Kane County History: Good Roads Day! Batavia Was The Starting Link of The Lincoln Highway

Kane County History: Good Roads Day! Batavia Was The Starting Link of The Lincoln Highway

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. This article was contributed by Batavia Depot Museum Director Kate Garrett.

In 1983, the Chicago Tribune declared that the Midwest has just two seasons: snow and road construction. This appears to be the first instance in print of what has become an Illinois standby, as each summer brings the familiar sight of detour signs, traffic cones, and brake lights.

The smell of fresh asphalt is quintessentially summer to kids who grew up in Kane County suburbs with hundreds of miles of road to repair after the brutal freeze-thaw of winter.

When the phrase was originally coined in the 1890s in Minneapolis, no mention of road construction was made, of course. (In the 1890s, Minnesota’s two seasons were winter and August.) Building and maintaining roads in the 19th century was as straightforward as keeping the dirt of the major thoroughfares well packed.

Roads and their maintenance were the responsibility of individual property owners. A good, easy to travel road would help bring commerce, industry, and news to town. If a property owner could afford to do it, digging a roadbed and laying it with cut timber reduced dust and made travel faster.

The most expensive would have been roads paved with brick or cobble, funded by committees of local property owners banding together. This left rural areas literally in the dust, as farmers and ranchers struggled to keep the roads to their properties passable.

Frustrated rural residents discovered unlikely allies in the Wheelmen of the late 19th century — bicycle enthusiasts struggling with the spotty quality of roads as they explored the countryside. Together they formed the “Good Roads Movement,” an informal advocacy group that lobbied for systematically paved roads to connect towns and provide safe transportation avenues for a variety of uses.

When auto enthusiasts looking for roads they could motor along without getting stuck in the mud lent support in the early 20th century, concrete roads became the way of the future.

The early 20th century saw the beginning of road construction as we think of it today in Kane County. April 15, 1914, was dubbed “Good Roads Day” and marked with ceremonial speeches, parades, and moving picture making as the first shovel broke ground near Mooseheart between Aurora and Batavia on the first stretch of concrete highway in Illinois.

Community volunteers with shovels began what would be Illinois’ starting link on the Lincoln Highway.

Every man who attended and worked on the road that day received a membership into the Hob carriers and Common Laborers Union and a one-penny paycheck signed by the governor of Illinois himself and drawn on the First National Bank of Batavia.

The Lincoln Highway would eventually connect 3,400 miles of concrete highway from New York to San Francisco in what was the best known road in the country. As it ran through the heart of Kane County, it brought travelers from all over the country to our area.

Batavia Depot Museum explores the Good Roads movement and the changes it brought to our city at our new exhibit opening Aug. 1. Join the museum staff from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday or by appointment to learn more about roads and the ways they shape our communities.

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