5 Postcards from a US-36 Roadtrip
ON THE ROAD IN 1962
Time for Roadtrip-’62 ™ to travel highway US-36 as we count down the US-numbered routes. Actually, I’m counting up, but whatever. Highway US-36 currently runs about 1414 miles from Uhrichsville, Ohio to Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. It approximates the route of the old Pikes Peak Ocean To Ocean Highway, which dated from the time before 1924 when major transcontinental highway were named instead of numbered. You can find out more about those highways at my US Highway Systems page. Back in 1962, the highway was shorter on the west end but longer on the east end. It then ran from Cadiz, Ohio to Denver, Colorado. The changes were made in 1974, so we would not have traveled the route to the national park. Highway US-36 was extended to use The Denver-Boulder Turnpike. This was constructed as a toll expressway in 1953 and the bonds were paid off in 1967. After the tollbooths were removed, US-36 was extended west from Denver.
In Uhrichsville, the current beginning of US-36, we find ourselves in clay country. You might not give much thought to clay, but it still provides an important building material. Clay is still used in making bricks, chimney liners and decorative chimney tops, ovens, roof and other tiles, and sewer pipes. Around 1900, when the country was building new cities and most buildings were made of brick, there were 32 clay plants in the area. There is still one today, Superior Clay Corporation, which dates back to that earlier time and still creates its products from local clays. There is also the Uhrichsville Clay Museum, which was not here in 1962 but which shows us that clay-working heritage. Something else that we actually could have seen in 1962 is the Civil War Memorial in Union Cemetery. This is one of the most elaborate memorials I have seen. It is carved from limestone and includes several separate elements. The most dramatic is the large tree-stump in the center of the memorial. Also included are two soldiers, one who appears to have been wounded, and a broken wagon wheel.
Instead, let’s visit some other places along US-36. Our US-23 roadtrip crossed the route at Delaware, Ohio, where we saw a monument at the birthplace of President Rutherford B. Hayes. His birth home is no longer at the site. The Hayes family were renters on the property and, as often happens with rental properties, it fell into disrepair. It was purchased in 1921 by Standard Oil and demolished for a gas station, though the oil company gave the community an opportunity to buy the site after learning it was a presidential birthplace. In 1926, a memorial marker was placed here by the Delaware City Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I mention several other places in Delaware on Day 7 of my US-23 journey.
Another worthwhile stop open both in 1962 and today in Ohio is Zane Caverns, now known as Zane Shawnee Caverns and Southwind Park, near Zanesfield, Ohio. I’ve never been to Zane Caverns but have visited nearby Ohio Caverns. Both cave systems were formed by the same glacial process, which deposited a moraine on nearby Campbell Hill. Zane Caverns were discovered in 1892 by a man rescuing a boy and his dog from a sinkhole. They have been operated as a tour cave through most of the 20th century and are currently operated by the Shawnee Nation, URB, an Ohio recognized tribe who claim Shawnee descent. The cave contains many rare formations, such as cave pearls and claws. Nearby Ohio Caverns has been called “America’s most colorful caverns” and are the largest caverns in Ohio. I remember best the thin stalactite structures called soda straws. They have been open for public tours since 1925.
I’ve covered the sites of Indianapolis, Indiana in a post about highway US-31, which also passes through that city, so I won’t repeat them here. On to highway US-36 in Illinois, which traverses a good portion of the area where President Abraham Lincoln lived and worked before becoming President. Near Decatur, Illinois, the Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park & Memorial is located just 2 miles off US-36. A marker on the approximate site of Abraham’s Lincoln’s first home in Illinois was erected in 1904. The park was created in 1938 to commemorate the homesite. The original Lincoln cabin is long gone but the land looks much like it did when he lived here. You can canoe the Sangamon River or hike one of three nature trails in the park.
Within the capital of Springfield, Illinois, there are five sites linked by the Abraham Lincoln Trail. These include the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and the Lincoln Monument in Oak Ridge Cemetery. The tomb at the Lincoln Monument, dedicated in 1874, is not only the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, but also of his wife Mary, and three of their four sons. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System located on 4 city blocks. Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s son, donated the family home to the State of Illinois in 1887 under the condition that it would forever be well maintained and open to the public at no charge. The home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The home and the adjacent district became a National Historic Site in 1971. The area showcases several homes that remain from the time when Abraham Lincoln lived here. Some homes are open for viewing, tours are available of Mr. Lincoln’s home, and there are outdoor exhibits. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is located just a few blocks outside of the park.
We cross the Mississippi River to reach Missouri at Hannibal, boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, better known as author Mark Twain. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum has been open to the public as a museum since 1912 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. There are nine properties in the museum complex, with the legendary whitewashed fence of Tom Sawyer bordering the property. Also included are Becky Thatcher’s House, right across the street from Tom Sawyer’s home, and the Tom and Huck Statue at the foot of Cardiff Hill. The statue was erected in 1926 and is one of the earliest known statues to honor fictional characters. The museum’s collection includes many first edition books by Mark Twain, personal items and a large collection of Mark Twain memorabilia. The museum also houses the second largest collection of original Norman Rockwell paintings, which were commissioned as illustrations for a special edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Hannibal is also home to Mark Twain Cave, the oldest operating show cave in Missouri. It has exceptionally good examples of maze type of caverns and was the basis for “McDougal’s Cave” in Twain’s novel, that Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher became lost in. Geologically, Mark Twain Cave and its nearby neighbor Cameron Cave are believed to be remnants of a much larger cave system cut apart by a glacier and millions of years of erosion. Tours of Cameron Cave are also offered, but unlike Mark Twain Cave, that cave has no electric lights.
The boyhood home of another historical figure, General John J. Pershing, is along highway US-36 near Laclede, Missouri. General Pershing attained the rank of General of the Armies and became the highest-ranking military officer in United States history. The historic site preserves and interprets his boyhood home and the one-room Prairie Mound School, where he taught for a year before attending West Point Military Academy. The Pershing home was acquired by the state of Missouri in 1952 and dedicated as a memorial in 1960, as part of a national centennial celebration of Pershing’s birth.
At St. Joseph, Missouri, we cross the Pony Express Bridge over the Missouri River, connecting to Elwood, Kansas. The current bridges were built in 1983 to replace a steel truss bridge built in 1929. The bridge is near the Pony Express Stables at that historic route’s eastern terminus. The bridge also passes over the family property of Johnny Fry, the “official” first westbound rider for the Pony Express. Because US-36 closely follows the Pony Express route to Marysville, Kansas, it is designated the Pony Express Memorial Highway. The Pony Express was a mail delivery service and though it only operated for 18 months before telegraph service replaced it, it was an important link in transcontinental communications. It began in St. Joseph because that city was the farthest westward end of railroad tracks in the United States in 1861. The Patee House, a former hotel, served as the headquarters for the Pony Express in St. Joseph. Today, the Patee House Museum and Jesse James House are both owned by The Pony Express Historical Association. They were not open to the public in 1962 but the Patee House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Another museum, the Pony Express Barn, is located at Marysville.
A more unusual sight along US-36 is the geographic center of the 48 continental United States. This site near Lebanon, Kansas has been surveyed and recognized as the center since 1912, when the states of New Mexico and Arizona were added. Until 1958, when Alaska was added, it was also the center of the United States. A historical marker and small chapel have been erected at a roadside stop near the center point.
Because I cover Denver, Colorado extensively on two pages of my US-6 roadtrip, I won’t repeat myself here. You can read all about it at US-6 Day 29 and US-6 Day 30. And you can read much more about 1962 next time right here on Roadtrip-’62 ™!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2021 — Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2021 — Donald Dale Milne.
Originally published at https://www.roadtrip62.com.