Road promotion, in the 1920s and today, is an arduous task that requires perseverance and dedication, despite the many obstacles presented along the way. In the 1920s, registration and establishment of a route that crossed the entire state was a monumental undertaking. This is a story about the individuals who felt so strongly about the value of good roads that they would engage in multiple battles, winning and losing some, and continuing to move forward promoting their cause.
On Sept. 26, 1922, White Way-7-Highway Association President D. R. Lane and Secretary Robert N. Carson signed an application to register the White Way-7-Highway with the Iowa State Highway Commission (ISHC). The route started at Chicago, Ill., traveled across Illinois and over the Mississippi River to Davenport, Iowa. Upon entering Iowa, the route continued across the state to Des Moines and then Council Bluffs, before it ended in Omaha, Nebr.
While a trans-state route sounded attractive to sponsors and appeared logical on paper, the application to register the route faced an immediate hurdle since its path traversed a path that did not share common state route numbers, as explained further in this article.
On Sept. 28, 1922, following receipt of the application, ISHC Auditor C. R. Jones wrote to Secretary Carson. Jones indicated the ISHC had a number of questions and concerns about the application, all which had to be answered before the route could be considered for registration.
- The first issue was a need for clarification as to whether the Chicago-Omaha Short Line Highway was joining the White Way-7-Highway, having noted that Jones was a member of both associations.
- The second matter pertained to that fact that the ISHC had already registered a road association with a similar name and marking - the Great White Way (Iowa’s first registered road association). The ISHC was concerned that such similarity in the two routes might confuse tourists.
- Finally, the ISHC, or perhaps Jones himself, was having problems grasping the White Way-7-Highway’s road marking. The group wanted its marking to be a four-foot wide white band, very similar to the Great White Way’s, which was six feet wide. However, what would distinguish the White Way-7-Highway’s marking was the addition of a black circle with a white number “7” in the center. The number 7 is what puzzled Jones. The White Way-7-Highway followed Primary Road No. 7 from Davenport to Des Moines, and then at Des Moines the route changed to Primary Road No. 2 en route to Council Bluffs. Jones believed that using a marking that contained the number 7 on a pole on Primary Road No. 2 “… would not be a proper marking…” 1
Jones returned the White Way-7-Highway’s application, along with a blank application form, stating that if it was the Chicago-Omaha Short Line Highway Association who wished to file an application for the route, then their name should listed on the application. However, if the application was indeed for the White Way-7-Highway, then Jones suggested that the route’s members convene and reconsider its exceedingly similar name and marking since the ISHC was “…assuming, of course, that the ‘Great White Way Association’ is still alive.” 2
The next day, Carson wrote back to Jones, literally fighting for the route’s existence and registration.
- First, he explained that the Chicago-Omaha Short Line had been abandoned.
- Next, he recommended that Jones “…confer with Mr. Fred White, Chief Engineer…” (edited for punctuation) of the ISHC, who would be able to explain the new Primary Road numbering system. Primary Road No. 7 was first designated July 1, 1920. Its original western terminus was the Nebraska state line (Missouri River) at Council Bluffs and eastern terminus the Illinois state line (Mississippi River) at Davenport. On Sept. 25, 1922, a day prior to the filing of the White Way-7-Highway’s application, the ISHC approved an alignment shift in the route. Primary Road No. 7 from Des Moines to Council Bluffs was rerouted to follow what had been Primary Road No. 2. This allowed Primary Road No. 7 to go through Atlantic and Adel. This alignment shift had been made by the ISHC specifically at the request of the White Way-7-Highway Association. So the route requested by the White Way-7-Highway Association in their application would now follow Primary Road No. 7 the entire way across the state. So Carson argued that the marking with the number 7 at its center would be sufficient for the proposed route.
- Anticipating possible concerns about the similarities in the names and markings of the Great White Way and White Way-7-Highway, Carson had already spoken to a member of the former organization. Judge George B. Lynch, who was at “…one time an active member and official...” of the Great White Way, stated to Carson that the Great White Way was no longer great or an official way, and had ceased to exist." 3
Behind the scenes, Jones had done his own research and made a commendation to the ISHC. On Nov. 10, 1922, Jones wrote a memo to Chief Engineer White stating that although “…the White Way-7-Highway and Great White Way might seem very similar, there be no need of worries in that “an inquiry has been made and evidence has been gathered which appears to prove “… that the Great White Way had fallen out of existence.” Jones recommended that the Great White Way’s registration be cancelled and in doing so, “…the application of the White Way-7 Highway be approved and the route officially registered.” 4
On Nov. 15, 1922, the White Way-7-Highway Association sent a letter to the ISHC stating that they were changing the route’s name to “Whiteway-7-Highway”, combining the two words “White” and “Way.” Jones responded the following day acknowledging name change.
On Dec. 14, 1922, Jones sent a confirmation letter to Carson recognizing the official registration of the Whiteway-7-Highway.
The route’s name was not the only thing that had changed during this period. Sometime between the letter of Dec. 14, 1922, and spring of 1923, the road association elected new officers. On April 24, 1923, a letter was sent to “Mr. A. F. Fischer,” the route’s new secretary 5, and on May 7, 1923, a letter was sent to White, signed by the route’s new president, George B. Lynch. 6
Seeking to establish the most direct and shortest route across the state, on May 7, 1923, the ISHC restored the original alignments for Primary Highway No. 2 and No. 7. This meant that Whiteway-7-Highway would follow Primary Road No. 2 for a portion of the corridor from Des Moines to Council Bluffs. President Lynch sent a letter of despair to the ISHC fighting to retain the altered alignment for the sake of the route. Somewhat encouraged, he was told that there would be a rehearing of the numbering change and “…how a debate would seem most fitting.” 7 Not only was the Whiteway-7-Highway Association’s new president up in arms over the Commission’s decision, communities along the route were furious as well.
