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Highway History

The National Old Trails Road Part 2

See America First in 1915: Section 2 of 3

The Bourne Committee Report

The Joint Committee on Federal Aid in the Construction of Post Roads had been appointed in August 1912, with Senator Jonathan Bourne, Jr., of Oregon as Chairman. The committee issued several reports describing road conditions, administration of road improvements, and funding in the States and other countries. In addition to drawing on information from the U.S. Office of Public Roads (OPR), the committee received testimony on the effect of bad roads on education, quality of rural life, and the migration of young people to cities. Testimony also covered the impact of roads on farm life and how motor vehicles had changed farm transportation.

The committee summarized its conclusions in a report released on January 21, 1915. The committee, with its membership spanning the spectrum of views on Federal involvement in road building, concluded that Federal involvement was desirable, but expressed concern about the possibly that any program would result in a dictatorial Federal bureaucracy. The Federal role would, inevitably, lead to higher standards:

The more direct participation of the National Government . . . should bring the attention of road builders throughout the country to the highest standards of road construction. We believe that this can be accomplished without building up an autocratic bureau vested with dictatorial power to which the road authorities of the United States would be subservient.

The committee was aware of the criticism by opponents of a Federal-aid approach:

To undertake Federal aid to good roads in a small way means a continuation of the policy of patchwork and consequent waste of funds, with slight permanent results to show for the expenditure. The adoption of such a policy would also within a very few years subject Congress to the criticism of having established what is commonly called a "pork barrel," from which the several States would receive annually a small contribution of funds distributed over a large mileage of roads and without producing the high class of public roads which are so much needed and desired.

While wanting to avoid legislation of a "pork-barrel" character, the committee did not want to give too much power to Federal officials:

That Congress should avoid criticism of the character above mentioned is no more important than that it should make careful provision for such administration of the Federal highway participation as will protect the several States in their right to control their local highway affairs and guard against dictatorship from a Federal bureau in Washington.

Thus, the members rejected centralization of control over the road program in Washington, as advocated by Judge Lowe, the National Highways Association, and others during their testimony before the committee. "The bestowal of such power upon a Federal bureau would make the head of the bureau the practical dictator of road matters throughout the United States." To avoid this prospect, the committee recommended that if a Federal Highway Commission were established, it should consist entirely of Members of Congress who, as representatives of the people, would avoid "arbitrary rulings."

Although the report strongly endorsed the need for a Federal-aid program, the committee was unable to agree on how the program should operate-other than that it should not result in a pork-barrel program or Federal domination. Representative William P. Borland of Missouri, who was not on the committee, explained the contrast in a letter to the Lincoln Highway Association:

The question is whether federal aid shall be used as a means to secure a better system of roads; or shall the federal money be frittered away in small payments scattered into every congressional district and every road district of the United States. The people are in favor of the former and the politicians of the latter plan. The latter plan is known as the pork barrel plan of federal appropriation, by which everybody gets something and nobody gets anything worth having.

The Third Session of the 63rd Congress, which had begun December 7, 1914, adjourned on March 3, 1915, without completing action on a Federal road bill and without resolving the long-running debate between advocates of Federal-aid and advocates of national roads. Resolution of the debate would be delayed at least until the first session of the 64th Congress, which would not begin until December 6, 1915.

Good Roads Work on the National Old Trails Road in the Southwest

On March 1, 1915, Judge Lowe wrote to Jesse Taylor, editor-in-chief of Better Roads and Streets. The letter reported that the States and counties had spent $2,134,447.17 for construction, repair, and maintenance of the National Old Trials Road from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles in 1914. He reported that in 1915, a total of $2,021,470.67 was to be expended on the road. "The people," Judge Lowe said, "are spending more money on it than any other road in the world."

Taylor reprinted the brief letter in the March 1915 issue along with an article by O. K. Parker on "Good Road Work along the Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Needles Branch of the National Old Trails." Parker began:

If those who motored over the Grand Canyon route two years ago-yes, even one year ago-could go over the same road to-day, they would hardly believe they were journeying through the same land. They would recognize the topography, to be sure, but they would never know the road. As a matter of fact, the route they would travel now, hardly touches the old, rambling road except in a few localities, so radical has been the change.

To illustrate the changes, Parker cited New Mexico, where motorists who had traveled the National Old Trails Road would be interested to know that:

[South] of Albuquerque the present-day transcontinental motorists does not have to go to Carthage and then across the Rio Grande on the combination railway and wagon bridge to San Antonio and then double back north to Socorro, a total distance of 118 miles. Nor does he have to fight that dreaded ten miles of sand just out of Albuquerque, where so many of those who were westward bound two years ago, had to get the assistance of teams [of horses or mules] to pull them through.

Instead, motorists could use a "firm, well-graded and direct road" from Albuquerque to Socorro, cross the Rio Grande 20 miles north of the old bridge,and save nearly 40 miles.

The "steep and rough road over the mountains" between Socorro and Magdalena, had been replaced with a route up the blue Canyon. The new route, which the State had built with convict labor, could be traveled "at any desired speed with-out the thought of shifting a gear." The road to Springerville, Arizona, had been "straightened and improved" to eliminate "hundreds of unnecessary kinks." When kinks did occur, the improvements "throw the road up on firm ground and away from the danger of washouts." Parker added that although the Continental Divide was 52 miles west of Magdalena, the area rarely had "sufficient snow to materially interfere with transcontinental motoring." He explained:

That is, by the way, one of the decided advantages of the National Old Trails Route as an all-the-year-round road to the Pacific Coast, using the Socorro-Springerville-St. Johns detour as a branch of the Old Trails at present until the Albuquerque-Gallup main line is put in as good shape, and which by this time next year will probably be done.

The 65 miles from north of Springerville to holbrook, was the longest stretch of road west of Albuquerque that had not been "decidedly improved throughout its entire length." Even so, except in heavy rain,the road was "in such fair condition that an average of twenty miles an hour can easily be made." West of Holbrook, the State had built a new road to Flagstaff. Parker explained that the old road had been north of the railroad tracks; the new route south of the tracks shortened the distance by 20 miles. The road had just been completed, he said, and he had been among the first to travel it, so "I can speak from personal knowledge."

