Monday, December 24, 2007

When Roads Had Names—Not Numbers

In recent years, Nevada officials have created “the Loneliest Road in America” (U.S. 50) as well as the “Extraterrestrial Highway” (State Route 375). The designation recalls an old custom when Nevada’s highways were named, not numbered.

During the early part of this century, highways, and their colorful names, were promoted by private auto clubs and car manufacturers that helped build the roads.

The highway names—such as Lincoln, Victory, and Coast-to-Coast—provided the roads with a measure of personality and character that is somehow lacking when roads are simply known as “I-80” or “395.”

In the 1930s, however, highway names were thought to be too confusing, so federal officials introduced numbered routes.

Our loss.

The following are some of the more descriptive names once given to Nevada’s highways.

So head out on one of those roads with a boring number--such as U.S. 6--roll down the window, and think back to the time when you would have been cruising the Grand Army of the Republic Highway.

Now that’s a name.

1. Lincoln Highway: America’s first coast-to-coast road was the Lincoln Highway, which in Nevada paralleled the old Pony Express Trail and today’s U.S. 50. The road commemorated President Abraham Lincoln and stretched 3,300 miles from New York City to San Francisco. When the Lincoln Highway was established in 1913, it was declared to be “open to lawful traffic of all descriptions without toll charges, and to be of concrete wherever practicable.”

2. Victory Highway: A rival of the Lincoln Highway, the Victory Highway, as it was named after World War I, largely followed the Emigrant Trail through Elko, Winnemucca, and other Northern Nevada towns. Later called U.S. 40, the Victory evolved into Interstate 80.

3. Three Flags Highway: This north-south arterial followed present-day U.S. 395. The name referred to the fact that the route passed through three countries—Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

4. Theodore Roosevelt Highway: This highway name for U.S. 6 honored the 26th president. The March/April 1939 issue of Nevada Highways and Parks noted that the “Roosevelt Highway enters Nevada from Delta, Utah, as an earth road.”

5. Grand Army of the Republic Highway: In the mid-1920s, this elegant title, honoring the Civil War-era Union Army, was bestowed on the byway that crossed the state from the California border near Boundary Peak to the Utah line near Baker. The route is today’s U.S. 6.

6. Bonanza Highway: Meandering along Nevada’s western edge, this roadway followed most of today’s U.S. 95. The Bonanza was so named because it passed through many mining towns, including Tonopah and Goldfield.

7. International Four States Highway: Quite a mouthful, this name was given to the Eastern Nevada route that is now U.S. 93. The road, also called the Pan-Pacific Highway, weaved 1,500 miles through Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona.

8. Arrowhead Trail: Crossing Southern Nevada, this highway generally followed what was later known as U.S. 91 and now Interstate 15. Conceived by Las Vegas promoters, it was built by volunteers and supported by chambers of commerce in towns along the trail.

9. National Shortcut Highway: The name said it all. This highway provided a direct link between Omaha, Nebraska, and Las Vegas. Like the Arrowhead Trail, it followed the path of today’s I-15.

10. Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway: In the 1960s, Winnemucca citizens revived the custom of naming roads when they gave this sobriquet to the completed highway, via State Route 140, from Winnemucca to the coastal town of Crescent City, California. In commemoration, a sizable redwood-tree slab stands in front of the convention center where the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea route meets the old Victory Highway.


Anonymous said...

Terrific writing! I really enjoy your blog.

Craig McDonald said...

Very interesting blog. I have a very old picture and on the back, all it says is "National Shortcut Highway". A distant relative must have taken the photo, I do not know the year or the location, but I think it might be the 1930's. I have a scan of the picture if you would like to see it...please send me an email titled National Shortcut Highway and I will email you the picture. My email address is cregmeister at

Craig McDonald said...
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