Saturday, March 03, 2018

U.S. Highway 34 lifts Lucas County from the mud

If you're looking for anniversaries to celebrate during 2018, plan to extend "happy 90th birthday" greetings to the first stretch of concrete paving to grace a Lucas County highway --- providing you can find a remnant of it (and there still are some around). While you're about it, send 90th birthday flowers to the Court Avenue underpass --- a massive improvement to traffic flow in Chariton when it was built as "the subway" in 1928 and a continuing bane to semi-tractor drivers who regularly jam  too tall trailers under it.

That first paving was on the highway we call U.S. 34 today, but the 1920s were a time of great nomenclature unrest on the roads of iowa, so it had undergone several name transitions before paving began.

U.S. 34, in general, follows the route of the first state road surveyed across southern Iowa --- from Burlington west to Council Bluffs during 1849 --- the same year Lucas County was organized and Chariton founded. Although the route west of Chariton to the Clarke County line has varied over the years, the route due east from Chariton to Georgetown in Monroe County has remained essentially the same. Until World War I concluded, this generally was just called the "State Road."

During 1919, the Iowa Legislature created a system of what were called "primary roads" and state funds were made available for their improvement. During that year the old State Road in Lucas County was redesignated Primary Road No. 8.

In 1924, Primary Road No. 8 became part of the registered cross-country Harding Memorial Highway system --- commemorating President Warren G. Harding, who died during August of 1923. So when paving commenced, many Lucas Countyans were calling it the "Harding Highway."

In 1926, however, a nationwide highway numbering system was introduced and the Harding Highway became U.S. Highway 34 and was paved as such --- although the Harding designation persisted for a while.

 Unlike the Lincoln Highway to our north, however, the Harding Highway designation faded rapidly from our  collective memory --- in part because the late president's reputation perished as the corruption of his administration became evident after his death and a variety of extra-marital presidential affairs and the existence of at least one illegitimate daughter became public knowledge.


Revelations about the late president, his mistresses and the corruption of some of his cabinet appointees were unfolding on the national scene when, locally, The Herald-Patriot of March 22, 1928, reported that "A new freight train has been put on the Burlington railroad to run daily from Ottumwa to Chariton, hauling highway material and will continue to make the trip until all the materials are delivered. It will distribute its freight along the line, much of it here, and will make this place the 'laying up' terminal....

"It will not be long now before large forces of men are at work on No. 34, the first considerable squad arriving to excavate and erect the subway here."


The first paving in both Lucas and Monroe counties was poured on Monday morning, April 23, commencing at two locations. One crew began at the Lucas-Monroe county line and began working west toward the Russell corner with the Tharp corner --- three miles west of Chariton --- as the final destination for 1928.

The second crew began work a mile west of Georgetown, working west first to the Melrose corner and then to the start of the new paving at the Monroe-Lucas county line.

"In the work Monday, which started about noon in Lucas county, a little over 300 feet were layed the first day, "The Herald-Patriot of April 26 reported. "In Monroe county the first day's operation saw the completion of 600 feet. Tuesday, the construction company operating in Monroe county put down 710 feet, while in this county, 700 feet were poured the same day.

"The work in this county commenced at the Monroe county line. The industrial plant is located at Russell, and the trucks carrying the material run out from there to the east and the work is moving westward. When the companies putting down the pavement are working fully organized they will each be able to complete about a thousand feet of paving each day, or approximately a mile each week. At that rate with favorable weather conditions the paving will reach the Russell corner and come one mile west of that point within six or eight weeks. Then the industrial plant will be moved to Chariton and the trucks run out east from here to the end of the paving and the ribbon of concrete extended on westward to Chariton."

The stone, sand and cement for the project arrived daily by the train load --- up to 100 carloads of material a day. The stone was coming from Marshall county; the sand, from Wapello.


The first stretch of paving in Lucas County and western Monroe county was opened to traffic on Saturday, June 23, according to The Herald-Patriot of June 21:

"Saturday of this week the state highway commission, it is announced, will open to primary traffic eleven miles of pavement on road No. 34 in Lucas and Monroe counties. The concrete road to be thrown open will extend from the Russell corner in this county to the Fallon corner, one mile west of Georgetown, in Monroe county.

"Paving progress this week has been light. Rains prevented any work being done Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Yesterday afternoon, 485 feet of concrete was put down, but the Thursday morning rain delayed the work which will likely be resumed Thursday afternoon. The total poured in this county until this morning reached 42,534 feet, slightly more than eight miles since the work started, and the western end of the paving is at a point five hundred feet west of the I.A. Bryan corner, about two and one-half miles east of the city limits of Chariton."


On Sunday, July 15, the final concrete was poured to link new pavement that now stretched east to Georgetown with South 7th Street in Chariton and, on Monday, the paving operation commenced at Tharp corner, three miles west of Chariton, and began to work east toward the end of Chariton's paved Court Avenue.

Unfortunately, the Court Avenue subway project had not advanced as rapidly as hoped --- the final link between Tharp Corner and Georgetown --- 75 feet of paving under the Court Avenue subway --- would not be completed until November.

But by late September, there was considerable cause for celebration in the south of  Iowa as preparations were made to open an unbroken stretch of concrete linking Chariton and Albia with only a few miles of dirt now separating these cities from Burlington on the Mississippi. The Herald-Patriot of Sept. 9 reported as follows:

"District Highway Engineer W.O. Price, of Chariton, stated yesterday that the last gap in the paving between Albia and Chariton on highway No. 34 was completed Tuesday. He also said that the new concrete pavement would likely be opened to traffic the last of next week. This will give a continuous stretch of pavement 32 miles in length between Albia and the Tharp corner, three miles west of the public square in Chariton. This is one of the longest stretches of pavement in southern Iowa, but it won't be long now until the stretch will be much longer.

"East of Albia in Monroe county two paving outfits are at work. One will complete its contract this week while the other at the end of the week will have approximately three miles of concrete to pour. That stretch is the only unpaved portion on the Harding highway to the east except in the west part of Henry county where, near Mt. Pleasant, four  miles of paving is yet to be put down before the task is finished. Therefore, between Chariton and Burlington there will be but seven miles of dirt road by the last of this week, and the two gangs now at work will close the gaps very likely in time to have the road open all the way through to traffic early next month."

Work to the west of Tharp corner, however, and ultimately to Council Bluffs, would have to wait until other years. Paving in western Iowa was scarce and a new White Breast Creek bridge was needed east of Lucas as well as culvert work on No. 34's new route paralleling Lucas south of the railroad tracks, before that ribbon of concrete we are so accustomed to traveling west to Osceola and beyond today could be completed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Iowa DOT web site has a historical collection of pictures and maps. It includes county maps from 1914. Another great resource. Their use policy prohibits reposting, though.
Bill H