The organization’s desire to restore the altered alignment even attracted attention from outside of the state. The D-L-D Highway was located in Nebraska. Their sponsoring association wanted to change its road’s number to “7.” In doing so, the route would begin in Chicago, Ill., pass through Iowa, exiting at Council Bluffs, and then through Nebraska. Recognizing the strength of the Whiteway-7-Highway Association and character of its members, the D-L-D Highway Association sought to collaborate with the Whiteway-7-Highway Association in an effort to improve the roads through the three states. Upon receipt of their letter, Lynch immediately notified Chief Engineer White.8 & 9 White responded saying, “[the] fact that such action had been taken in Nebraska would be good evidence for bringing to the attention of the Commission at the rehearing….” 10
White also received a letter from C. R. Miles, secretary of the Davenport Chamber of Commerce. Miles wrote that routes across both Nebraska and Colorado had changed their routes’ numbers to “7.” This was done so that route 7 would be an interstate route and be the quickest, shortest way across the states of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado.
This route alignment and number changing prompted individuals from all over the state to send letters to and communicate directly with members of the ISHC. Some individuals were not hesitant to use their political leverage by reminding the ISHC members of how they had once helped them in some way.
It seemed as though anyone who had even once traveled on a road was writing to the ISHC, asking when and where the rehearing was scheduled. The rehearing was held May 29 at 1:30 p.m. in office of the Commission in Ames. The ground rules of the debate were outlined by the Commission: (1) Each side was allowed up to four spokespeople. (2) Each person was limited to not more than 20 minutes. (3) Those making the opening arguments would be given a chance to speak in rebuttal.” 11The arena was set and the contest scheduled. And, based on the flow of mail received and sent by the ISHC between May 10 and May 29, it seemed as though everyone wanted a game side seat.
Oddly, all documentation in the road association’s file regarding this matter ends until June 23, 1923, when Walter E. Williams of The Audubon Advocate asked the ISHC for information about the outcome of the rehearing. Two days later, Chief Engineer White, responded to Williams saying there “…had been no action taken by the State Highway Commission….” 12 Unfortunately, the old phrase “no news is good news” did not prove true for the Whiteway-7-Highway Association.
Sometime between June 25 and July 14, 1923, the ISHC made their decision and proceeded to change Primary Road No. 7 back to Primary Road No. 2 and resign the route.
Despite this setback and his personal disappointment in the matter, Lynch remained a strong advocate for good roads. Aware of Lynch’s good will, ISHC District 4 Engineer L. M. Martin wrote in a memo “…if by chance any careless or scatter-brained workman should paint out a White Way 7 marker…” this should be fixed as soon as humanly possible and that the marking be restored to “…as good condition as before” in hopes of keeping good relations with Lynch. 13
Although Lynch let the matter pass, for years to follow the ISHC would continue to hear from constituents about the outcome of their decision.
On Nov. 27, 1925, the Whiteway-7-Highway Association held a meeting of its executive board. During the meeting, the board decided to change their organization’s name to Whiteway Highway Association and route to Whiteway Highway. By removing the 7 from the names, the group was recognizing the fact that the route now included both Primary Road numbers 2 and 7. The group filed their name change request (signed by the organization’s new secretary, S. Lincoln Rutt 14) with the ISHC and it was approved March 31, 1926.
While the outcome of their plan is unknown to the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Whiteway Highway Association also elected a committee of three to oversee a project they were hoping to implement. The committee, which consisted of William R. Welch, Chase Beno and Alex Fitzhugh, wrote to Iowa Governor Hamill explaining the plan to keep their route one of the best in the nation, and in doing so, wished to “…beautify it as much as possible” by the lining of walnut trees along its road. As always with this road association, the proposal had been long thought out and the walnut tree was chosen for several reasons in that it grows quickly, it “…grows large and beautiful, and it produces a wood that is very much sought after by our government in time of war, besides affording a great help to bird life in our state” (edited for punctuation). 15
1 Letter from C. R. Jones to Robert Carson, September 28, 1922.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
2 Letter from C. R. Jones to Robert Carson, September 28, 1922.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
3 Letter from Robert Carson to C. R. Jones, September 29, 1922.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
4 Letter from C. R. Jones to Fred R. White, November 10, 1922.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
5 Letter from C. Coykendall to A. F. Fischer, April 24, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
6 Letter from George B. Lynch to Fred. R. White, May 7, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
7 Letter from George B. Lynch to Fred R. White, May 10, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
8 Letter from George B. Lynch to Fred R. White, May 10, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
9 Letter from Fred R. White to George B. Lynch, May 15, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
10 Letter from Fred. R. White to George B. Lynch, May 15, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
11 Letter from Fred R. White to George B. Lynch, May 15, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder one of two.
12 Letter from Fred R. White to Walter E. Williams, June 25, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder two of two.
13 Letter from Fred R. White to L. M. Martin, August 28, 1923.; Box 5, folder .093; folder two of two.
14 Letter from S. Lincoln Rutt to ISHC, November 27, 1925.; Box 5, folder .093; folder two of two.
15 Letter from William R. Welch, Chase Beno, and Alex Fitzhugh to Governor John Hammill, February 4, 1926.; Box 5, folder .093; folder two of two.