“Iowa Roads are Good Roads”

1936 Iowa Highway Map (MS 186, box 2)

1936 Iowa Highway Map (MS 186, box 2)

It’s road trip season and here in Special Collections we have a variety of interesting materials pertaining to highway travel and the development of road infrastructure in Iowa.

Travel Diaries

Snippet of Horton's 1953 diary. Click for full page. (MS 183, box 3)

Snippet of Iva Horton’s 1953 diary. Click for full page. (MS 183, box 3)

Luckily for us, some Iowans who have taken summer road trips took the time to record their adventures. One such person is Iva Brooks Horton who kept detailed diaries of her travels by automobile through the midwest and western parts of the United States. Iva’s travel diaries are full of small details such as the diners she visited, the height of the corn, the weather, and the state of the roads.

Other regional travel diaries in Special Collections include:

  • Iowa Hunting Journal, ca. 1871-1874 (MS 647)
  • Thomas M. Terrill Papers, 1871-1994 (MS 690)
  • George Rae Papers, 1861-1907 (MS 002)
  • J. W. Robinson Papers, 1879-1911 (MS 511). Robinson’s Storm Lake, IA diary is online.

 Vehicles

A road trip to Fort Dodge, ca. 1914 - 1920. (Aden Family Photographs and Postcards, MS 609)

A road trip to Fort Dodge, July 16, 1918. (Aden Family Photographs and Postcards, MS 609)

 

There is no road trip without something to carry you down the road. With collection strengths in agriculture and rural life, it makes sense that we would have images of wagons, automobiles, sleds, and other conveyances. Here is a small sample of what you can find on our shelves.

Advertisement cards from Jackson Wagons, undated. (RS 21/7/227, box 11, folder 43)

Advertisement cards from Jackson Wagons, undated. (RS 21/7/227, box 11, folder 43)

 

Additional material on passenger vehicles is available in:

Roads and Transport Infrastructure

There is also no road trip without roads. Iowa’s roads, as in other states, need to address both agricultural needs and the needs of general passenger traffic. We have several early twentieth century collections with material documenting the development of Iowa roads and highways in relevance to agriculture.

In 1925 there were 109,000 miles of public roads in Iowa. Calling the “Iowa Road Job Bigger than Panama Canal,” the Des Moines Tribune-News estimated that it would take someone 545 days to to travel the whole length of the Iowa public highway system (see pamphlet in MS 209, box 21, folder 23).

Chart showing correlation of crop prices and road conditions, 1902-1903. From Iowa Manual for Iowa Highway Officers. Ames: Iowa Highway Commission, 1905. (MS 374, box 2, folder 22)

Chart showing correlation of crop prices and road conditions, 1902-1903. From Manual for Iowa Highway Officers. Ames: Iowa Highway Commission, 1905. Click for larger image. (MS 374, box 2, folder 22)

 

An early publication of the Iowa Highway Commission discussed the relationship between weather, road conditions, and crop prices. It estimated that “with the possible exception of Illinois, we have the most products to haul over the roads and the worst roads over which to haul them” (Manual for Iowa Highway Officers. Ames: Iowa Highway Commission, 1905, page 6)” and observed that:

[In the hauling of farm produce], the largest proportion is done during the months that the roads are the most unreliable. It is also during this period that the maximum prices are usually reached. Market quotations are frequently so favorable when the roads are impassable that it is a positive financial loss to farmers who are not able to deliver their crops to market.” (Manual for Iowa Highway Officers, page 11).

Proposed road pavements, Iowa, ca. 1920s. (MS 209, box 21, folder 23)

Proposed road pavements, Iowa, ca. 1920s. Click for larger image. (MS 209, box 21, folder 23)

Read more about the development, and controversies, of Iowa highways in the following collections:

  • Hugh H. Shepard Papers, 1905-1962 (MS 005)
  • Urban Street and Highway Research Development Association Records, 1959-1962 (MS 087)
  • Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Records, 1914 – ongoing (MS 105)
  • Farm Land Preservation Association, Inc. Records, 1975-1979 (MS 108)
  • Iowa River Greenbelt Resource Trust Records, 1920-1993 (MS 395)
  • 520 First Association Records, 1973-1975 (MS 504)
  • Iowa Good Roads Association (MS 512)
  • Anson Marston Papers, 1864-1983 (RS 11/1/11)

You can also see our blog post on the 100th anniversary of the Iowa DOT and see what the Institute for Transportation has been publishing recently.

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