Historic Auto Trails


Future of the Jefferson Highway Association defined

On January 20, 1925, the Jefferson Highway Association held its 10th annual meeting in New Orleans. This event also marked the completion of the Jefferson Highway through the state of Louisiana, the first state to complete a road along the route. At the time, Minnesota was a distant second.

One of the major items on the agenda of this meeting was a discussion regarding whether the Jefferson Highway Association still filled an important community need that warranted retention of a separate road organization. This discussion was taking place in recognition that the state highway commissions had been organized, states were marking their highways and improvements to the Jefferson Highway were being made in a manner far beyond the expectations of the organizers.

Fred R. White Prior to the meeting, in a letter dated January 12, 1925, to Fred R. White, chief highway engineer with the Iowa State Highway Commission, Hugh Shepard, international vice-president of the Jefferson Highway Association, sought White’s opinion regarding the future of the association. Shepard relayed the fact that the work of the Jefferson Highway Association had “been of considerable importance during the last decade, and that we have really been of some assistance to the good roads improvement in the Mississippi Valley.”

White responded to Shepard’s letter stating, “Undoubtedly the Jefferson Highway Association and particularly those people connected with it have done an immense amount of good for the development of our highways. My feeling is that the association should be continued. I feel that there is room for such an association and for such a road, and then even though the states do adopt a standard number for such road and mark it in a uniform manner with the official state marker, it would be well to continue the Jefferson Highway marking and the Jefferson Highway organization.”

Construction of the highway through Iowa

Trail The Jefferson Highway was graded, graveled and paved over a number of years, and in different phases. Records housed in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s library describe annual progress made in constructing and surfacing (gravel or paving) this route in each county during the early 1920s.

By January 13, 1922, Iowa State Highway Commission Maintenance Engineer W. H. Root was reporting that primary road #1, which corresponded very closely to the Jefferson Highway, was surfaced either with gravel or paving from the north Warren County line south to Des Moines to the Minnesota state line. It was also put to permanent grade from this same point south to the Missouri state line, with the exception of about eight miles north of Leon and a few miles south of Lamoni.

Iowa’s first federal-aid highway project --- Project No. 1--- also involved paving of a section of the Jefferson Highway between Mason City and Clear Lake. This route section was promoted as the highway to the “delightful summer resort, Clear Lake, only 10 miles away.”

By January 14, 1925, the Iowa State Highway Commission was reporting that the Jefferson Highway was entirely built to finished grade or under contract for building to finished grade, except for a very short section (less than one mile) at the north edge of Warren County. The route had been paved across Polk County and graveled from the north line of Polk County to the Minnesota state line. About 90 miles extending from the south line of Polk County to the Missouri state line had not been surfaced with either pavement or gravel.

Progress on completing the Jefferson Highway was also being made nationally at this time. An April 13, 1925, letter from the Jefferson Highway Association to Fred R. White of the Highway Commission indicated that the highway was completed through Louisiana; and by the end of the season, the graveling would be completed in northern Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. So it would be possible to drive 835 miles from Des Moines, Iowa, to Winnipeg, Manitoba, over a completely graveled or paved roadway.

The Jefferson Highway Association’s April 13, 1925, letter also referenced the fact that because the Jefferson Highway was significant militarily within the Mississippi Valley, it had been designated the “North and South Gold Star Highway” in Iowa.

Correspondence from the Highway Commission dated June 6, 1925, also referenced the cost to pave the Jefferson Highway south of Des Moines to the Missouri border would be $22,000 per mile or less.

On December 29, 1925, Iowa State Highway Commission Chief Engineer Fred White wrote a letter to the Jefferson Highway Association. The letter was issued in response to that organization’s inquiry regarding the possible condition of the Jefferson Highway in January 1926, when members of their group intended to cross the state on their way to the association’s annual meeting in St. Joseph, Missouri. (In January 1926, the national headquarters of the Jefferson Highway Association was the Seventh Floor, Carby Building, St. Joseph, Missouri.)

In reply, White said,

“…anyone who attempts, in January, to make a long drive over any Iowa road is taking a big chance, for the reason that January is the season of snows and snows are likely to come at any time. The highway may be in perfect condition one day and the next day it may be hopelessly snowbound. We are using every effort to keep the highways in this state, such as the Jefferson, free from snow so that it can be traveled throughout the winter. However, if a bad snow should come, say a day or two before these people should expect to drive across the state, they might find it utterly impossible to get across. So far this winter we have had a great deal of snow in this state and our roads have frequently been blockaded by snow for a short time.

In addition to the snow menace, there remains the fact that the Jefferson Highway from a few miles south of Des Moines to the Missouri state line is not surfaced with either pavement or gravel. It is possible that at the time they wish to make this trip that the road would be frozen over an in good smooth condition so that they could get over it without inconvenience. On the other hand, if a thaw should come a few days before they take this trip, they might find the road exceedingly slippery, or they might find it frozen up so rough that they could not get over it.

Personally, regardless of whether the roads were surfaced or not, I would not undertake a drive at this season of the year from Winnipeg, Canada, to St. Joseph, Missouri.”

Bonding for completion

In a special session of the Iowa legislature in March 1928, the General Assembly voted to submit a constitutional amendment to the voters of the state at the general election to be held in November of that year that provided for a $100-million bond issue that would complete the paving of the principal primary roads of the state and gravel the less important highways. If the bond issue carried, it was expected to complete the paving of the Jefferson Highway across Iowa by the end of 1929. The measure did not receive the support of the Iowa Highway Commission, and failed.

Jefferson Highway in Iowa completed

AddressA four-foot high concrete monolith with a metal plaque was unveiled for the dedication of completion of the highway sections in Iowa and Minnesota. Completion of the route was defined as graded and graveled. Located at the Minnesota/Iowa state line on U.S. 65, the monument reads, “This marker dedicated October 30, 1930, by Governor Theodore C. Christianson of Minnesota and Governor John Hamill of Iowa, commemorates the completion of the Jefferson Highway across their states.”

Route is numbered and later renumbered

The Jefferson Highway route name was abandoned in July 1, 1920, when Iowa’s Primary Road numbering system was adopted and all highway/trail names were assigned a highway number. The Jefferson Highway route was numbered Iowa 1. The northern terminus of the route was the Minnesota state line north of Northwood and southern terminus the Missouri state line south of Lamoni.

On February 25, 1924, Iowa 1 was straightened between Sheffield and Hampton. The old alignment followed what is now Franklin County Road S-43.

The Iowa 1 route number was decommissioned October 16, 1926, and the original route incorporated into two new U.S. route segments --- U.S. 65 and U.S. 69 --- when the U.S. route numbering system was adopted. (Note: Iowa 1 was later recommissioned and used for a route from Brighton in Washington County to just south of Anamosa in Jones County.)

Today, U.S. 65 extends from the Minnesota state line north of Northwood, south to the Missouri state line at Lineville. At the time of designation in 1926, the segments from Mason City to the Cerro Gordo/Franklin County line and through Polk County were paved. The work paving U.S. 65 was not completed until1968, when the segment from U.S. 69/Iowa 349 south of Indianola to Iowa 205 was paved.

U.S. 69 extends the Minnesota state line state line near Emmons, Minn., to the Missouri state line near Lamoni. All of U.S. 69 was unpaved at the time of designation in 1926, but it was entirely paved by the end of 1929.

Route safety

In response to a June 1925 front page article published in the Des Moines Register about six motor vehicle fatalities occurring along the Jefferson Highway, the Jefferson Highway Association wrote a letter (dated June 23, 1925) to Iowa State Highway Commission Highway Engineer Fred White recommending that Iowa install safety signs on the roadway similar to those being installed in Minnesota, which read “loose gravel,” “soft shoulders,” “narrow road” or “sharp curve.”

Jefferson Highway Association International President Hugh Shepard wrote, “It is my belief that a number of lives will be saved on the Iowa highways, if a similar system of warning signs is adopted in the State of Iowa, and I would recommend this to you for your careful consideration and prompt attention, particularly on the Jefferson Highway and other roads where the traffic is heavy.”

In the early 1920s, representatives from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana toured several states, including Iowa, with the intent of developing a basis for uniform signs and road markings. The group reported its findings to the Mississippi Valley Association of Highway Departments in 1932. Their efforts resulted in standards for sign shapes and messages, some of which are still in use today and part of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices adopted for use by all states.

1928 U.S. Good Roads Association Address

An address was given by Hugh H. Shepard, Mason City, Iowa, Life Director and Past International President of the Jefferson Highway Association, before the 16th Annual Convention of the United States Good Roads Association at Des Moines on May 30, 1928. The remarks were published in the October 1928, Annals of Iowa, A Historical Quarterly, published by the Historical, Memorial and Art Department of Iowa.

The address outlines much of the history of the Jefferson Highway Association and how it contributed to the building of the goods roads in Iowa and across the nation, assisted travelers through the marking of the route and fostered international relations through its connection to Canada.


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