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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Roads Scholars

Are you ready to pack up the car and head out on a summer vacation? Whether it's a grand cross-country journey or just a quick trip up north, this is a good time to reflect on how we got from horse-drawn wagons like this one to comfortable cars like this one. Take a break from packing for a quick look at how we got from here to here.

The first Wisconsin roads were Indian trails, and the earliest wagon routes followed them. In the 1830s, the government began to build military roads such as the famous ones that ran from Green Bay to Chicago, and Green Bay to Prairie du Chien. About the same time, developers chartered state-sanctioned plank roads on which they charged tolls, but most were not profitable. By the middle of the 19th century, regular stagecoach runs were being made along some of the routes we still use today, and railroads had begun to criss-cross the state.

The adoption of the bicycle about 1890 prompted a call for better roads, and the invention of the automobile led to modern paved roads. Here a road crew lays down cement for the first time on Main St. in Clintonville.

Soon automobile roads were connecting our cities and towns, and highway bridges even spanned railroad lines. Publishers started to issue maps and guides for motorists, such as this 1910 Automobile Blue Book for Wisconsin.

Personal transportation permitted the blossoming of our tourist industry in new directions, since individuals and families could go anywhere. Our state park system expanded, and the North Country successfully marketed itself as a tourist destination. Vacationers discovered the joys of tourist cabins such as these near Eau Claire and of resorts for fishing such as these early ones in Vilas County and near Hayward.

As you head out this month, take a moment to remember why it's possible and be glad you don't have to travel like this guy.

View a gallery of pictures on the history of Wisconsin roads

View pictures of road construction

Learn more about early roads

Learn more about modern roads

Learn about the history of bicycling in Wisconsin

Learn about Wisconsin's automobile industry

:: Posted in Curiosities on June 8, 2009

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