the future, but his decision and his acts must be passed upon by the new board before they can be effective. For that reason, a road building program under the new law can not be promulgated at this time. [“The New Highway Law of Missouri,” Good Roads, October 19, 1921, pages 191-192]

The law had emerged only after extensive debate, wrangling, and compromise, but as noted in part 3, Judge Lowe said of the law:

The legislature of Missouri, after much ill-natured criticism and abuse, has written into the statutes the finest road law in the United States, bar none. We most sincerely rejoice with this epoch-making legislature on the splendid results of its action.

The important thing for Judge Lowe was to have Missouri’s entire segment of the National Old Trails Road in his home State designated for construction as a higher type road. The National Old Trails Road Association was confident of success, having survived the earlier battle to identify a cross-State highway (see part 1).

On February 21, 1922, the Highway Commission instructed Chief Engineer, Bion Harmon

“B. H.” Piepmeier, who had taken the position after 13 years with the Illinois road agency, and Consulting Engineer Rollen J. Windrow to begin investi­gating possible routes for the 1,500-mile network of higher type roads. They reported their findings on July 11, 1922, noting:

We realize that the most important route as well as the most difficult one to locate satisfactorily to all concerned is the road from St. Louis to Kansas City.

The observation revived the battles that had been fought in 1907 and 1911 over designation of a cross-State highway. After discussing and rejecting the northern and southern routes, Piepmeier and Windrow concluded:

The only economic and practical location of the St. Louis-Kansas City route is therefore the straightest possible location along the center line of population passing thru or near St. Charles, Danville, Fulton, Columbia, Boonville, Sweet Springs to Kansas City with primary connec­tions with Mexico, Jefferson City, Moberly, Sedalia, Marshall, Warrensburg and Higginsville from this designation. A location on this route can be had that will be shorter by more than fifteen miles than any other location that may be secured elsewhere and this route will serve more population than any other road that could be selected.

From St. Louis to Boonville, the recommended route generally followed the National Old Trails Road. However, from Boonville to Kansas City, the recommended route diverted from the trail.

The National Old Trails Road Association had adopted a route through Arrow Rock and Lexington, to the north of the recommended line, for one simple reason: that was the route followed by the historic Santa Fe Trail. Historian Marc Simmons, who has written extensively about the Santa Fe Trail, discussed this northern turn. Arrow Rock had been a Missouri River crossing since a ferry began operating in 1817, and Santa Fe traders had crossed at this site. Before 1821, the Santa Fe Trail from Arrow Rock through Marshall and Lexington to Fort Osage had been called the Osage Trace. The Aull Brothers’ store in Lexington was a leading outfitter for the traders in the 1830s. William Clark had established Fort Osage in 1808. During the early days of the Santa Fe Trail, Fort Osage was the westernmost outpost of the Federal Government. Traders stopped at Fort Osage to make their final purchases before heading into the wilderness. [Simmons, Marc, Following the Santa Fe Trail: A Guide for Modern Travelers, Ancient City Press, 1986, Revised edition, pages 21, 32-45]

Because of the historic significance of the northern branch, the National Old Trails Road in Missouri had included it in the cross-State highway. From a practical standpoint, however, the northern branch was well off the straightest line between the two cities.

In a biographical recollection, Piepmeier’s son, Francis, wrote about the alignment of the cross-State highway under the Centennial Road Act. The Missouri State Highway Commission was planning a concrete highway from St. Louis to Kansas City on the most direct, straightest, and practical alignment. On a Missouri map, Theodore Gary drew one line from the north end of the Missouri River bridge at St. Charles to the north end of the Boonville Bridge. From just south of Boonville, he drew a second line to Kansas City on a line south of Independence. Gary instructed Piepmeier to determine the alignment for the new concrete highway within a mile of the two lines.

Piepmeier and his reconnaissance party drove when they could, and walked when that was the best option to determine if a road could be built on that alignment. In a few places, the topography called for minor variations from Gary’s line. The alignment “skirted the north city limits of Columbia, but missed Fulton by about seven miles,” which greatly displeased the residents of Fulton who were used to being on the main highway – the National Old Trails Road.

Francis Piepmeier wrote:

One of the most difficult alignments on Route 2 was the hill several miles east of Boonville where the highway goes down into the Missouri River bottom. Bion once said that five different alignments were studied. One must remember that funds were limited and excavation in the 1920’s was done with mules and slips . . . . This location was a worry to Bion, there didn’t seem to be a good alignment using the money and earth moving equipment available . . . .

