Thursday, July 30, 2015

The History of U.S. Route 6

By now you’re well aware that U.S. Route 6 is the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. But did you know it has another historical designation and is named for a famous president?

You can find out all about it in this article I wrote for the July 2009 issue of the Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette. It appears here courtesy of that publication.

U.S. 6: A Historical Highway by Any Name
By Dan Brady
Many famous American highways have their fans and enthusiasts. There are associations, clubs and websites devoted to the Lincoln Highway, the National Road and the much-celebrated U.S. 66. But here in northern Ohio, we have an often-overlooked transcontinental U.S. highway that enjoys not one but two historical designations. We know the road as U.S. 6, but it also goes by two other names: the Roosevelt Highway and the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. Let’s look back at how U.S. 6 started out on the road to fame.
In the early days of motoring, various private trail associations developed the nation’s first interstate highways by erecting signs to promote their sponsored routes, such as the Dixie Highway and the National Old Trails Road. Eventually, there were hundreds of these named trails and, with many of the routes overlapping, it began to get confusing for the motorists.
Finally, in 1925 the federal government devised a standardized numbering system that would replace the named roads. Major east-west routes would be assigned numbers ending in zero, from U.S. 10 in the north to U.S. 90 in the south. North-south routes would be numbered odd from east to west, and minor east-west roads would be numbered even from north to south.
With this system in mind, it’s obvious that U.S. 6 was not planned as a major east-west road. It was conceived originally as a short route between Providence, Massachusetts and Brewster, New York. But as roads were improved, highway officials began to extend U.S. 6 on the map until by 1927 it stretched across Pennsylvania.
Vintage Brochure
(Dan Brady Collection)
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania had already designated the road that would become U.S. 6 as the Roosevelt Highway back in 1923, to honor President Theodore Roosevelt. Through the promotional efforts of the Roosevelt Highway Association, U.S. 6 would retain its Roosevelt Highway name after the new numbering system was in place. In fact, the Roosevelt Highway Association envisioned a coast-to-coast highway to rival the Lincoln Highway, and lobbied for additional extensions across Ohio and to the West.
By 1931, U.S. 6 was extended to Denver, Colorado. In January 1937, with the extension of the highway from Denver to Los Angeles, U.S. 6 became a transcontinental route and the longest U.S. highway at that time. The coast-to-coast Roosevelt Highway was consequently promoted as “the scenic way from the Atlantic to the Pacific” in brochures that included attractions such as Yosemite National Park and Ohio’s own Cedar Point.
Even before U.S. 6 had achieved its status as a coast-to-coast highway, it had attracted the attention of two Civil War organizations, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), comprised of veterans of the Union forces, and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). The SUVCW had hoped to name a memorial highway to honor the fallen Union soldiers, and U.S. 6 was an appealing choice as it extended across the country.
And so, in 1934 Major William L. Anderson of the U.S. Army proposed designating U.S. 6 as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. Each of the fourteen U.S. 6 states was asked to act on the proposal, and over time all of the states passed legislation to officially adopt the name. Uniquely shaped highway signs with the star-shaped GAR insignia were erected in all of the states.
On May 3, 1953, a formal dedication of the Grand Army of the Republic Highway took place in Long Beach, California with service organizations including the SUVCW in attendance. A monument was placed in front of the Municipal Auditorium “in memory of the heroic services and unselfish devotion of the Union Soldiers, sailors and marines who laid down their lives on the altar of sacrifice during the Civil War.”
Today, the Grand Army of the Republic Highway designation appears to be making a comeback, with old and new signs found in all fourteen states. In Ohio, Sheffield Lake has one sign in the original design and Andover has two signs at the village square identifying the route.
Although its Roosevelt Highway designation is not well known except in Pennsylvania, U.S. 6 remains the Grand Army of the Republic Highway officially in Ohio and across the country, keeping alive the memory of those who fought to preserve the Union.

Vintage Brochure
(Dan Brady Collection)

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