Remembering The Yellowstone Trail

Famous Yellowstone Trail Passes Through Marshfield

During the first decades of the 20th century, the “Good Roads Movement” began to put substantial pressure on the federal government to develop reliable roads that connected the rural areas of the United States to the cities. It is difficult to imagine, but prior to President Eisenhower’s massive infrastructure project, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the creation, marking and maintenance of American roadways was left up to state and local governments, and even up to individual property owners.

signalumrefl06smallSuch was the case with the Yellowstone Trail, a continuous, paved vehicle roadway that was conceived by Joseph Parmley and championed by thousands of ordinary Americans in the Yellowstone Trail Association to connect the East and West Coasts of the United States. The roadway was completed in 1919 and ran from Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, to Peugeot Sound, Washington, running through the upper Midwest and northern Great Plains. The name of the roadway is a reference of course to Yellowstone National Park, which, when it was established by President Grant in 1872, was not only the first national park in the United States, but the world. The Yellowstone Trail was designed, in part, as a way to showcase the park.

In Wisconsin, the Yellowstone Trail ran from Kenosha in the southeast to Hudson in the West, passing through Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, Stevens Point, Marshfield and Chippewa Falls. The history of the roadway in Wisconsin significant for many reasons, including the fact that Wisconsin was a pioneer in the maintenance and marking of roadways, and was the first state in the nation to number its highways, which it did beginning in 1918. Prior to then, roads were generally color-coded and motorists were simply pointed in the right direction (Today, there are a handful of small Yellowstone signs scattered around town, with the iconic yellow arrow, which would have indicated to drivers in what direction to proceed).

In Marshfield, a piece of the trail remains and has since been renamed Yellowstone Drive. It runs from east to west, between County Road N and Central Avenue, where it briefly turns into 29th Street just south of Wildwood Park and Zoo. The trail is commemorated by the Yellowstone Recreational Park in Hewitt Township. Little else remains in Marshfield of Yellowstone’s legacy. Hotel Blodgett, where several drivers stayed during the cross country race of 1916, was demolished in 1928. The only other structure dating from that time that would have housed visitors is the Thomas House, which was designed as a hotel and completed in 1887. including on

If not for the efforts of Alice and John Ridge, the Yellowstone Trail in Wisconsin would likely remain obscure. The Ridges have led the effort to raise awareness of the road and its history in the Badger State, and they produced a paper booklet that is available to view (but not download) on the Yellowstone Trail website, with a county-by-county overview of the trail and what remains of its legacy.