Another difficult topographic problem was near the City of Minneola. Here the route had to go down into a river valley. The original route down the hills departed from the general tangent alignment. [Piepmeier, Francis, “1922 to 1926 – Jefferson City, Misssouri, compiled for a letter, dated August 31, 1992, from Arthur L. Piepmeier to author Arthur Krim]

The Missouri State Highway Commission held a public hearing in Jefferson City on July 25, 26, and 27, 1922, to discuss the engineers’ report. Gary, who was the presiding officer, discussed the meeting in his chapter on roads in a book on the history of Missouri:

This hearing was somewhat like that presided over by Governor [Herbert S.] Hadley in the Capital city eleven years before; there was deeper earnestness, for an official decision, to be carried out by machinery, clothed with legal power and supplied with funds, was to result.

There were 8000 visitors during the hearing, which was held in the Senate chamber of the new capitol. Friends and foes of several recommended routes came as delegations, many accompanied by bands. At one time six different bands played as many different selections in the Senate chamber simultaneously. The commission on seat of permanent government had provided police for the occasion but Chairman Gary, who presided over the hearings, never found occasion to use force . . . .

The delegations had chosen resourceful speakers, familiar with every hill and valley and creek and spring and advantage and disadvantage of competing routes, and skilled in rough and tumble debate. The engineers found it no mean task to defend their recommendations against the assaults of such well-equipped speakers. But the liveliest debates were by the road champions. Lifelong friends were pitted against each other, in some instances. Often there were heated personal controversies over the character of the recommendations. Chairman Gary invariably stopped such controversies by calling for a rereading of the engineers’ report. This was no punishment to newcomers but it was intolerable to those who had sat through the hearing and who knew the report by heart. They sat about the jammed Senate chamber in the torrid weather, fanning themselves with their hats and inwardly groaning at the monotonous reading. It checked the tendency to debate contents of the report. [Gary, page 619]

Judge Lowe presented the argument for the National Old Trails Road. He began:

I shall confine myself to a very brief statement of our position on the road question so far as it concerns the Missouri division of the National Old Trails Road. We shall further limit the discussion, so as to make it as brief as possible, to the discussion of just two questions.

Our first position is that every question involved in the proposition to either modify or change the location or character of the Missouri division of this road has been long since settled. For four long years, beginning during the Administration of Joseph W. Folk and extending on into the Administration of Governor Hadley, this question was agitated as no other road question ever had been in this state.

He summarized the history of the cross-State highway debates in 1907 and 1911. The Central Road had been selected, subject to certain conditions. They included formation of special road districts, the orders of the county courts, and subscription of private funds:

I repeat it took just four years to thresh out and settle this question. Let me call your attention to the fact that the questions thus adjudicated and settled were not only the location of the road, but the reasons for making such location, and those reasons were the very reasons at issue that are now being rediscussed and proposing to be reconsidered. All this was declared as in the nature of a contract between the representatives of the state and the representatives of the Central Route. Can it be possible that Governors Folk and Hadley, the Agriculture Department, the State Engineer and the parties concerned were acting without authority – not knowing what they were trying to do – but trifling with the people?

He quoted a letter dated September 29, 1911, from State Engineer Curtis Hill discussing the decision on the cross-State highway. Hill concluded:

I further suggest that the name of the cross-state highway be “The Missouri Cross-State Highway – Old Trails Road.” Other cross-state highways will in time be built and this name will distinguish it from them. In view of the fact that you have practically selected the old trails gives it a logical significance and a name which will remain with it always. Not only will this have a local significance but a national one since, with the Old Cumberland Turnpike on the east and the Old Santa Fe Trail on the west, the name “Old Trails Road” will soon be applied entirely across the continent. There can and will be nothing else like it across the country, and now that this route across Missouri will be built I recommend that it be officially named “The Missouri Cross-State Highway – Old Trails Road.”

Judge Lowe also quoted a report by Engineer Hill dated August 1, 1912:

Progress has been slow; it requires time, but the Old Trails Road is now made a fixture, and sooner or later will become a great route for cross country travel. It is through a section of the state of varied interest, scenery and topography, the shortest and most direct route between the two large cities and whether in one year, five or ten years time it will eventually be a great highway.

Judge Lowe resumed his presentation:

It is already more than Curtis Hill prophesied it would be.

