Doug's Diggings: Yellowstone Trail is gaining momentum quicklyIt is sometimes intriguing how an idea can pick up legs and begin walking, then running. On May 14, 2009, I wrote an article in the Star-Observer about a fellow named Dan Mettner from Duluth who was walking through Hudson – rediscovering what he called the “Yellowstone Trail.”
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
It is sometimes intriguing how an idea can pick up legs and begin walking, then running.
On May 14, 2009, I wrote an article in the Star-Observer about a fellow named Dan Mettner from Duluth who was walking through Hudson – rediscovering what he called the “Yellowstone Trail.”
It turns out this was a somewhat famous road across the country — in fact, it was the first transcontinental road, starting at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts and ending at Puget Sound in Washington State.
This all happened long before my day, beginning around 1915 and the concept of the Yellowstone Trail sort of died when the government began funding highways in the late 1920 and early 1930s.
What I find interesting is that I had never heard of the Yellowstone Trail. I grew up in Hudson and you’d think I would have heard it mentioned once or twice. If Hudson history guru Willis H. Miller were still alive, he could probably have filled in many of the blanks, but it was even something he never talked about. Obviously the Yellowstone Trail was “dead and buried” for three-quarters of the century — it had no place on anyone’s radar screen.
I wrote the story and found it interesting, but figured the words “Yellowstone Trail” were probably put to rest for another 75 years!
Low and behold, the “Yellowstone Trail” has legs! Not only in Hudson, but across the state and nation. As we speak, large yellow and black signs are going up across Wisconsin and the nation, marking the Yellowstone Trail.
Hudson has planned a community celebration titled “Yellowstone Trail Heritage Days” set May 14-16. The local event includes vintage car shows in both Hudson and Burkhardt, a walking tour of historic Hudson, a tour of the Octagon House Museum, an Architectural Scavenger Hunt, a stop for a 1919 root beer float and a pipe organ concert at the First Baptist Church and more. The weekend culminates with a commemoration ceremony of the Yellowstone Trail Sunday, May 16 at 1 p.m. on the historical toll bridge Dike Road.
Everybody knows about Route 66, but as the effort to promote the “Yellowstone Trail” grows, maybe it will gain some of the same fame. Hudson, of course, was part of the early trail. The road was actually one of the earliest transcontinental automobile routes in the world.
“Yet, too few people are aware of its existence or its social, political and economic effects,” Mettner said in the newspaper last May.
A transcontinental route was devised by J.W. Parmley of Ipswitch, S.D.,
in 1912. The automobile was just gaining popularity but intercity roads were plagued with sand, potholes and mud. In 1912 there were very few good, all-weather roads, no useful long distance roads and no government-marked routes.
Parmley was looking for a good road from Ipswitch to Aberdeen, S.D., 26 miles to the east. Soon business and community activists pushed the road toward the west to Mobridge, S.D. As communities and private businesses
became involved in road travel, the Yellowstone Trail soon developed into a “good” road — it soon went all the way to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming.
The road continued to push both east and west and was soon advertised as
a good road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound.
The Yellowstone Trail Association was formed in 1912 and operated to about 1930. The association did not build roads, but lobbied for “good roads” in every level of government. The association assisted with marking the Yellowstone Trail and provided the first maps of the trail.
The Yellowstone Trail came to Wisconsin in 1915 and ran from Hudson to the Illinois border near Kenosha. The Hudson toll bridge had opened in 1913, making Hudson a logical crossing point from the Twin Cities.
In our area, the route followed roughly on a series of roads that later became Hwy. 12 from Hudson to Menomonie.
The trail was revised somewhat in about 1920, and Mettner said in Hudson, for instance, the original trail in 1915 came across the toll bridge
and through downtown Hudson. It went up to Third Street and continued north to St. Croix Street where it went east and continued on roughly County A.
The revised route followed Hwy. 12 through downtown and east on Vine Street. Wisconsin became the first state to number its highways in 1918, and in 1926 the American Association of State Highway Officials established numbered interstate routes (U.S. route numbers).
The association selected the best roads in each state which could be
connected to provide a national network of federal highways.
At the peak of its existence, the Yellowstone Trail Association performed
duties similar to what the American Automobile Association does today. It
published maps and brochures, set up tents along busy places on the trail to hand out materials and gave advice on preferred routes.
With the Depression, however, the Yellowstone Trail organization fell on
hard times. Local merchants who had supported the organization’s efforts
began to fall away. State maps soon replaced the need for the association’s maps.
The people most involved in Yellowstone Trail research are John and Alice
Ridge in Altoona. The couple are both retired UW-Eau Claire professors
and have devoted countless hours since 1996 to researching the trail. They have written books about the trail and the most recent is a Wisconsin guide to the trail, titled Driving the Yellowstone Trail.
The free 44-page guide can be picked up at the Economic Development Corp. office or the historical society or convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, economic development offices and some businesses on the trail. The guide is also on the Web at www.yellowstonetrail.org/wisconsin.htm.
Driving the Yellowstone Trail guide includes detailed maps, a mile-by-mile description of things to see that are on or very near the old trail through Wisconsin from Kenosha to Hudson, and many historic notes.
A group of history buffs and tourism professionals wants the Yellowstone Trail to become known and enjoyed again. The group, Yellowstone Trail Wisconsin, has been working to promote the marking of the route and to prepare the driving guide. I didn’t see it coming – but apparently this group is having some amazing success in promoting the Yellowstone Trail.