Before highways were given numbers, organizations of community leaders bestowed names upon roads of national and local importance in cooperation with state and provincial officials. Some roads were named for the places they connected; some honored political and military leaders; some commemorated local landmarks or historical figures; and some just recieved pleasant-sounding or unique names. A few of the trails achieved national or international fame, and allowed adventurous people to get from coast to coast if the mood struck them. Others performed the same duties at a more localized level, showing drivers the way from the city to the mountain resorts and back.
To direct drivers, trails made use of colored bands and symbols painted or posted on telephone poles along the route. Many of the designs were rather simple and unsophisticated, but they made following the zigs and zags of rural cowpaths a little easier for travelers. To complicate matters, though, several routes often followed the same roads, and telephones occasionally became festooned with countless different markers.
The United States Congress approved a plan for numbering all major roads in the country in 1926, and the markers soon were replaced by thousands of black and white metal shields. Several Canadian provinces had already begun numbering their roads, and though route numbers sometimes changed at provincial lines, the result was the same. The new coordinated system of numbered routes in the United States certainly helped motorists find their way through unfamiliar territory, but this closed a colorful chapter in North American transportation history.
This site is a catalog of marked auto trails that were found in the United States and Canada in the 1910s and 1920s. It is designed to show information about the markers used by each auto trail, its terminal points, the cities along the route, and, if applicable, the US Highway numbers assigned to the former trail route (see the explanation page for more information). It represents what I have been able to compile from a variety of sources, and reflects my interpretation of the importance of certain routes.
It should not be assumed that this site contains a complete listing of auto trails at any level. Every time I discover a new resource, I discover information about new trails as well as additional information about trails already included in the site. Many of the trails included here have only the most basic information, such as the endpoints; a few are only names.
In addition, one should not assume that all trails listed in this site were of major importance in their time. Some may have existed only on paper, and others might have been posted but rarely used. Many were created more as a way of getting travelers into intermediate cities on their way across the country, and might not have attracted more experienced travelers familiar with shorter or better routes.
Since I would like to have the most accurate data for all trails, I appreciate any additions sent in by people with additional information. If you would like to contribute new information to the page, correct errors, or make suggestions about anything, please contact me at [email protected]. I will be grateful for anything submitted, and your name will be added to the list of contributors.