Permit me to close the discussion of this branch of the question by stating as I did in the beginning, that every question in this discussion at this time was threshed out and passed upon by the [State] Agriculture Department, authorized to make the decision by the Statute.

Next, he reminded the commissioners that on April 17, 1912, Governor Hadley had addressed the first convention of the National Old Trails Road Association and had commented on that recent decision on the cross-State road:

It seems to me I have seen a part of this crowd before. I have seen a part of you early in the morning and late at night. It seems to me that you were looking for the designation of a certain route as the official cross-state highway in Missouri and if my recollection serves me correctly, you got what you were after, and I am disposed to think that you can have the satisfaction, as we can all have the satisfaction, of knowing that in those early morning and late at night activities in which you engaged during the course of the last summer, you were making history; because you were beginning not only the designation, but the construction of a great transcontinental highway, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Judge Lowe asked, “Can it be possible that the accomplishment of so great an enterprise as this by Governor Hadley and those who held up his hands can now be desecrated and destroyed, diverted or materially changed by the existing administration? I don’t believe it.”

He continued:

Immediately following this definite selection and location our people got busy all along the line building the road, carrying bond issue after bond issue, grading and hard surfacing it at various points, including the construction of a bridge at Boonville, aggregating more than a total of $1,706,900, not including Jackson, St. Charles and St. Louis counties.

I pause here to ask what town in the United States (and I speak with a degree of certainty on this subject) with a population of 4,665 could raise, by voluntary subscription, $376,000, and then carry a bond issue of $50,000 on top of that, with which to build the bridge – the balance of the money necessary to build the bridge was raised by voluntary subscriptions in Columbia, Marshall and Lexington.

“Poor Old Missouri,” indeed!

Also comes Howard County with a bridge bond issue of $105,000 for the bridge at Glasgow, and Saline with a bond issue of $300,000 for the same purpose.

So, we have made good! We have kept the faith to the very letter, and at the time the sixty million dollar bond was carried we had already practically financed the entire construction of the road, and but for the sixty millions of bonds thus voted, possibly this road would have been completed by this time; but when that question was submitted, as the plan had originated with our Association as early as the first day of May, 1912, we threw our hats into the ring, went into the fight as earnestly and enthusiastically as we knew how, and aided in securing the great victory. Shall we now be relegated to a second place in the appropriation of that fund, and have a kind of stigma placed upon all the history of the past, and be rebuked by this Commission because of these activities?

(He was referring to the idea he had proposed using the revenue from automobile licensing for road improvements.)

The commity of States also required Missouri to maintain good faith with regard to the cross-State highway in view of the actions of the other States:

On the adoption of the road by this state eleven other states, accepting the action of Missouri as made in good faith and as final, in some instances strained a point to include the Old National Highway in their state systems. Illinois, for instance, where the road does not connect or touch important centers of population as other roads do in that state [because of the shift of the State capital from Vandalia, the western terminus of the Cumberland Road, to Springfield], yet so strong was the patriotic sentiment for the pioneers who handed this National asset down to her people, built this road first, and it stands today as the only completed highway in that State. And Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where it is for the most part a connecting link – these states, after Missouri’s action, felt constrained by reason of patriotism and good fellowship to take part in a National enterprise that Missouri was sponsoring, and they restored in its entirety within their borders the road which had been permitted to fall into decay – a road which Henry Clay declared on the senate floor “superior to the Appian Way.” Similarly on the western end, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado; but here in Missouri, with two of her largest cities at either end, and through which the principal tourist travel of the continent passes – the state which has received the greatest credit for the entire enterprise, is the only state where any purpose has been manifested to discredit it.

The Tourist Bureau of the Kansas City Automobile Club had informed him “that tourist travel passing through that city is greater than through any city in the United States”:

When the man in charge of that bureau was asked what road this traffic came over he promptly answered, “The Old Trails Road, of course.” This traffic has not been coming through St. Louis because, until the road was completed across Illinois, it was diverted at Indianapolis, but from now on it will come straight through.

Judge Lowe summarized the six points in favor of redesignating the entire Missouri route of the National Old Trails Road as Missouri’s cross-State highway:

  1. Valid, official designation and adoption by the State.
  2. Faithful compliance with all the conditions required or imposed upon us.
  3. The acceptance in good faith of Missouri’s sponsorship by the other eleven states, and their accomplishments toward this end far in advance of Missouri.
  4. Securing the greatest traffic through this state of any other road.
  5. Its length, admittedly the shortest line between the two great terminals.
  6. The action of the Agricultural Department was confirmed by the legislature at its last session when it was adopted as part of the State Highway System.

He recalled the last paragraph of Section 29 of the Centennial Road Law designating the State system of road: “Provided further, than no changes in designation shall increase the total mileage of the state highway system,” which limited the primary system to 1,500 miles.

He then came to the second question, namely the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which provided that, “In approving projects to receive Federal aid under the provisions of this Act the Secretary of Agriculture shall give preference to such projects as will expedite the compliance of an adequate and connected system of highways, INTERSTATE IN CHARACTER”:

This Act does not say that this Board, or any Board, shall create “a connected system of highways, Interstate in Character,” but it says that you shall give preference to such projects as will expedite the completion of an adequate and connected system of highways, INTERSTATE IN CHARACTER.

Our position is that the National Old Trails Road fills the exact definition of the roads provided for in the Federal Highway Act. It is not only “interstate in character” but it is National in character as well. It is completed across six states, beginning at the Atlantic and ending at the Mississippi, at St. Louis; very much of it built and under construction between the Mississippi and the Pacific. No action by this Board could make it, or any other road, “Interstate in Character” unless it was already in existence as such, or, unless the Highway Commissions of the adjoining states would unite in agreement with the Highway Commission of Missouri and establish an interstate road, co-operatively.

No other road east of the Mississippi between Illinois and Missouri is either built or proposed by the Illinois Board. No interstate road in Missouri can go east across the state of Illinois unless it comes to St. Louis and claimed the privilege and right of adopting the Old Trails Road from that point. It would seem an ungracious thing to try to bolster up such propositions by relying upon the work already done on this historic highway east of the Mississippi. Why turn down an existing interstate road for one yet to be established? Why permit the cuckoos that never build, to deposit their eggs in another’s nest? Why make this Interstate road an inter-county road – in part, or as a whole?

We say with all the emphasis at our command that an interstate road is a fact, and not a theory.

He quoted BPR Chief MacDonald, who addressed the American Association of State Highways Officials’ (AASHO) annual convention in 1921:

None of us has had or is ever likely to have a more serious responsibility than the one imposed of selecting the Federal Aid system to be composed of the most important highways, articulating not only within the state, but with the systems of the contiguous states. From the conception of highways as a purely local institution, a viewpoint we held for over half a century of our national life, we progressed to an acceptance of their importance to the state. This attitude persisted for another quarter of a century until, through the universal use of the motor vehicle, the transportation crisis of a great war, the repeated threats of extensive railroad tie-ups and the results already secured with Federal Aid, we have in a short period of five years visioned our more important highways extending and interconnecting to form a vast network, serving local, state and national traffic, only limited by the confines of the United States.

This is the conception which has been written into the new law and which, because of the projected effect of that which is done now into the future, lifts the importance of this requirement, that is, the selection of the Federal Aid system, above any other principle or duty therein announced.

Judge Lowe said, “I am admonished not to indulge in sentiment but I venture to say that if comparison is sought with the Appian, or other historic roads, I will ask you to look upon one richer far in historic interest, more replete in scenic grandeur, running through the center of the greatest agricultural and commercial districts in the world, every mile of which preaches the gospel of Christian civilization. This Old National Road carries more traffic over its entire length than any road one-third of its length anywhere in Europe. The famous Appian Via is less than one-eighth the length of this road – and they were three hundred years building it. Let us now, at least, emulate this feature of that great example.

He promised one more word “and I shall have done”:

For long years we have labored, in season and out of season, to further this great project, and all other roads as well. It was a labor of love, and we make no apology for it. No organization ever broke a lance or shivered a spear in a greater commercial or patriotic endeavor. Under most adverse circumstances, and with an insignificant amount of Federal money, we brought this great National project to your door, and now lay it down at your feet. Take it or leave it. If you decide to abandon, change or materially modify any portion of it whatsoever by making it, or any section of it, an inter-county highway, we shall then set us down as one upon whose brow is written disappointment and despair. Do not, I beseech you, undertake to hand it back to us a mangled corpse.

