Lincoln Highway, Nebraska, circa 1920

We are a nation of drivers. Our culture, our economy and our architecture have long been defined by the road. We refer to the “Great White Way” (New York’s Broadway), we get our “Kicks on Route 66,” we refer to living “in the fast lane” even when we are not in an automobile and our politicians in Washington, DC don’t understand us with their “inside the beltway” mentality. Our entrepreneurs have developed the “drive-in,” the “drive-thru,” and the “drive-up”. Our architects, planners and landscape architects have responded with rational plans to accommodate the automobile in places like Radburn, New Jersey, Greenbelt, Maryland and Irvine, California. Our promoters have responded with a glittering Strip in Las Vegas and the ubiquitous strip in the suburbs.

John Steinbeck immortalized Route 66 in the Grapes of Wrath with his vivid descriptions of the dirty and desperate faces of the “Okies” fleeing the oppression of environmental degradation and financial injustice during the dust bowl; and later he took us on a romantic driving journey across the nation in Travels With Charley. William Least Heat-Moon gave us Blue Highways and MGM gave us a yellow-brick road.

Charles Lindbergh, ticker tape parade, Broadway, 1927Many of the most significant events of the twentieth century were celebrated with ticker-tape parades on Broadway, while one of the most powerful events of that century took place along a dusty highway as an oppressed people marched from Selma to Montgomery to demand the right to vote. We can credit the Interstate Highway System for launching a post-war boom and immediately deride the system for dividing many urban communities.

For many of us, the road is associated with more personal memories. A trip to grandma’s along a winding road during a gentle snow, the new and unfamiliar landscapes rolling by the backseat window on your first big family vacation, a favorite drive where you, the automobile and the road become one.

Yet for such a powerful imprint to be placed on the landscape, very little has been said about the need for the preservation of our highways and byways. It has only been in the last few years that serious efforts and legitimate dialogue have begun to address the preservation of this uniquely American resource—the historic road.

--Paul Daniel Marriott, author Saving Historic Roads