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  Winter 2015 Issue Excerpts

Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Winter 2015 issue.
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Good Roads Movement layout

Lifting Our People Out of the Mud   By L. Robert Puschendorf

By the mid-1920s, however, the modern system of federal and state highways and county roads was well underway, supported by a shared understanding that a massive public investment in roads was not only desirable, but also that its scale and complexity required centralized support and planning. Today this seems obvious, but the change in attitude did not happen automatically. It required years of promotion by supporters of the “Good Roads Movement.” This nationwide movement began in the 1880s by an alliance of bicycle enthusiasts and then gained momentum with the coming of the automobile. Nebraskans followed the national movement even as they struggled to build support for it in their own state

Nebraska’s Early Roads

When Nebraska Territory was organized in 1854, its only roads were the routes of the overland trails. The federal government soon appropriated funds for several military roads: $50,000 in 1855 for a road beginning at the Missouri River at a point opposite Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Fort Kearny and $30,000 in 1857 for a road from the Platte River to the Niobrara River via the Omaha Reservation to Dakota City. This latter road followed the Missouri River for 103 miles and included thirty-nine bridges. In advocating for other federal military roads, Governor Mark W. Izard pronounced in 1856, “The cost of (these) roads would be comparatively small; the face of the country through which they would pass is particularly adapted to the construction of roads, nothing being required but to bridge the streams and cast up mounds at proper distances from each other to mark the lines.”

Besides federal military roads, the territorial legislature also authorized roads. During its first session in 1855 the legislature designated ten territorial roads connecting newly-established settlements. These were Omaha City to Cedar Island on the Platte River; Plattsmouth to Archer; a suitable point on the Platte River to Dakotah; Pawnee to Nebraska Center; Brownville to Marshall’s Trading Post on the Big Blue River; Tekamah to Pawnee; Florence to Fontanelle; Nebraska City to Grand Island; Belleview to Catharine; and DeSoto to Pawnee. They were followed by many others. Some connected locations that were only dots on a map. Eventually 155 roads were authorized by territorial legislation.

Commissioners were appointed to survey, mark, and establish these roads. Those that were realized were largely undeveloped, consisting of ruts following waterways and land contours and connecting stream crossings and remote settlements. The legislature made no appropriations. In 1856 Nebraska’s first general road law laid the responsibility on county commissioners and authorized a poll tax on able bodied men between twenty-one and sixty of “two days’ labor to be expended upon the public roads.” Thus dependent upon local labor and taxes, few of these roads were actually built.

With the establishment of the territory, however, government surveyors began laying out a rectangular grid, dividing the land into 640-acre sections (one square mile each). Section lines would later be reserved for public roads. But with hundreds of sections in any given county— entailing thousands of miles of section line right-of-way—the great majority remained undeveloped for years.

The entire essay appears in the Winter 2015 issue.



Walt Mason layout 


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