Parker also noted construction on segments west of Williams:

As an example,from Williams to Ashfork the road has been entirely reconstructed for twenty-three miles and is now a graded and gravel led gravellings pike as fine as one wants to drive over. From Ashfork to Seligman,another twenty-three miles, an entirely new road has been built, and though that stretch is not gravelled as yet, it is a twenty-mile [an hour] road right now.

The next thirty miles west of Seligman, through Yavapai County, has notate improved, except in the way of removing boulders from the road that might menace a low-clearance car. . . .

Mojave County, Arizona, the next one to the west, has. . .voted$100,000 in bonds for the reconstruction of the National Old Trails Road across their county . . . . There the motorist will find a sixty-mile-an-hour boulevard if he wants to travel that fast . . . .

Parker, like Westgard, was impressed by the new road from Needles to Barstow. He said the new road, "does not touch the old one except where it occasionally happens to cross it," adding:

I well remember driving over the old road in October, 1912, from Barstow to Needles, California, and it took me four days of constant struggle, fighting every mile of the way through deep sands, alkali marshes, and talus slopes where the cross washes cut the road into thousands of transverse ditches. I made the same drive last month over the new road, 164 miles, in perfect comfort, taking it easy and without shifting gears once, in eight hours.

Parker felt safe in recommending the route--with the Socorro and Springerville detour--for the "many thousands" of motorists planning to travel to the expositions in San Diego and San Francisco. He added that because of the Harvey House hotels every 100 miles or so all the way west of Kansas City, "every night the motorist can be assured of better accommodations than can be had on any other route across America."

National Highway Transcontinental Tour

In April 1915, the National Highways Association announced that it planned to sponsor a transcontinental tour to the California expositions under the direction of A. L. Westgard. The goal was to "demonstrate in a striking and interesting way the improvement which the last few years has brought about in American highways and American motor cars." Westgard proposed to guide seven passenger cars along the National Old Trails Road to the Panama-California Exposition and the Panama-Pacific Expositions. He planned to return via the Lincoln Highway.

An article about the plan in The Automobile Journal (April 25, 1915) said of the National Highways Association that there was "no more important organization engaged in propaganda for good roads in America." It added:

To a large extent the impressive demonstration of the improvement in American roads which the tour will constitute, will be also a demonstration of the success attained by the National Highways Association and its allied organizations in the work for which they were organized.

The California expositions were an opportunity for good roads advocates:

This is an exceptionally opportune time for a transcontinental tour on a grand scale. It will give the participants an opportunity to see the two great expositions under way on the Pacific coast and will aid materially in the "See America" movement which is very active just now and with which every good roads worker is in sympathy.

The tour would begin at National Highways Association headquarters at 18 Old Slip in New York City on June 15 at 12:30 pm., and reach Philadelphia later that day. Motorists were to arrive in San Diego on July 16, with 2 days scheduled for attending the Panama-California Exposition. The cars would then drive to Los Angeles on July 18 and reach San Francisco for the Panama-Pacific Exposition on July 22.

Notices advertising the tour stated that, "Only new,six-cylinder,seven passenger cars will be used, and as only four passengers will be taken in each car the capacity of the trip is necessarily limited." Only "especially efficient and careful drivers," each experienced in cross-country touring, would be used. Hotel accommodations had been arranged by Thomas Cook and Company, one of the country's best known travel agencies, thus eliminating the hardships facing motorists "even as late as five years ago," according to the Journal. The tour cost $780 per passenger. Hot meals were not included in the fee. Since the tour was not limited to members of the National Highways Association, the Journal added:

Everyone who goes on the trip will be made a member of the National Highways Association and will be supplied with a badge of the organization and copies of articles published by it. It is hoped in this way to add many recruits to the association who will thereafter actively support its work everywhere.

Each passenger was limited to one suit case; trunks, if desired, could be shipped by railroad. Tour planners suggested that participants consider what to wear and bring on the trip:

Khaki or other thin and loose fitting material for suits and light shoes with canvas leggins are suggested for clothing. Shirts should be loose flannel or linen, with attached collars for the men,and dark shirt waists should be worn by the ladies.

A linen duster is advised as an aid to comfort, thin gauntlets, caps with large visors for the men and veils with the ladies' hats. Amber glasses, not too dark, are advised to protect the eyes from the glare of the high lights in the southwest. A jar of cold cream and a good hair cleanser is desirable in the equipment for both sexes. Other items are thermos bottles, thin, waterproof, lightweight overcoats and a camera.

A notice in the June 1915 issue ofSouthern Good Roads explained that:

The daily exercise and fresh air of such a trip puts new life into the jaded, creates new enthusiasm for this great country of ours which they are seeing, makes patriots of the coldest blooded. Best of all you travel only while you are awake so that you see it all [in contrast to a train trip].

Charles Henry Davis, President of the National Highways Association, issued a statement regarding the trip. After a paragraph explaining the value of national highways everywhere, Davis said:

"See America" is almost a duty of all patriotic citizens. At least, see all one can is a duty. The motor car offers the most exhilarating, the most interesting, the most enjoyable, the most instructive means of "seeing." Having thus covered over 250,000 miles, I speak from experience.

To give an opportunity of seeing a goodly part of America, the National Highways Association, the National Old Trails Road Association, and the Automobile Club of Southern California, and the Lincoln Highway Association have indorsed a proposed trip over the National Old Trails road to the Pacific coast, returning via the Lincoln highway . . . . This route will give the tourist the best road conditions and hotel accommodations. An infinite variety of scenic and historic attractions will abound from start to finish. And not the least, the cause of good roads everywhere will be advanced by the participants, as well as their "Seeing America."

The Lincoln Highway Association also arranged a tour to the Panama-Pacific Exposition. The primary purpose was to make a motion picture of the road as part of the association's campaign to keep the public interested in the highway. The tour began in New York on May 15, 1915, and reached San Francisco at the end of August. According to the association's official history:

Everywhere elaborate preparations were made to show each city at its best . . . . Automobile parades, scenes of road improvement, dedications of bridges and of newly constructed sections of highway, processions of school-children, every sort of function, celebration and activity connected and unconnected with highway building was arranged for them to photograph.

