Friday, February 13, 2015

The Blue Grass Road: Part 2

Preparation of "Huebinger's Map and Guide for Blue Grass Road" paralleled development of the route itself and the little book, just the right size to fit in a glove compartment, was published in 1912. The maps were prepared by an engineer; others noted every landmark and the name of every farmer living along the route.

Planning for the Blue Grass Road launched officially during a meeting of delegates from the counties involved, called by Joe L. Long and held in Osceola --- where he was editor and co-publisher of The Sentinel --- on Friday, Oct. 21, 1910.

During that meeting, the Iowa Blue Grass Road Association was organized with Long as president; J.P. Manatrey of Fairfield as vice-president; Scott Skinner of Creston, secretary; and Thomas Murphy of Red Oak as treasurer. Delegates agreed to return home and organize county-level Blue Grass Road associations, then go to work building interest, raising funds and planning routes.

The Lucas County association included, among others, Horace G. Larimer, mayor of Chariton; Harry Stewart, owner and manager of the Stewart & Co. grain and fuel business; and George J. Gittinger, former county sheriff then working in the county treasurer's office (and brother of Henry W. Gittinger, editor and publisher of The Chariton Leader).

Although committee members already had routes sketched out in their heads, the first formal inspection road trip, east from Chariton to the Monroe County line, was scheduled for a week later, on Friday, Oct. 28. All township trustees and road superintendents along the route, county supervisors, Chariton city officials and the city street commissioner were invited along --- it must have been quite a trek.

A few days later, there was a procession west from Chariton through Lucas to the Clarke County line involving a similar lineup.

The Blue Grass entered Lucas County a mile east of Clarke County's Woodburn, following what now is a gravel road up the creek valley and alongside the C.B.&Q. (now Burlington Northern & Santa Fe) rail line. That road continued (no longer passable) into what now is Stephens State Forest and came up alongside "new Cleveland" (not to be confused with the original Cleveland just east of Lucas) where a coal mine had been developed recently and a mining camp had sprung up.

The original route, which entered Lucas County east of Woodburn, would have passed from Lucas east to Chariton on the "Lucas Road," which served the same function as U.S. Highway 34 does now but followed a considerably different route; then from Chariton down the Russell Road --- which exited the southeast corner of town and followed the old Mormon Trail --- into Russell. From Russell, the route was to jog a mile north to the old "state road," now U.S. 34, thence due east to Albia.

During the spring of 1911, however, Melrose --- just across the county line in Monroe --- abruptly came to life, organized a committee and started raising funds. As a result, the road was modified to depart Russell to the east and follow a direct route into Melrose, continuing for a ways along the Mormon Trail.

Some work along the Lucas County route had been completed during late fall, 1910, and more was undertaken during the spring of 1911.

Departing Lucas, the Blue Grass climbed White Breast Hill, more or less where U.S. 34 does now, but then headed straight east on the old "Lucas Road" route into Chariton (the Chariton end of this road --- once the main route into and out of town --- now passes Hunter Tree Farm, the big new Hy-Vee Distribution Center on the former county home site and the Johnson Machine Works plant).

The official mapping tour of the Blue Grass Road route commenced on Thursday, April 27, when Joe Long, association president, and M. McKinnon of the Iowa Publishing Co., among others, pulled away during the early morning hours from the Grand Hotel in Council Bluffs. They were riding in a Jackson automobile, furnished by the manufacturer for the trip. And stand-by vehicles were available should problems develop along the route.

The Blue Grass Road Association had contracted with Iowa Publishing Co. to publish as soon as possible a Huebinger's Map and Guide to the new route.

During this trip, The Chariton Leader reported on the morning the trip commenced, "a preliminary map of the entire route will be made ..., to be followed later by a civil engineer, who will make detailed maps showing every house, or other landmark over the entire route.

"A splendid special guide-book will be issued which will be placed on sale over the country.

"It is expected that large delegations of Blue Grass boosters in autos, decorated with banners, will accompany the official car from town to town and county to county, and most of the towns will prepare pennants to attach to the car as it goes through, bearing the name of the town, and these will be carried throughout the trip."

Once in Chariton, the Blue Grass followed what had been the main route into and out of town at the northwest corner of town since the city's beginning, angling down along the 1867 C.B.&Q. tracks, then east to North Main and south onto the square's northwest corner. The Blue Grass exited Chariton onto the old Mormon Trail (known then as the Russell Road) at the city's southeast corner.

