Historic Auto Trails

The History of the Blue "J" Highway


On March 13, 1917, H.W. Raymond, secretary for the Chariton Commercial Club, signed an application for registration of the Blue "J" Highway, extending from Des Moines to Kansas City. The application was filed with the Iowa State Highway Commission (ISHC) March 15.

Within a week after the application was filed, J.D. Clarkson, general manager of the Jefferson Highway Association, was notified by the ISHC that the proposed Blue "J" Highway "passed through Indianola over the same route marked by the Jefferson Highway Association."Indeed, for a distance of approximately 10 miles, extending north and south of Indianola, the two routes were in fact one. While this was not explicitly prohibited by Iowa law, the joint alignment was reason enough for the ISHC to consult with the Jefferson Highway Association and determine if the issue presented concerns for their association.

According to the 1913 Road Law established by the 35th Iowa General Assembly, the "Highway Commission shall have power to determine priority of right in the use of the said name, color combination and designs"associated with a particular registered route.

General Manager Clarkson voiced no objection to the having two routes share a portion of the same alignment (a common practice during this road-building era), as long as the routes’ markings and names were distinctive.

Clarkson did, however, express grave concerns over the Blue "J" supporters’ territorial strong-arm tactics being used in Missouri. At the time, a struggle was underway between the Blue "J" and Jefferson Highway groups who each where striving to lie claim to the same path through Missouri. In their attempt, the Blue "J" supporters named themselves the "Jefferson Highway in Contest"and put "up signs which reads the Jefferson Highway."1

To substantiate Clarkson’s allegations, the ISHC issued a letter to Blue "J" Secretary Raymond. In the letter, ISHC Chief Clerk F.W. Parrott stated, "(the commissioners) concede that the Blue J Highway has no right to use the term Jefferson Highway, and we would like to be advised if such action has been taken and if so, whether or not it was authorized by the officers of your association.2 "It is unclear whether Raymond ever responded to the ISHC since there is no evidence in the official route registration file. However, on March 23, 1917, the ISHC approved registration of the Blue "J" Highway, as presented in the application, without modification to its proposed route through Iowa.

This brief history of the Blue "J" Highway further illustrates the role the ISHC played in attempting to mediate and rectify issues that surfaced during the registration process. It also brings to light some of the tactical maneuvers deployed by the road associations as they set out to establish their routes and resulting conflicts between road groups.

1J.D. Clarkson to IHC Chief Clerk F. W. Parrott, 22 March 1917, HA2.013, Historic Archives, Iowa Department of Transportation.
2IHC Chief Clerk F.W. Parrott to H.W. Raymond, 3 April 1917, HA2.013, Historic Archives, Iowa Department of Transportation.