Thursday, October 19, 2017

Roads Across Kansas

Oregon Trail near Kansas City
The earliest settlers arriving in Kansas probably found more ruts than roads, as covered wagons followed the depressions in the prairie sod left by earlier travelers.  However, in 1855 the territorial legislature had recognized the importance of wagon roads and a basis for highway construction was defined, making counties responsible for road-making.

A township road in 2014 a mile from Isaac's claim
In 1857 township road-making was organized.  Isaac B. Werner came to Kansas in 1878, as did many of his neighbors, and by 1884 when he resumed writing in his journal, he described his township road tax which was owed by every man 45 and younger.  Each year the men had a duty to work a certain number of days on the roads and bridges of their township.  Although Isaac did not have a horse for several years, he worked alongside his neighbors to satisfy the road tax.  The township was initially 6 miles from north to south and 12 miles from east to west, and he mentioned working on the bridge in the western part of Clear Creek Township.  Later, that township was divided into two separate townships 6 miles by 6 miles, and Isaac continued working in the new eastern Albano Township where his claims were located until his 45th birthday passed.  Once he had a horse, he used it, if the work they were doing called for a horse.

When railroads reached Kansas in the 1870s and 1880s, trains were available for distant travel.  By the 1930s there were nearly 10,000 miles of railroad in Kansas, most belonging to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the Missouri Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.  However, local roads were still needed.  Until 1917 counties and townships worked independently to provide roads for their communities, although in 1909 the office of county engineer was created and in 1911 a state engineer was provided.  Federal aid for road-making was passed in 1916 but approved in Kansas in 1917, and that resulted in significant progress.  By 1930 Kansas had almost 4,000 miles of surfaced highway.  However, only about 1,000 of that number was hard surfacing, such as concrete or brick.  The remainder was sand, gravel, or chat surfacing.

The next big leap in road improvements occurred with the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.  Initially, $25-Billion was designated to construct 41,000 miles of Interstate Highway over a 10-year period.  

A Network of Interstates
President Dwight D. Eisenhower's support for the project was key and explains part of the reason for the inclusion of "Defense Highways" in the title of the Act.  As a young army officer, Eisenhower had participated in the Army's first transcontinental motor convoy across the United States.  Even then it was intended to show the need for better highways.  Eisenhower still remembered the cracked bridges, the nearly impassable muddy roads, and the broken equipment damaged while traveling.  In addition, Eisenhower had seen the German autobahn network during World War II, which convinced him of the need for a highway network in the United States.  The President's support was expressed as a national defense issue, rather than merely highways for convenience, comfort, and progressive business.  When the new interstate highway was completed, it took only 5 days to transverse the distance that had taken the Army convoy 2 months to travel in 1919!

Today, many of us have become so accustomed to the convenience of our well-paved state and national highways that we forget to explore some of the lessor roadways and the discoveries that await us.  One purpose of this blog is sharing some of the sights to be found by pulling off the major highways to explore.  Some of you have told me that this blog has encouraged you do just that!  But, of course, when we are in a hurry those well-paved roads are appreciated!!

When we first returned to the farm our sandy roads leading to the house had been neglected for years, with little traffic past an old vacant house to justify serious road work.  I want to use this opportunity to say "Thank You" to the township board and our road grader for working so hard since we have returned to the farm to give us a good way to the nearest paved road when it rains and for remembering to open a way for us to get out when it snows.  Our sandy loam soil is a challenge, but it is so much better now.  Isaac would be impressed!

Remember, images can be enlarged by clicking on them.


Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

AML from Washington state wrote: This summer I walked in some of those ruts at the west end. And visited graves of relatives that came to Portland on the Oregon Trail. Great story, thanks!

The Blog Fodder said...

Where is the picture of the road closed taken. Why was it closed? 10,000 miles of railway in Kansas. That is hard to believe. How many are left?
When I was young we had ruts in our pasture from the Battleford Swift Current trail but they are all ploughed up now, I think.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Route 66 in Oklahoma. Much of Route 66 was abandoned because of the interstate serving the same regions. I don't know the current number of railroad tracks. The lines in our area are still active, but I know that many miles of tracks have been abandoned. We seem to be seeing more rail traffic recently...or we are just happening to arrive as the guards go down. In my youth we expected to be delayed either entering or leaving Pratt, but for a long time that rarely happened. Recently we are finding ourselves waiting...I don't know if the traffic is increasing or we just happen to arrive at the time the trains are passing... Larry's brother has the Santa Fe Trail passing over his land near Larned.