Finally, Judge Lowe closed his speech:

Bear in mind it was Missouri through her great Senator, Thos. H. Benton, in 1824, that the move was made to extend this road beyond the Rockies to end at Santa Fe. It was Missouri through her lamented Borland who introduced a bill, prepared by this association, in 1913, to build this road. It was Missouri through the same representative who offered our bill in the same year to establish and build a great National system of 32,000 miles, reaching every capitol [sic] of every state in the union. It was Missouri again through our Association as early as the 1st day of May, 1912, that first suggested capitalizing the automobile tax for road purposes. It may be possible by the action you take to mar or tarnish this record, but “all the waters of multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red,” cannot blot it out. [“Statement by J. M. Lowe, president of the National Old Trails Road, to the Board of Highway Commissioners of Missouri,” Vertical File, FHWA Research Library]

(The quote is from Shakespeare’s MacBeth, written at a time when “incardine” meant making something pink.)

The Highway Commission adopted the engineers’ report on August 1, 1922, after eliminating enough mileage to stay within the statutory 1,500 miles. Regarding the central road, Gary explained in his chapter of the Missouri history:

This meant direct routes, considerably departing from the routes chosen in Governor Hadley’s administration, and there were many protests from advocates of old trails. No. 2 (later numbered U.S. 40) from Atlantic City to San Francisco, was severely criticized for sentimental reasons, but when sufficient progress had been made to show the kind of highway it would really be – second to none in the world in its layout according to the published opinion of the assistant state highway engineer of Wisconsin, criticism subsided. [Gary, page 619]

In short, Judge Lowe had lost. The National Old Trails Road in Missouri was State Route 2 from St. Louis to the vicinity of Boonville. From there, State Route 2 continued straight west on new alignment. Because the State had adopted a numbering system using even numbers for east-west routes and odd numbers for north-south routes, the number “2” indicated the route was the “first” route. The remainder of the National Old Trails Road in Missouri was split among State Routes 5, 20, 41, and 67. In fact, the Highway Commission would build SR 2 on new alignment to a large extent, bypassing towns along the original route for the first time.

Historian George R. Stewart, in his classic 1953 photo essay book on U.S. 40, commented on the Missouri section of U.S. 40. He was not much impressed by the landscape or the history of the route between St. Louis and Kansas City:

Anyone driving across it will be likely to describe it most easily by the word “pretty.” Its eastern half is a land of rolling hills, forested with oak. Here and there it opens up to display fine pastures for cattle. The alluvial bottoms along the river and the smaller streams are rich cornlands. In the western half, after the road has entered the Osage Plains, the country is flatter, and the cornlands stretch out more widely.

Yet, when all is said, nothing stands out. The ordinary tourist, having made the drive, would probably be hard put to tell anything, except that he had twice crossed the Missouri River.

Historically, also, the road is pleasantly interesting, not outstanding . . . . Across the western half of the state U.S. 40 is a very modern road. Missourians, indeed, claim that the Santa Fe Trail originally started from Boonville, but even if this somewhat doubtful claim is allowed, we cannot assert that the wagons for Santa Fe ever followed the line of U.S. 40 for more than seven or eight miles. After that point west of Boonville the older route swings off circuitously to the north.

The road swinging off circuitously to the north was the National Old Trails Road. Stewart continued to narrate his experience on U.S. 40:

From there on, to Kansas City, the highway runs across open, generally level country, on a direct course. It has many straightaways, one of them twelve miles long. Although these stretches follow the original lines of the land-survey, the highway is not a “section-line road” in the ordinary sense, for there are no right-angled turns and no north-south courses, even for short distances. This section from Boonville to Kansas City best exemplifies what the State Highway Department reports, not without pride: “the majority of Rte. 40 was built on new location in order to make it as near as an air line highway between St. Louis and Kansas City as possible.” [Stewart, George R., U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States of America, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953, page 149]

Judge Lowe looked back on the State’s decision in his 1924 compilation of material related to the National Old Trails Road. After a document-heavy narrative of the cross-State debate that resulted in the selection of the National Old Trails Road, he added:

Note: This is the road the present Highway Board and State Administration has done so much to divert at different points, so as to leave out such important community centers as Fulton, Marshall, Lexington, Independence, Warrensburg; and have tried to take away even the name of the road, although they had adopted two-thirds of its original line and the Legislature had adopted it in its entirety. The changes made added more than 100 miles to the road system, and cost more than $1,000,000. Why? Better not attempt to answer this question.

