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National Roads and Road Markings

The early twentieth century was the height of popularity of named highways.  By 1920, over 250 named trails were designated by various organizations.  To promote their named routes, the trail organizations solicited membership and advertised, often publishing guidebooks and maps that would assist the motorist along the route.  Each route was identified by its own symbol, which was painted along the roadside on telephone poles and any other available surfaces.  These markers were placed at regular intervals and key intersections along the route.  The abundance of trails bisecting the country and the poor marking system created a nightmare for travelers who found it difficult to navigate the trails, especially when one or more highways intersected.  To complicate matters further, many highways had similar names.  The Dixie Highway ran from Detroit to Miami, while the Dixie Beeline ran from Chicago to Nashville, and the Dixie Overland Highway ran from Atlanta to San Diego.  The Jefferson Highway stretched from New Orleans to the Texas State Line; and the Jefferson Davis Highway traveled from Washington, DC, to Mobile, Alabama.  In an effort to diminish the confusion surrounding named routes and unify the national highway system, a national numbered system was established in 1925, several years after Wisconsin introduced a numbered system.  The first numbered Wisconsin highway in the United States was State Trunk Highway (STH) 19, which later became US Highway (USH) 16.


Yellowstone Trail logo.
Courtesy of John Wm.
and Alice Ridge.

Wisconsin's northern location and natural boundaries with Lake Superior and Lake Michigan meant that few transcontinental trails would bisect the state.  The Yellowstone Trail, known as "a good road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound," was the best known transcontinental named highway that crossed Wisconsin.  The trail originated in Aberdeen, South Dakota, as a 26-mile road that connected two towns.  Eventually it was lengthened until it reached Yellowstone National Park and Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington, in the west; and Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the east, via Wisconsin.  Like other named highways that originated during the 1910s, it was pieced together from existing roads.  In Wisconsin the trail entered in the west at Hudson and traveled east through Menomonie, Eau Claire, and Abbotsford before turning south and running southeast through Stevens Point, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Milwaukee, then following the Lake Michigan shoreline south through Racine and Kenosha.


The Yellowstone Trail route
in Wisconsin, 1915-1930.
Courtesy of John Wm.
and Alice Ridge.

Within Wisconsin, local Chambers of Commence banded together with business owners along STH 13 to promote "Lucky 13, the motorists Indian trail through Wisconsin."  The route was promoted through the 1960s with advertising campaigns and promotions, including Miss Lucky 13.   The route stretched from Beloit on the Illinois border to Superior in the northwest, passing through Madison, Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin Rapids, Ashland, and Bayfield, among other communities.

While the named trails generated automobile tourism across the state, not everyone was a proponent of the routes.  Frank Cannon of the Good Roads organization in Wisconsin led the battle against named roads in the state.  He, along with others, felt that national highway organizations had no place erecting highway markers in Wisconsin and promoting the named routes.


Cropped image from "Lucky 13" promotional
material, outlining the "motorists
Indian trail through Wisconsin."
Courtesy of Jim Draeger, personal collection.

In addition to the Yellowstone Trail and the Lucky 13, other named routes in Wisconsin included the Black and Yellow Trail, the Green Trail, and the Red Triangle Route.  The Black and Yellow Trail originated in Huron, South Dakota, and was intended to divert traffic from the Yellowstone Trail.  The name signifies the link between the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park.  The Green Trail ran from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Superior, Wisconsin, via Hudson, Clear Lake, Turtle Lake, Cumberland, Shell Lake, Spooner, Solon Springs, and Hawthorne.  The Red Triangle Route ran from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Ashland, Wisconsin, through St. Croix Falls (Minnesota), Milltown, Luck, Frederick, Siren, Spooner, and Hayward.  Other shorter named routes located within Wisconsin were the White Circle Route north of Abbotsford, the Red Diamond Route along present USH 53, and the Red Square Route north of Cadott, among others.

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