The association, in fact, had to ask communities to replace the fire and police displays with "scenes having a real interest, scenes tending to make it safe, easy, and pleasant to come your way and call on you."

Between cities, the party busied itself taking photographs of scenery, historic sites, road construction, maintenance, improvement, and anything else tending to interest the traveler and stimulate touring.

When the touring automobiles reached San Francisco, they were placed on display between the Transportation Palace and the Palace of Manufacturers. After the exposition, the Lincoln Highway Association used the film in an eastbound publicity tour of one-night stands. "It met with high enthusiasm everywhere," according to the official history. [The Lincoln Highway: The Story of a Crusade That Made Transportation History, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1935, p. 122-124]

Tribute to Judge Lowe

On April 1, 1915, the Kansas City Star published a tribute to Judge Lowe:

There is a citizen of Kansas City who has retired from the active practice of his profession, but who still feels the obligation of public service. He might have devoted himself to travel, or to finding enjoyment in various ways, without assuming any responsibilities. He could readily have made the excuse that he had done his share while he was younger and that he had earned the right to recreation.

But he chose instead to give himself to the cause of good roads. There was no possible personal advantage for him to gain. He was not a candidate for any office. He was not personally interested. But he saw the opportunity to do something that needed to be done and he accepted the responsibility.

He studied the subject of good roads and became one of the authorities on their history and construction. He attended good roads conventions. He became the moving spirit of the organization to promote the building of trans-continental highways. He gave effective support to every well-directed governmental effort in road building, and just as effective opposition to every wrong measure. He was one of the most effective opponents, for instance, of the Shackleford "pork barrel" road bill in Congress.

In the midst of these activities which made him president of the National Old Trails Road Association, he found time to support every municipal movement for better government and for city building. Party allegiance never kept him from co-operating with any group of citizens that was working for the public good.

This high regard for the obligations of citizenship has made Judge J. M. Lowe one of the most useful, influential, and honored men of Kansas City. His life is an inspiration to young men, and an example to men of the older generations who are under a heavier obligation to society than they often realize and who ought to give to some form of public service the benefit of the experience and resources which they have accumulated through the opportunities offered them by American life.

Continental Congress of the D.A.R.

On April 19, 1915, Elizabeth Butler Gentry, National Chairman of the National Old Trails Road Committee of the D.A.R., presented a report on the committee's activities to the 24th Annual D.A.R. Congress. She began enthusiastically:

Excelsior is the triumphant cry of the National Old Trails Road Committee for 1915; our road is open across the Continent; our dream has come and our vision has crystallized into a fact!

In our little brochure of 1911 we set our goal for an open road to San Francisco by 1915, and suggested a D.A.R. motor pilgrimage to the San Francisco Exposition.

Today the road is not only open, it is sign posted almost the entire distance from Washington to San Francisco; a motorist can start at New York and with safe and comfortable travel, stopping each night in a hotel recommended by Thos. Cook & Son, reach San Francisco in five weeks. West of Kansas City many of the famous Harvey Hotels may be reached for the night stops.

Miss Gentry explained that the committee's slogan was "See America First, because textbooks taught, but to inculcate the love of our country, "send children down the open road." She quoted her testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture in April 1912:

A scenic and historic highway across our country will advertise America to foreigners. Instead of the annual egress of Americans to Europe, we may look for a speedy influx of Europeans to see the wonders of the New World-possible if this project be carried out.

With a war underway in Europe, few European tourists were able to visit America and, more important, "the American people are this year forced to seek new pastures." She was confident that "the wanderlust of American tourists may be quenched at home."

Miss Gentry summarized the history of the committee, which continued to advocate not only the designated National Old Trails Road but the California and Oregon Trails that had been part of the original vision. She emphasized the "mutuality of purpose and work" between the Committee and the National Old Trails Road Association. She recalled her comments after being elected Honorary Vice-President of the Association at the May 1913 convention in Kansas City:

I wish to thank you, Mr. President, and your organization in behalf of the D.A.R. . . . We have recognized you as the "better half" in a very happy partnership for a mutual and patriotic purpose. We have looked to you as the head of the house, and have enjoyed seeing you crystallize our ideas into facts.

This road work is a new departure for the D.A.R., but I maintain that making history is as important as preserving history; that to be a factor in the building of a national highway is the noblest effort we may ever put forth; for the highway that we advocate will not only preserve history and conserve national ideals, but it will add to the sum total of human welfare.

She emphasized, however, the primacy of the Committee's work:

While our Committee gave the first organized impetus to this plan of a pioneer highway across the continent and issued the first map, named the road, originated the road sign and painted it on the telephone poles, and introduced a bill in Congress calling upon the Government to build the road, we gratefully acknowledge the impetus and the far--reaching power given to this movement by the National Old Trails Road Association, which states in its by-laws that it is organized to" assist the D.A.R.in carrying forward their plan."

This cooperation, this translating of a vision into a fact, this following of a gleam together, by men and women who live along the road, has crystallized a neighborliness of feeling and an [sic] unity of thought which has served a better national purpose, perhaps, than the mere building of any physical road.

Referring to the original map showing the committee's historic trail, she added that the trail west of Flagstaff had been changed to conform with the National Old Trail Road Association's decision in 1913 to route the trail over the Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Needles route. This route and the original route through Phoenix to San Diego were shown on the current map as dotted lines "pending further investigation, and road improvements now in progress." She added that the Oregon Trail branch "had not had the concentrated effort of our members."

Miss Gentry described one of the joint promotional activities of the Committee and the Association:

Motion pictures of the road were taken by direction of the National Old Trails Road Association. Many of our members posed in these pictures at historical places near their homes. These pictures were later shown in cities along the route in an effort to raise funds for the Association.

She cautioned that, "Should we again pose for motion pictures, we will reserve the use of them for the benefit of our own Committee."

She reported on several other matters, including the road bill, H.R. 17919, introduced by Representative Borland in 1912. It had, she acknowledged, failed of passage. Because she expected the Congressman to reintroduce the bill "if conditions are favorable," she encouraged each member of the D.A.R. to "do all in her power to secure influence for the bill, after it is introduced." Although the bill might not pass, "interest may be aroused in the project by discussion of it."

Miss Gentry also discussed road signs. She endorsed the Kansas law for registering the name, emblem, colors, and routes of the named trails through the State. In this way, the State prohibited other trail associations from "using the same insignia or color combination" as one of the registered routes; the State law would paint out the markers or destroy the signs of other associations that may use the same roadway. Miss Gentry added that the Committee was seeking a copyright for its road sign and pennant to protect them from road boosters who would "borrow" the name and colors and carry them down by-roads in order to divert travel to inferior towns."

The Committee had carried on its work for less than $500 a year, so Miss Gentry suggested that not less than that amount be budgeted for the coming year. "For efficiency, the regular services of a stenographer, at least twice a week, are a necessity. The rent or purchase of a typewriter should be provided for." She thanked the members of the Committee, but added:

I would also recommend that only such members be appointed on the respective State Committees as have a natural aptitude for this work, and whose efficiency will be an aid to the Chairman.

Miss Gentry's report concluded with brief reports by each State Chairman.

The Maryland State Chairman, Mrs. William H. Talbott, reported that most of the route in Maryland "is already macadamized, and this season's work will complete all but a few short stretches of it." The chapter was focused on signing, having asked the telephone companies for permission to place signs on poles along the road. The chapter also had focused on placing markers along Braddock Road from Georgetown in the District of Columbia to Rockville, "the first link in the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway." British General Edward Braddock, a young aide named George Washington, and their troops had followed this route into an unsuccessful fight, one that cost Braddock his life, near the future site of Pittsburgh during the French and Indian War in 1755.

Mrs. Edwin C. Horn, the Pennsylvania Chairman, reported that:

Pennsylvania had 81.8 miles of the National Road within its borders, all but 30 ½ miles of which are improved, and the remainder will be completed or rendered passable by the close of 1915.

The most important work of the past year had been completion of the toll-free Monongahela River bridge at Brownsville, completed at a cost of $250,000 and dedicated on October 8, 1914. "This bridge," Mrs. Horn said, "fills a long felt want, it having been necessary to descend a very steep and rather dangerous bank in order to ferry across the river." The State highway department had placed signs along the route, but the D.A.R. was seeking permission to place its signs on the telegraph and telephone poles over the entire distance.

In Ohio, Mrs. John T. Mack noted that the route across the State was identical with the National Road. "Many of the old stone bridges, built by the Government, and the old stone mile posts are today serving the traveling public as well as they did when Henry Clay rode down the old pike." The county chairmen had prepared a history of the road, county-by-county, and sent it to Miss. Gentry, who had arranged for a series of illustrated lectures on the National Old Trails Road. The chapter had also worked, through the State's congressional delegation, to secure passage of H.R. 17919.

Indiana's chapter, according to Mrs. Caleb S. Denny, had focused on signing the nearly 200 miles of the National Old Trails Road, in some cases doing the work on their own:

That part of it which the Chairman assisted in painting attracted no little attention, and comment by the farmers and travelers who happened to pass as the work progressed. All those to whom opportunity permitted us to explain the purpose of the marking gave their most hearty approval.

The Indiana Good Roads Association accompanied the chapter during some of this work to advocate for the marking of the National Road and to work up support for good roads. ("Miss Emily Goldthwaite agitated.") Work had gone well in the cities, but Mrs. Denny was particularly proud of the work in the country, where farmers "walked miles through the dust and the extreme heat" to attend good roads meetings. "These farmer women have since had more to think about," Mrs. Denny said, adding that "we have distributed a little sunshine, and in return we have received a most ample reward." The result was that most of the marking was done, and would soon be completed.

Mrs. L. H. Bissell, the Illinois State Chairman, provided a two-sentence summary of the work in that State:

We are making a strenuous endeavor to carry out the plans of the Committee. We will soon pull Illinois out of the mud, which keeps Indiana and Missouri from being closer neighbors.

The focus in Missouri had been on the marking of the State's 200-mile stretch of the National Old Trails Road. Mrs. John S. Kochtitzky reported that signs along the route across Missouri are "being repainted for the trans-continental motor travel to the San Francisco Exposition." Arrangements had been made to repaint the signs on the trolley and telephone poles in the Kansas City area. She added:

Our members report that the road has been dragged, culverts widened, fences, houses, and farm buildings painted, flowers planted, and vistas cut through the trees, dangerous crossings have been marked, sharp curves eliminated, historical places marked, camping grounds established, and everything made ready for the tourist travel to California this summer.

The Kansas chapter, under Miss Clara Francis, had worked during the year to procure an appropriation from the State Legislature "for the marking of the Oregon Trail through our State, thus filling in the last link in our historic highways." Although the Daughters had been "earnest and indefatigable" in their lobbying, the bill had not passed. Nevertheless, they had obtained several stencils for the road-sign and would soon begin repainting the telephone poles across the 500-mile stretch of the road in Kansas.

Colorado's chapters were "small and far apart," but Mrs. John A. Ewing stated that they had done much to mark the historic Rainbow Route (La Junta to Grand Junction and on to the Utah State line) and the Santa Fe Trail on the National Old Trails Road. The Santa Fe Trail "has been marked for sixty-five miles with red, white and blue bands," she said, adding that she expected the chapter to complete the work by adding the insignia during the spring.

Miss Gentry's report did not include information from the State Chapter in New Mexico, but Arizona's Mrs. George W. Vickers was planning to put a bronze tablet on a granite or tufa rock on the National Old Trails Road in Flagstaff in honor of the Pioneer Women of Arizona. It would be placed "at the point where the new motor road to the canon [Grand Canyon] leaves the old road." The plan was to dedicate the tablet when the National Old Trails Road Association held its annual convention at the Grand Canyon in July 1915.

Mrs. E. S. C. Forbes of South Pasadena, California, summarized road conditions in the State:

Beginning at the Needles and extending to Barstow, a distance of 164 miles, a new road has been constructed of malapai gravel mixed and bound with clay with the result that there is a firm, durable road to that point. From Barstow to Cajon Pass the road has not been greatly improved, but the Pass is in excellent condition, as is the balance of the Old Trails Road clear into Los Angeles.

The signing work of the Automobile Club of Southern California was just getting underway at the time of Mrs. Forbes' report. She had, however, another important activity to report:

I have also to report that I have prepared a large wall map of the National Old Trails Road for display in the D.A.R. rest room in the San Francisco Exposition grounds. We believe that this map will be of general interest and will assist the traveler in identifying the different routes. I have prepared also a large album of beautiful photos of scenes along El Camino Real and the National Trail Road through California to exhibit in the D.A.R. room at the San Francisco Exposition.

In response to the addresses to the D.A.R.'s California chapters, Mrs. Forbes had found "great interest and enthusiasm" about the National Old Trails Road.

Fourth of July Celebration

As Mrs. Vickers had noted in her Arizona report, the National Old Trails Road Association had announced plans to hold its annual convention at Grand Canyon on July 15. However, Judge Lowe issued an Official Call for an earlier event. His call summarized the history of the National Road, noting that President Thomas Jefferson had said the purpose of the road was "to cement the States and thus preserve the Union." Judge Lowe continued:

Whereas . . . For full forty years this policy was adhered to, and Congress, in turning the road back to some of the States through which it ran, expressly retained the right to resume control and management whenever it saw fit; and it did more perhaps, than any other one thing to permanently establish and preserve the Union; and

Whereas, the people have now highly resolved to rebuild and rededicate the Old National Road to the end that the original purpose of its conception may be preserved and fulfilled.

Now, therefore, we call upon the people of every county through which the National Old Trails Road extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to hold a National Old Trails Memorial Fourth of July Celebration in 1915, and thus ratify the establishment and preservation of the American Union, to which patriotic purpose the Old Road contributed so materially. As a part of such Memorial Celebration we respectfully request that all schools and colleges, civic, commercial, and patriotic organizations of every character shall unite and make this the grandest and most enthusiastic Red Letter Day in the Nation's history.

See America First

The May 1915 issue of Travel contained an article by Charles Henry Davis, President of the National Highways Association, on "The National Old Trails Road." After summarizing the historic links along the road and the pioneers who traveled them, Davis turned to his favorite subject with a reference to 19th century statesman John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), who had served as a Congressman, Secretary of War, Vice President, United States Senator, and Secretary of State. As a Congressman, he had unsuccessfully advocated what was known as the "American System" of protective tariffs, internal transportation improvements, and a national bank. Davis said:

A century in our national life has slipped away since these hardy pioneers first conceived of a trans-continental highway; a conception "to bind the States together in a common brotherhood, and thus perpetuate and preserve the Union." Had Calhoun's prophetic words been heeded, and in the full knowledge thereof had we, as a nation, built roads, might not the great struggle between North and South been avoided? There are some who believe a perpetuation of this indifference to the building of national roads may result in another such attempt at separation, but with a far different alignment . . . . May our beloved land be grid ironed by National Highways, among them the National Old Trails Road, in time to prevent a recurrence of such scenes of strife!

Now, Davis said, more than 100 years after the birth of that first National Highway, and many years in which the Federal Government "has been idle in that regard," people were demanding construction of National Highways across "the length and breadth of these United States of America." He referred to the social, moral, commercial, industrial, material, educational, and personal benefits that would result from construction of National Highways, as illustrated by the good roads found in Europe.

Of the seven modes of intercommunication-water, roads, postal, railroad, telegraph, telephone and wireless-only one, roads, is free to all the people of the earth. Roads are the most universally used and are therefore the most beneficial to the greatest number of people.

As if realizing he had strayed from his subject, Davis continued, "But to go back more specifically to the National Old Trails Road":

During 1915 our people will, more than ever before, determine upon seeing America. This, because of our two expositions at San Diego and San Francisco coming during the height of the European struggle. See America First? Yes, most decidedly yes. But what part of America shall do the seeing-the East or the West, the North or the South. The East proposes to see the West! And this is as it should be, for "See America First" usually is intended to mean go West instead of to Europe.

He did not object to the reverse, in view of the many attractions in the East. In fact, he encouraged the East to "copy Europe and get busy for the business the West is more than ready to give us." Easterners should make the westerners "feel at home and that they were wanted." After all, he said, "They do all this for us. So does Europe. Why do we not reciprocate?"

The National Old Trails Road Association, the Lincoln Highway Association, and other named trail associations had adopted "See America First" as a slogan in the promotion of auto travel. However, the phrase dated to an earlier period, as documented by Marguerite Sands Shaffer in her 1994 Ph.D thesis for Harvard University, See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1905-1930. (Also see Shaffer's See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1880-1940, Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001.)

Shaffer explained that the phrase had been coined in 1905 by Fisher Harris, General Manager and Secretary of the Salt Lake City Commercial Club. Harris, a native of Fauquier County, Virginia, began moving west seeking work during the economic downturn of the early 1880's. Working in railroad construction, he gradually moved further west as commercial development followed the railroads to Salt Lake City, where he became manager of a new luxury hotel, the Knutsford. As a hotel man with an interest in tourism, he joined the Salt Lake City Commercial Club in 1902, working "not only to bring business to Salt Lake, but to make the people of Salt Lake and Utah proud of their city and state." Shaffer described his activities:

Through his speeches, through his attendance at meetings, through his participation in social gatherings, and through his work at the Commercial Club, Harris, like other boosters, tried to unite the business community and civic leaders in celebration of Salt Lake and Utah for the sake of commercial progress. In this context, Harris concocted the See America First idea, which came to embody his notion of the ideal America.

In promoting his idea, he wanted to go beyond even his home State and personal interest; he wanted, as Shaffer quoted him, to begin "boosting the country on a big business basis."

Shaffer summarized the initial promotional efforts by Harris and the Commercial Club, initiated in early October 1905 in the form of a circular letter addressed to organizations and newspapers:

Press releases distributed by the club described the plan as a method of advertising "the beauties and resources of the Western states through a campaign of education extending over a period of five or six years." They argued that many of the western railroads had already laid the foundations for this type of promotional work by advertising the scenery along their routes and amenities of final destination points. The popularity of the Southern Pacific's Sunset magazine presented a perfect example of the benefits that this kind of publicity could produce. Harris and his fellows at the Commercial Club wanted to unite all of these divergent interests. They wanted the western roads to boost the West as a region, not simply one particular location or sight. They wanted chambers of commerce, commercial clubs and tourist organizations to work together, to combine their interests and pool their resources. They argued that through these efforts the West could present itself as a unified region, and attract the attention of the East.

Even Harris was surprised by the response, which Shaffer called "phenomenal." Letters and editorials from around the country endorsed the idea:

Newspapers across the country from New York to California ran editorials promoting the idea of advertising the West and keeping American tourists at home. The deluge of responses surprised Harris and the men at the Salt Lake Commercial Club; they began to work on giving shape to this cooperative boosting idea.

A motto for the initiative emerged by the end of October: "See Europe If You Will, But See America First." This motto "captured the imaginations of businessmen and boosters throughout the West." Shortened to "See America First," the slogan soon became, in Shaffer's view, "much more than the desire to encourage tourism in the West; it became an expression of national identity."

The Salt Lake City Commercial Club's second circular letter, dated October 24, 1905, displayed a See America First logo and detailed the promotional plan:

The letter explained that during the 1904-1905 tourist season, United States citizens had spent $150,000,000 on foreign travel; that being at best a conservative estimate. In response, the circular noted, "this club has undertaken the work of awakening interest in this subject among business men of the western part of the United States and the Republic of Mexico."

On January 25-27, 1906, 125 delegates met in Salt Lake City to develop a formal See America First plan. The delegates, described as "western businessmen, boosters, railroad men and politicians," adopted a plan to promote a "propaganda of patriotism" by establishing a permanent committee that would be at the heart of a new organization, the See America First League. The delegates pledged to raise $50,000 in 6 months to finance the propaganda and to hold public gatherings to present the campaign to a wider audience.

Harris, appointed Executive Secretary of the new League, embarked on a 6-week promotional tour around the country, including a speech at the Gridiron Club in Washington. He also met with President Theodore Roosevelt, who pronounced himself heartily in favor of the work. However, another economic downturn hurt the fund raising and promotional thrust of the initiative.

Shaffer states:

Although the See America First slogan did capture the imaginations of a few railroad companies and tourist organizations between 1905 and 1910, the See America First League failed to become an established publicity organization for the west. A unified See America First movement never emerged.

Further, its originator, Fisher Harris, died on November 7, 1909, at the age of 44. Shaffer explained:

As an obituary explained, Harris died of "laryngitis complicated with tuberculosis of the throat" apparently contracted while boosting for the cause of See America First and Salt Lake City. "It was while touring America in the interest of the plan [to promote See America First] that his voice failed him at Denver . . . He returned to Salt Lake and the tragic years that followed are well known to Salt Lakers." From 1908 to 1909, during the years of his sickness, Harris had tried to promote the See America First League through the pages of The Western Monthly. After his death the League and his cause were all but forgotten. The Western Monthly dropped the See America First slogan from their byline and returned to their earlier mission as an urban and regional boosting magazine shortly after Harris' death. The historical record of the See America First League does not extend beyond the 1906 conference and The Western Monthly magazine. It appears that lack of financial support combined with the loss of Fisher Harris doomed the League to failure.

Shaffer added that despite the death of Fisher Harris and the demise of the League, "the See America First slogan was caught up by the nascent tourist industry and the traveling public." Harris, the League, and the boosters at the Salt Lake Commercial Club "would be forgotten," she said, but See America First "would continue to be used to evoke the ideal of united nation."

Initially, the railroads pursued the concept. The Great Northern Railway adopted the slogan, and, in 1912, considered securing a copyright on the phrase so it would primarily signify tourism to Glacier National Park on the Great Northern Railway; under copyright law, the company found, it could use the slogan, but could not secure its exclusive use. As a result, the company's extensive promotional use of the slogan transformed it into a "generic tourist slogan," according to Shaffer.

(Shaffer dismissed the claim in 1912 by Charles Lummis, the writer and ardent Southwest booster, to have originated the phrase "See America First" 20 years earlier in his book Some Strange Corners of our Country. "Although Lummis did encourage Americans to see the Southwest, the fact of the matter is that he appropriated 'See America First' and linked it to his earlier work and his continued promotion of Southern California and the Southwest in order to capitalize on the revived See America First idea.")

When the introduction of Henry Ford's low-priced, durable Model T in 1908 increased the popularity of the automobile, the good roads and named trail promoters adopted See America First as one of their themes. To illustrate, Shaffer quoted Miss Gentry's testimony before the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives on April 19, 1912. Miss Gentry had explained that the D.A.R.'s interest in the National Old Trails Road was to perpetuate pioneer history "and to conserve the ideals of the Nation by building a National highway over the trails of the pioneer." She added:

There is a phrase, "See America First," . . . [that] has sprouted in light of to-day's Nationalism. The Department of Commerce and Labor statistics show that $290,000,000 was left in Europe last year by American tourists. Switzerland is not an agricultural country, but is supported by its crop of tourists; that nation practically exists because Americans prefer the Alps to the Rockies."

After listing some of the American West's scenic attractions, Miss Gentry stated that a historic transcontinental road would keep American dollars in America and attract foreign money.

Shaffer summarized:

In linking the National Old Trails Road to the sentiments of nationhood, the DAR in cooperation with Good Roads advocates, state highway departments and boosters throughout the states traversed by the route appropriated the See America First idea to bring together the growing enthusiasm for good roads, transcontinental automobile touring, and American history. They argued that transcontinental highways-especially the National Old Trails Road-transcended commercial interests and concerns, and reinforced national unity by commemorating a shared national history.

By 1913, AAA had begun to link its promotion of auto tourism with See America First. The link had been crystallized by the 1913 AAA Annual Reliability Tour from St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Glacier National Park. The Great Northern Railway, which had been promoting travel to the park, cosponsored the event by arranging two special hotel trains to accompany the motorists. Even with the luxury of the hotel trains for stops, the motorist confronted what A. G. Batchelder, Chairman of AAA's Executive Committee, referred to as "average country roads, gumbo roads that were dragged, and gumbo roads that were rain-soaked and treacherous, prairie roads that were 'unimproved' and enjoyable, and prairie roads that were 'improved' and joyless." The reliability tours had begun in 1904, but of this one, he said:

Never . . . has it served more thoroughly the reason for its existence in demonstrating the dependability of automobiles, the crying need for travel able roads, in calling attention to the scenic wonders of our country, and finally in augmenting a healthy nationalism which carries with it realization of the fact that the State units are as interdependent on one another as are the counties of a commonwealth.

American Motorist, AAA's monthly magazine, began promoting transcontinental tourism, as in a May 1914 article by W. D. Rishel, who predicted that transcontinental tourism "will soon push baseball for first honors as the great National Pastime." He said:

The year 1912 saw the movement start, 1913 will see the big advance guard, and by 1915, when the Panama Exposition opens, transcontinental touring will be a mania.

He estimated that 5,000 people had crossed the country by automobile in 1912:

Those 5,000 people are following the advice of the late Fisher Harris of Salt Lake, who coined the phrase which means more to the prosperity of this country than any set of laws that can be placed upon statute books by Congress.

Rishel amended the phrase, "See Europe if you will, but see America first," by adding, "and the automobile is the proper means of doing it."

The Lincoln Highway Association had also adopted the phrase as one of the rallying cries for travel on its route. Shaffer quoted from The Official Guide to the Lincoln Highway, 1915, which argued that See America First had "become more than an appeal"-it was "a necessity" in view of the funding Americans spent touring Europe. She said:

[The] guide suggested that Seeing America First on the Lincoln Highway was about escaping the routines and restrictions associated with the overly civilized qualities of the Pullman Palace Car and European travel. It was about directly experiencing the people, the places, and the history that made America unique.

Shaffer also cited a series of articles about the Lincoln Highway by Newton A. Fuessle in Travel magazine. The articles referred to the war that had broken out in Europe in August 1914:

Using the chaos of the European war as a backdrop, Fuessle noted that Americans were finally beginning to discover the wonders of their own country. "The tremendous significance which the whirl of sinister developments in Europe's theater of war has given to the 'See America First' movement, has clothed the project of the Lincoln Highway Association with singular importance."

Fuessle, Shaffer said, "most clearly defined the significance of the See America First idea as it was used by the Lincoln Highway Association and other proponents of Good Roads." She explained:

He revealed that the phrase underscored the intimacy and the authenticity experienced through transcontinental automobile touring. As a mode of tourist transportation, the automobile and the road network that emerged to accommodate it objectified the See America First idea. Not only did the automobile allow the individual to exercise complete control over the touring experience, thus gaining a more intimate interaction with the people and places across America, but also the emerging road network vastly increased the number of potential tourist attractions. In effect the automobile completely transformed the tourist experience and in the process served to actualize the See America First idea.

Shaffer referred to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 as the climactic event in the "solidification of the See America First idea." After Congress recognized San Francisco as the official fair site, Charles C. Moore, President of the exposition, said in February 1912:

I know men who have never been west of Buffalo, New York, yet who go frequently to Europe, perhaps once a year. Such men would become better citizens of this country were they to see the West.

Publicity by the exposition organizers, the railroads, and others emphasized the possibility of visiting the two expositions and then touring the other attractions of the West. Shaffer pointed out that some exposition exhibits emphasized the same theme, with the transcontinental railroads contributing elaborate displays on the scenic wonders along their lines. Road builders did not miss their opportunity, either, At the San Francisco exposition, the OPR staged its largest road exhibit to date in the Machinery Palace. The exhibit used models, scaled to one-twelfth actual size, to illustrate location, drainage, construction, aesthetics, and maintenance of roads. A miniature crushing plant and power roller were part of the exhibit, as were enlarged photographs and lantern slides showing the economic effects of good roads. M. O. Eldridge, who had joined the U.S. Office of Road Inquiry in 1894, lectured on road building each day in the Liberal Arts Palace.

Summarizing the impact of the two California expositions, Shaffer said:

The publicity of the fair itself combined with the exhibits sponsored by a variety of tourist industries and tourist organizations, worked to popularize and legitimize the idea of touring in America . . . . The closing of Europe to tourists combined with the barrage of publicity associated with both the San Francisco fair and the San Diego fair succeeded in popularizing the See America First idea. After the summer of 1915, See America First had become fully established in the public domain as a patriotic tourist slogan.

The National Old Trails Road in Missouri

The February 1915 issue of Better Roads and Streets contained a brief item about traffic on the National Old Trails Road in Missouri on the Cross-State Highway:

Since the agitation for a cross-State highway in Missouri, three years ago, exactly 7,351 automobiles have crossed the State along that road, not counting local travel. In other words, 2,500 tourists have passed through Missouri each year, viewing the best farming section and some of the best cities and towns in the State, and giving publicity to the State which cannot be valued in dollars.

A brief separate item pointed out the "good bit of information for tourists" that the Lincoln Highway is "being marked" and the National Old Trails Road Association had combined with the Automobile Club of Southern California to mark its route:

The friendly rivalry which now exists between the friends of the several trans-continental routes means the largest improvement and careful maintenance of all of them, all of which is a fine thing for all the roads, for the tourists, for the people who live along the routes, and for the general public.

In April, Missouri's State Highway Commissioner, Colonel Frank W. Buffum, made a commitment to get the "jolts" out of his State's segment of the National Old Trails Road. He said:

We must make the Old Trails Road through Missouri so good that travelers to the fair this year can run their cars over it without an engine-run them on the car's reputation.

Southern Good Roads magazine (May 1915) explained that the road was "either hard surfaced or being kept dragged," but Colonel Buffum was in favor of "making better roads of good roads. The magazine explained how he proposed to do so:

Colonel Buffum is undertaking the heaviest mail campaign for better roads that the state ever has witnessed. Two weeks ago he wrote a letter to every man living alongside the Old Trails Road from St. Louis to Kansas City, urging the importance of getting the road in shape for the fifty thousand motorists who are expected to pass over it this summer on their way to the Pacific Coast. Now he is writing more letters to residents along the road that require the most dragging and repairing, and urging that only the most thorough work be accepted.

The Colonel's letter explained how the State would help:

We are working out a system of gravel hauling by means of motor trucks, which will make it possible to haul gravel ten miles as cheaply as it can now be hauled three miles with horses.

Better Roads and Streets, in its June 1915, contained a brief item encouraging Colonel Buffum in his work:

In speaking of the Old Trails Road in Missouri, Colonel Buffum, State Highway Commissioner, says, "We will keep after this highway until we get it in shape." Go to it, Colonel, and make it ready for trans-continental travel or Missouri will not be on the map. Your State is known as the "SHOW ME" State, but this time Missouri must SHOW travelers that they will not get stuck in the mud.

By August, Southern Good Roads was reporting good progress:

The campaign to macadamize the cross-state highway from Kansas City to St. Louis is going steadily ahead and construction work on certain sections of the eastern end will begin soon. That information came to the office of Judge J. M. Lowe, president of the National Old Trails Road association, recently in a letter from Frank W. Buffum, state highway commissioner.

Mr. Buffum has taken personal control of completing the improvement from the eastern boundary line of Boone county to the western end of the already improved section of road leading from St. Charles county into St. Louis. He now is bending his efforts to bring about the completion of the 6-mile stretch yet unimproved in St. Charles county.

His letter to Judge Lowe indicates about half of the stretch will be contracted immediately for completion this fall. Further contracts are to be let then to finish up the work early next spring. That will complete the road from St. Louis to the eastern line of Warren county.

The 1915 Convention

In preparation for the 1915 convention, Judge Lowe released a bulletin on July 6 regarding conditions on the National Old Trails Road. Most of the entries related to surface (for example, of Maryland, the bulletin stated "Fine macadam full length of State. Rain does not affect.") and detours ("Auto clubs at Columbus and Wheeling will furnish detours around construction work in progress.), a few entries are worth noting:

  • MISSOURI Kansas City, July 6. Just returned from trip over west half of Mo. section of the National Old Trails Road and found the road in good condition . . . . Frank A. Davis, Sec. Kansas City, July 6. A tourist recently in the office stated that on his trip between Los Angeles and K.C. he was enabled to take a bath every night except two in a Harvey Eating House. Mr. Ford Harvey has issued instructions to all his houses to make it a particular point to see that motor parties traveling the National Old Trails Road are taken care of to the very best of their ability.
  • KANSAS Delavan, July 1st. We are getting about from 12 to 25 cars daily. We have our free camp at Delevan completed, have had in all an average of one car a day since its completion. We have it pretty nicely arranged, have a daily paper delivered daily, free telephone service, nice amount of furniture for convenience of the tourists, quite a number of road maps and other little convenience. W. W. Ray.
  • NEW MEXICO Albuquerque, June 23. Getting along fine, roads dry, but little rough. Making 150 to 200 miles per day without trouble. R. L. Winter, Tourist enroute to Pacific. Albuquerque, June 26. Roads from Trinidad, OK. Went over Glorietta and Raton passes without a struggle, thanks to my auxillary intake for air. A. U. Morse (Tourist enroute to the Pacific)
  • ARIZONA Springerville, July 2. That part of the Santa Fe, Grand Canyon, Needles route lying between Magdalena, Springerville and Holbrook is still in fine condition for automobile travel, from 8 to 10 cars going over this road every day. The construction of a permanent rain proof highway through this county is not under full swing and will continue until completed. Gustav Becker.

Frank Davis, who served the National Old Trails Road Association for many years, is shown in the Association's headquarters in front of a map of the trail.
Frank Davis, who served the National Old Trails Road Association for many years, is shown in the Association's headquarters in front of a map of the trail.

The National Old Trails Road Association held its 1915 convention on July 15 at the Grand Canyon. A brief account of the convention, published in the September 1915issue of Better Roads and Streets, pointed out that the convention "was well attended by representatives from a majority of the States through which the road runs."

An important feature of the convention was a series of reports on the condition of the road, which the magazine summarized:

The entire road from ocean to ocean is graded, more than one-third of it is permanently built, and fully two-thirds of the remainder is under contract. It is permanently sign-posted from Los Angeles to Kansas City, and work has been commenced from Kansas City east, averaging one sign every mile across the continent. . . .

The slogan of the National Old Trails Road Association, universally adopted, is: "Lift the National Old Trails Road out of the mud and DO IT NOW."

It is just as easy to do this in twelve months as it is in twelve years. All such words as building it "eventually "or " sometime, " or any other word of like indefiniteness,has been cut out of the National Old Trails vocabulary. Such expressions are too meaningless to be employed by the association. If they said "ten years," they would doubtless consider the proposition for at least nine years, and then jump in and finish it. Why not DO IT NOW?

Friends of the highway east of the Mississippi River, the article stated, "would have been well repaid if they could have seen what is transpiring on the western section of the road.

California: "the west seventy-mile stretch of the road ending at Los Angeles, is built of concrete twenty-four feet wide, and is one of the finest pieces of road building in the United States. It is also finished to Barstow, and a bond issue, to be passed upon in September, which will undoubtedly carry, provides for building the balance of the road-315 miles-of the same high-class construction to the eastern line of California, at Needles."

Arizona: "The road has been entirely graded across Arizona (421 miles) and from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon and back to Williams (142 miles), making a grand total in Arizona of 563 miles, all graded and partially constructed, chiefly of lava cinders." The State "intended to do all in their power to complete their section of the road within the time limit, to wit, twelve months."

New Mexico: "Across New Mexico, the road has been graded 452 miles and much of it in splendid condition." Governor W. C. McDonald had provided assurances that "if the bond issue now pending before the Supreme Court is sustained, of which he had little doubt, he would guarantee that New Mexico would finish her section." The result might not be "the ideal class" the association hoped for, but "at least with gravel."

Colorado: The State promised "to finish her section."

Kansas: The State had "500 miles already graded and ready for permanent construction, and they are agitating finishing her stretch also within the time limit."

Missouri: As in Kansas, the road was graded across the State "and there is not a doubt that it will be permanently built."

The article summarized the remaining States: "Reports from Illinois are encouraging, as they are from every State east of the Mississippi."

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Updated: 10/16/2013
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