Of course, one of the excuses for making these changes of location is that they avoid going through populous towns where the people would be subject to much inconvenience on account of the reckless manner of operating automobiles. That this is an untenable position is illustrated by the fact that in the City of Indianapolis, Washington Street, the principal street of the city, is and always has been, the line of the N. O. T. Road. The same thing is true all through Illinois and all the towns such as Terre Haute and Richmond, in Indiana, through Dayton, Springfield and Columbus, in Ohio, and many of the other large towns in that State; through Wheeling W. Va., Washington, Pa., a town of 30,000 population, Cumberland, a town of 60,000, Fredericksburg, etc. It was supposed that roads were to be built where the people live, where transportation is required, both for passenger and freight service. In changing the route in Missouri, between the two largest cities, they establish a brand new line, paralleling closely the N. O. T. Road as established by the State Legislature, across the counties of Callaway and Boone, and again parallels an old established road which is a part of the State System clear across LaFayette, Slaine and a part of Cooper and Jackson, without any reasonable excuse – building a brand new road where the right-of-way had to be obtained through a district where difficult grades occur and along lines where no road ever existed before or is likely ever to exist – and all of which it is repeated, adds to, instead of diminishing the general road mileage of the State System. In Kansas City, the N. O. T. comes to the heart of the business district, while the new line, called No. 2, and “St. Louis-Kansas City” road, stops outside the city limits about fifteen miles away from the business center, and makes no connection with any road leading West or in any other direction.

The same thing has occurred on the Jefferson Highway, a part of the Interstate System, and the Surveyors are now in the field running lines all along the roads in various directions, and resulting in a tremendous additional cost for construction. [“Missouri State Board of Agriculture,” Chapter II, National Old Trails Road: The Great Historic Highway of America, National Old Trails Road Association, March 29, 1924, pages 77-78]

Isothermal Map of the National Old Trails Road

While debate over the inclusion of the National Old Trails Road in State Route 2 was underway, E. W. Stephens of the Missouri National Old Trails Road Association submitted the brochure he had mentioned to the State Highway Commission in support of renewed designation of the road as the cross-State highway. As explained on the cover, the National Old Trails Road across Missouri was:




The National Old Trails Road was shortest:

The route that is the SHORTEST and traverses the section of greatest population and most abundant resources must be the line on which the state can most profitably expend its money and which will be of the greatest service to the people.

Each of the alternatives had their advantages, “but we think it can easily be shown that the Old Trails is superior to any of the other three”:

In the first place it is shorter by many miles than either the Jefferson City or the Northern Route, which means the saving of several hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction and an hour of travel time. It is shorter than the Southern Route and far less hilly and hence more quickly covered, and it runs through a much more populous, fertile and attractive country.

In addition to the Old Trails being the shortest, it is the smoothest route between St. Louis and Kansas City. There are only a few small hills on the entire distance. No other route can be so economically built or operated.

The brochure listed mileage totals taken from the Automobile Blue Book, 1920, “the latest at hand,” for the distance between St. Louis and Kansas City:

It is no doubt possible to take out crooks and bends and make short cuts of all these routes so as to shorten any one or all of them. The Old Trails can thus be shortened. It is claimed that at least one of these routes has been abbreviated since the publication of the Blue Book. But an examination of the map of Missouri, the laying down of a rule measure upon it, or the drawing of a straight line across it, will convince any reasonable person that the most direct and practical route across the State of Missouri, and the one nearest a straight line, with the least number of hills, and through the most populous and resourceful country, is undoubtedly the Old Trails.

The brochure emphasized the businesses, universities, churches, farms, and other valuable properties along the National Old Trails Road. “The commerce of its thriving cities and villages corresponds with its educational advantages”:

Nowhere in the state are there more enterprising towns than Lexington, Marshall, Boonville, Columbia, Fulton, Warrenton, and St. Charles.

The Missouri Old Trails Association acknowledged one problem:

There has hitherto been but one tenable argument against the Old Trails. That has been its lack of a bridge across the Missouri River. That objection is now overcome by the subscription, within a remarkably brief period, of nearly half a million dollars by the citizens of the counties of Boone, Howard, Cooper, Saline, and Lafayette for a highway bridge at Boonville. The contract for this bridge has been let and it will be finished and in operation by the close of this year, 1922, by the terms of the contract. The city of Boonville voted $50,000 for the construction of the Southern approach.

Since the stock to this bridge was subscribed Congress has passed an amendment to the Federal Aid Act declaring bridges to be highways and prohibiting aid to highways charging tolls. To meet this objection, it has been determined to make the bridge free, the details of which movement are familiar to the Highway Commission.

