Historic Auto Trails

The History of the Blue Grass Road

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Striving to be "First"

As early as April 1913, immediately following passage of the 1913 Road Law, the Iowa Blue Grass Road Association submitted a check of $5 to the Iowa State Highway Commission (ISHC) with the objective of protecting their existing route markers and registering their route.

The Iowa Blue Grass Road Association’s quick action was deliberate and taken with the intention of becoming the first registered route and serving as a model for other routes. Their ambitious goal was clearly stated in their letterhead --- "an organization for the purpose of maintaining a model dirt road across the state of Iowa thru the heart of the Blue Grass Belt and giving encouragement to the ‘Good Roads’ cause in general."
As further testament to their dedication, Secretary Frank Nimocks wrote to the ISHC stating that they were extremely interested in being the first to officially register their route, having already received "quasi"approval from democratic Senator Charles H. Thomas, also known as the "father of the Blue Grass Road."

Unfortunately, as with many road associations at the time, the group neglected to properly file an application for their route, along with the necessary supporting documents. Upon receipt of the check, ISHC Chief Engineer Thomas MacDonald sent the organization a blank registration form in hopes of facilitating a quick resolution. That proved not to be the case.

Unfortunately, the road association’s application was found to be incomplete. The group had failed to trace their route on the county maps provided by the ISHC. After being asked to adequately fulfill the application requirement, correspondence mysteriously ended for the next three years, preventing the association from becoming the first registered route.

In September 1916, ISHC Chief Clerk F.W. Parrott received a curious handwritten letter from Indianola resident S.L. Loper. Loper asked for the name and address of the president and secretary of the Iowa Blue Grass Association, along with information about other aspects of the route. Loper was undoubtedly surprised to learn that the route had never registered with the ISHC due to the association’s failure "to give the necessary information as to the location of their route” three years earlier.2 Parrott acknowledged that the ISHC had not had any correspondence with the association for quite sometime.

In November 1917 a series of letters and correspondence rectified years of silence. On November 8, 1917, Senator Thomas furnished maps of the traced route to the ISHC. A week later, Parrott sent Senator Thomas a new application to register the Blue Grass Road with the appropriate signatures. Thomas identified himself as president and James Bryan as the association’s secretary. Finally, on December 1, 1917, after nearly four years of effort and inconsistent communication, the ISHC met and approved the Blue Grass Road.

The story behind the story

The real story about the Blue Grass Road is not the unusually long process of registration, but rather is a tale about the Iowans who enthusiastically embraced the Good Roads Movement, supported local road improvements, and contributed their time and resources to make it a reality.

While major supporters often tended to be altruistic citizens, merchants and bankers, among other positions, average citizens interested in bettering their lives and communities were also instrumental in the Good Roads Movement, including development of the Blue Grass Road.

For example, in February 1919, owners of Riggs Brothers, a business from the community of Kent, wrote to L.M. Martin of Atlantic stating they were interested in seeing improvements made to the Blue Grass Road between Creston and Corning, via Kent. Improvements included the elimination of two Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad crossings, known as the Seeley and Noble crossings between Creston and Kent. Included with the Riggs Brothers’ letter was a newspaper article, in which the business proclaimed that the resultant road "will be second to none along this great public highway.” For this purpose, residents along the route, particularly those of Creston, Kent and Corning, raised approximately $1,500 to purchase land necessary for the improvements.

Politics, at both the state and local levels, played a major role in the Good Roads Movement. Often times, local road supporters were the direct beneficiaries of the registered routes they promoted. So it is not surprising that one of the individuals who would benefit from the improvements proposed by Riggs Brothers would be Senator C.H. Thomas. His business, Thomas Hardware Company, was located in Creston. His residence was located in Kent. While both cities resided in Union County, Thomas had a direct stake in the condition of the Blue Grass Road, as it was the primary route that tied the two cities together.

In general, the Blue Grass Road was unique with respect to its importance in bringing together efforts by a large body of individuals for promotional and improvement purposes, regardless of their social and economic status.

1Frank A. Nimocks to Iowa Highway Commission, April 26, 1913, HA2.014. Iowa DOT, HA.
2ISHC to S.L. Loper, September 7, 1916, HA2.014. Iowa DOT, HA.