Researching the Roadside: travel & tourism in the Pacific Northwest
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During the 19th century people generally did not travel far from their homes and if they did it was usually by train. Roads tended to be paths into town from nearby farms and often it was not exactly clear where the road was located. In farming areas, the roads would veer off course to go around a farmer's field or perhaps one day the farmer would decide to plow and plant a crop where the road ran. Or, the road might simple get too muddy to use. (A 19th century Kansas story relates that one day a man came upon a hat lying in a muddy road. When he picked up the hat there was a person underneath buried in the mud. When he asked if the person needed help the reply was, "Well, I don't but my horse does.")
There were no cross-country roads, or even cross-state roads. Most roads were either left untended or barely tended by the local county governments who were in charge of them because they were not as important to the population as the railroad. By the end of the 19th century, however, various groups banded together to lobby for the improvement of roads. Farmers became concerned about the state of roads when in 1899, the post office declared that no rural deliveries would be made where the roads were unfit for travel. Bicyclists, such as The League of American Wheelmen, along with early automobile enthusiasts also wanted better roads for their activities as did urban merchants and businessmen. The Good Roads movement, which was born from these various interests, was created to lobby for road improvement. During the early years of the 20th century, local town citizens held "good roads" work days to improve their roads. Road groups organized and put up signposts along dirt tracks to map out cross state roads to encourage travel through their towns.
The Good Roads movement, the increasing number of automobiles, and World War I brought a significant change in the public attitude toward roads. The Federal Highway Act was passed on July 11, 1916, to offer federal assistance in the construction of interstate and rural highways. As the automobile caught on, the idea of traveling more than just a few miles in it gave way to auto touring. As the roads improved, more and more people discovered the idea of traveling for recreation.
Interest in studying the roadside and tourism began during the later years of the 20th century. Researchers began examining the landscape and architecture of the roadside and the history of the roads themselves. Chester Liebs Main Street to Miracle Mile was one of the early books on the history of the roadside landscape. Organizations such as the Society for Commercial Archeology, and the Lincoln Highway Association, study various aspects of the road and the roadside and encourage the preservation and study of the roadside environment.
This exhibit presents a few of the various materials relating to tourism, roads and roadside architecture that are a part of the Special Collections Division holdings. Some of the materials included are: guidebooks to architectural drawings, maps, photographs, home moves and ephemera.