Recently Howard County has voted $100,000 and Saline County $150,000 to erect a bridge across the Missouri River at Glasgow, which city will add thereto $25,000. The citizens of Glasgow have arranged for this amount to be supplemented by Federal aid in amount sufficient to build the bridge which will be free to all passengers. Thus the Old Trails whether it runs by Boonville or Glasgow, or by both, has assurance of a bridge across the Missouri River.

After summarizing the history of the route in Missouri, the brochure covered designation of the cross-State highway after a thorough investigation:

We claim that legally this route thus set apart holds that relation today for neither by legislation nor change of conditions has there been any occurrence to modify action taken at this time. We respectfully submit that to ignore this route at this time would be an act for which there is neither cause or justification.

On the assumption that the State had acted in good faith in 1912, the counties along the line had done so as well, the report stated, noting that “nearly all the counties along the route have since voted bonds for the hard-surfacing of the road within their limits.” Moreover, at the request of the D.A.R., the State legislature appropriated funds “for the placing of granite markers on historical spots along this route.” Since then, “These markers have been since erected and are sources of great historic interest and convenience to tourists and others.”

In conclusion, the main text stated:

So in shorter distance, in higher productiveness, in larger population, in educational development, in economy, because of much of it being already built, and of its logical relation to the country, being a link in a great transcontinental highway, half way finished, of its value as a factor in the development of the road system and the prosperity of the state and last but not least, because it has stood for ten years as the legally authorized and officially dedicated and recognized cross state highway, we respectfully submit that the Old Trails presents arguments for its adoption and construction that are pre-eminent and unanswerable.

The brochure included one additional item. In the back was a map of the National Old Trails Road, shown as a thick black line from New York City to Los Angeles. The map included a dashed, parallel second line. It was the Isothermal line drawn by William Gilpin in his 1860 publication, Mission of the Northern American People, Geographical, Social, and Political. Gilpin had a diverse career (the Wikipedia page describes him as: “US explorer, politician, land speculator, and futurist writer about the American West” who “served as military officer in the United States Army during several wars . . . and was instrumental in the formation of the government of the Oregon Territory. In addition, Abraham Lincoln, shortly after his inauguration, appointed Gilpin to be the first Governor of the Territory of Colorado (March 25, 1861-March 26, 1862).

The Missouri association explained that in “that remarkable book . . . written by that most remarkable man, Governor Gilpin, in 1860 (2d edition, 1873), there is much curious learning and optimistic prophesy concerning what is called “’The West.’” His prophesies of great things were “not the result of whimsical dreaming, nor of an over-heated imagination.” They “were the logical results of profoundest study, and most painstaking investigation.”

One of Gilpin’s ideas was the Isothermal Map of the world, as described in the brochure:

This Isothermal line is along the line of the 40th degree of North latitude, and is the axis of intensity whose annual mean temperature is 52 degrees of Fahrenheit. It belts the globe within the 25th and 55th degrees.

Gilpin had explained that, “It is along the axis of the Isothermal zone of the Northern Hemisphere that the principles of revealed civilization make the circuit of the globe.” He pointed out that along this axis are the great centers of population, including the great cities of China, India, Babylon, Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, Paris, London, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Topeka, Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. According to Gilpin, “The people along this axis are upon the line of intense and intelligent energy, where civilization has its largest field, its highest development, its inspired form”:

Along this line have come from the plateau of Syria, our religion, our sciences, our civilization, our social manners, our arts, our agriculture, our domestic animals, our articles of food and raiment; and here is the eternal fire from which is rekindled the spirit of the unconquerable mind, and freedom’s holy flame.”

The brochure explained:

It will be observed that when we reach the bulwark of the Rockies, the National Old Trails Road swings considerably below this line in order to find an easy pass and a better grade, to Los Angeles, but otherwise, it follows this Isothermal line most closely.

The line closely followed the National Old Trails Road in Missouri, including the circuitous route west of Boonville.

As if that were not enough reason to designate the entire route in Missouri, the narrative on the map included another reason:

Just before this war came upon us, a road convention was held in London for the purpose of promoting a great paved highway around the world along this line. That matter is necessarily postponed, but is fully assured in the future.

Whatever the merit of the Isothermic map, it did not alter the commission’s decision to exclude the western end of the National Old Trails Road in Missouri’s State Route 2. [“Isothermal Map of the National Old Trails Road,” The Old Trails: Missouri’s Official State Highway From St. Louis to Kansas City]