Historic Auto Trails



In August 1917, discussion began in the town of Mapleton, in Monona County, of registering an existing road that stretched 85 miles from Denison to Sioux City. The sponsors hoped that by registering the route with the Iowa State Highway Commission (ISHC) funds would be used to improve it. The dirt road was in poor condition, lacked maintenance and presented safety concerns for travelers. Thus, it was the vision of a safer, better road that led to the registration of the Denison-Sioux City Cut-Off. 

The group who sponsored the route’s registration was The Mapleton Commercial Club, which later became the Denison-Sioux City Cut-Off Highway Association. Some of the group’s major organizers were L.S. Gambs, club president, and R.R. Weed, vice president. Another active player was Secretary-Treasurer N.W. Pike. Pike’s role was to prepare the route application, correspond with the ISHC and respond to any concerns.

Several letters were exchanged between the sponsors and ISHC as the two groups sorted out the registration details. The club eventually selected a route marker design that consisted of a white square, bordered in red, with a blue diagonal line that stretched from the top left corner to the bottom right corner.

The $5 registration fee, along with the remaining missing details about the route, was sent to the ISHC October 3, 1917. The commission reviewed the application and approved it December 1, 1917.

When the route was originally drawn, it followed a line that skirted Mapleton, essentially creating a business loop for the town. However, in October 1919 rumors began to circulate about the route not following the original path, but rather it would follow an alignment that took the road a few miles north of the town.

Tempers flared as the rumors spread. Local landowners from Mapleton, who were the paving project’s primary investors, were beginning to have second-thoughts about their investments.

Multiple meetings of the ISHC were held in which the location of the route was discussed. Despite their pleas, the ISHC ignored requests from the club to be involved in the decision-making process. The commission wanted to make sure their decision was based on sound transportation principles, rather than unduly influenced by local politics. Several alternatives were discussed by the commissioners, including routes north of Mapleton, southeast of Mapleton and east through the town. Eventually, the ISHC decided to site the route through Mapleton.

One of the primary responsibilities of registering a route was to mark it. In this case, the club had nearly 85 miles of road to mark, and no mechanism or plan in place on how to accomplish the task or pay for the signs.

To address these types of issues, the Club decided to form an official road group, with a constitution, bylaws, officers, and treasury. The group was named the Denison-Sioux City Cut-Off Highway Association. After organizing, the association started their fundraising effort, raising $400 for marking the route. On May 20, 1918, the association sent a letter to the ISHC requesting their assistance in effectively and efficiently placing the signs along the route. However the ISHC had no literature on how to effectively mark a highway; and therefore, left the club to mark the highway as they saw fit.


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