It wasn’t always so, though. Early highways ran smack through these little towns, delivering goods and people that were the lifeblood of thriving local economies. It’s sometimes hard to remember that the era of bustling small town commerce is just a few generations in our past.
As recorded history goes, the entire era of oil is likely to be just a century or two blip, albeit a significant blip. There are still millions of folks among us who remember when horses were commonly used for transportation and farm work. Here in Iowa, a lot of family history is intertwined with changes related to how we get from place to place.
For instance, it was less than a century ago that some 10,000 Iowa farmers helped connect a series of dirt roads to create a 380-mile road that ran the entire length of the state. The whole process reportedly took “one hour flat.”
Over the years, dirt roads were paved, more towns were connected and highways acquired colorful names like the Lincoln Highway or the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. But even before there was a federal highway system, Iowans created the White Pole Road which by 1912 extended from Council Bluffs on the west to Davenport on the east.
Travelers were encouraged to travel the “Great White Way,” so named because of the painted white poles that marked its path. Today, five towns just west of Des Moines have resurrected a 26-mile stretch of the road by painting 700 telephone poles white and creating a CD and book – Reflections Along the White Pole Road – that highlight some of the area’s colorful history.
That history includes the James Gang, Bonnie and Clyde, Jack Kerouac and more. Over the next few weeks, towns along the route have scheduled special events to mark the book’s release.
The role of transportation has been crucial in our nation’s development. I’ll bet it’s played a part in your family’s history, too.