The Blue Grass mapping expedition pulled into Chariton in its Jackson automobile on Saturday evening, April 29, in time for an 8 p.m. program at the courthouse. Early the next morning, the mapping delegation headed for Russell, Melrose and points east after most likely spending the night at the Bates House, then the city's finest hotel.

From Chariton, the Blue Grass Road followed the old Mormon Trail, blazed in 1846, south and east into Russell. This stretch of road as well and the road beyond Russell to Melrose still are remembered as the Blue Grass Road although significance as a major cross-country route vanished during the 1920s.

On May 18, 1911, the Blue Grass Association Executive Committee met in Osceola to decide how the route should be marked --- "It is to be a band painted on every other telephone pole, excepting that three poles each way from turn shall be painted consecutively and to be 24 inches deep, the top of the band to be approximately six feet from the ground. The band is to consist of nine inches white, then six inches dark blue, then nine inches white. Each county is expected to paint these poles along the route as soon as dragging agreements are signed covering the road," The Chariton Leader reported.

"In addition to the regular telephone pole sign, it was deemed advisable to put up a metal sign at all crossroads, the signs to be six inches in height, and of proportionate length, the background to be blue and the letters white. Two of these are to be placed at each cross road or turn, one parallel with each road, and the association will purchase these and probably put them up, or furnish them to the counties."

The Blue Grass as originally planned would have bypassed Melrose, but residents there sprang to life during the spring of 1911, raised in excess of $2,000 to contribute to the effort and as a result, the road was mapped due east from Russell to connect the two towns directly.

By late August, the Blue Grass was for the most part complete and a final inspection tour from Council Bluffs to Burlington was scheduled to launch on the 17th. This tour, involving Joe L. Long and others, was considered the official opening of the route --- no general ceremony was planned.

The Leader of August 10 reported on the planned trip as follows under the headline, "Official Opening of Blue Grass Road":

The final inspection of the Blue Grass road will be made by the officials and the publishers of the Guide Book at once, the party leaving Council Bluffs, Friday morning, August 11, and will be here on Monday, August 14. It is expected that representatives of good road publications and other publications will accompany the party and every good roads booster is invited to go with them. Owing to the fact that the trip must be made in fast time, the stops will be shorter than usual and it is expected that a guide who has already prepared a list of farmers living along the road, or who knows all of them, will be ready to accompany the car of the Iowa Publishing Company, as it is the intention to publish on the maps of the Guide Book the name of every farmer living on the road. If this information can be prepared in advance all the better. If not, arrangements are expected to be made by each town to furnish a man who can give correct name, initials and spelling of the head of the family at each home along the route. This is of vital importance.

According to reports the last stretches of the road will be marked this week and all the culverts placed in proper condition. Nearly $40,000 has been put upon the road this spring, mostly by donations from the farmers along the route assisted by business men who are equally interested.

They are scheduled to be at Lucas at 4:10 August 12, Chariton at 9:00 Monday, August 14; Russell, 9:25 same day; and at Melrose at 10:10 on the 14th inst., in the forenoon.

Note that it would have been considered inappropriate to conduct the inspection tour on Sunday, the 13th, although it's not clear where this grand procession across Iowa cooled its heels (and wheels) on the Sabbath.

This grand tour proceeded directly to Burlington in the days that followed the Monday stop in Chariton. By this time two branches had been added to the Blue Grass Road, so those were driven over, too. One led southeast from Ottumwa through Eldon to Fort Madison; the other northeasterly from Mount Pleasant to Muscatine.

The Blue Grass Road was an amazing example of local initiative and cross-state cooperation, and most likely the organizational talents of Lucas County native Joe L. Long were largely responsible for its success. But in the end, the results were transitory.

Iowa finally began to develop a statewide roads strategy in 1913, and by 1920 the significance of the Blue Grass Road had begun to fade. When planning improvements, engineers tended to focus on shorter and more easily maintained routes. In Lucas County, what became U.S. 34 was relocated between Lucas and Chariton to swing southeast and enter Chariton on Court Avenue.

East of Chariton, a route straight east to Monroe County was favored, bypassing both Russell and Melrose.

But it was great while it lasted --- and you can still drive from Chariton to Melrose on the Blue Grass Road and experience it yourself.

If you'd like to follow the Blue Grass route through other parts of southern Iowa, Huebinger's Guide is available in the University of Iowa's Digital Maps Collection. This link will take you to it. If you right click on any of the maps here and "open in new window" you can examine their detail.

No comments: