Some history of US 40

The late Marilyn Heldstab, former Director of the Geary County Historical Society, wrote an article for the JC Union newspaper about the history of US 40. Her source was a brochure from the National Road Museum. This is some of what she wrote.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson foresaw the need for a road from the east coast to the interior as they charted a course for the new nation. They believed a trans-Appalachian land link was essential for moving crops and goods to the marketplace, unifying the first states of young America with its swiftly expanding frontier.

In 1806, an Act of Congress created the first federally supported road in the United States, authorizing construction from Cumberland, Maryland to the Ohio River. After five years of extensive surveying, road crews began to cut through the forests, toppling trees and hauling out stumps and underbrush to clear a right-of-way 60 feet wide.

By 1818, the road was completed to Wheeling. More appropriations were required to extend the road across Ohio, but the project became embroiled in a Constitutional debate over the issue of “internal improvements.” The question was whether the federal government had the authority to appropriate money for internal improvements, which delayed funding of the second stage of the National Road until 1825. Eventually, the road stretched to Vandal, Illinois. However, the coming of the railroads halted construction at Vandal in 1840.

In 1912, the automobile was rapidly becoming the American means of transportation. At that time most roads were abominable and in bad weather were impassable. Carl G. Fisher, who manufactured Prest-O-Lite headlamps, conceived the idea of constructing transcontinental highways. He got together with other wealthy men and formed the Lincoln Highway Association. The association adopted a standard road marker patriotically in red, white and blue and also sought large sums of money to aid the construction of the first transcontinental road for automobiles.

By 1924, the American Association of State Highway Officials stepped in. They recommended a new country wide system of numbering highways. It was decided that east/west roads be given even numbers with chief routes assigned numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. and nor/south roads odd numbers with main roads ending with 1 or 5. The success of the numbered system was immediate.

In 1953, George R. Stewart wrote a book titled U.S. 40 Cross Section of the United States of America. In this book he related that U.S. 40 was at that time 3,091 miles from end to end. There were also additional miles designated as alternate, by-pass, business route or temporary routes. It traversed the breadth of 12 states and the corners of two others. Some of this route had been in existence for over three centuries, for it followed long ago trails in some areas.” In our area, US 40 runs parallel to or concurrent with Interstate 70.

Letters helped bring a couple together

A March 5, 1930 Daily Union newspaper article referred to a new house being built by Roy Hubbard at 326 N. Jefferson Street. It was being built on the property of George A. and Annie Clark Rockwell. George Rockwell was the brother of Bertrand Rockwell who had established the Rockwell Company here with his father after the Civil War. George also worked in the Rockwell Merchandise and Grain Co. store. As a young man in college, George met Annie Clark when she was visiting her sister from Illinois. Annie had a married sister who lived in Junction City.

By 1870, George and Annie were corresponding between here and Collinsville, Illinois, where Annie lived. Copies of some of their letters are contained in the Geary County Historical Society Museum files, which were donated to the Museum by a great-granddaughter who had found them in a an inherited trunk. Annie was caring for her widowed father early and during the courtship by mail between Annie and George. Annie’s father became ill and evidently died sometime in the middle of 1872.

George often wrote of happenings in Junction City in his letters. The letters shed light on early day living in the community. On July 7, 1872, George wrote to Annie about his attendance at the dedication of the Presbyterian Church. He told of the pastor’s message and music and that there was a full crowd. George stated that he went downtown to attend the Fourth of July parade, which started at the engine house and was a long procession led by the band, followed by firemen, carriages and persons on horseback. After the parade, George stated he enjoyed a game of croquet and a big dinner. The evening was spent watching a display of fireworks in the park (Heritage Park).

By September 1872, George was openly declaring his love to Annie. George was working to save money so he would be able to support a wife.

In some of Annie’s letters, she implored George to give up smoking. It seemed to be a struggle for him. He would promise to give it up, but later would backslide. In one of his letters George told Annie he appreciated her telling him it was okay to smoke occasionally. In her next letter she replied he was mistaken about this and she once again reminded him it was for his own good to leave the “filthy weed” alone.

The letters in the collection at the Museum end in March of 1874 with them discussing marriage, but no date set at that time. George Rockwell and Annie Clark were finally married on November 18, 1875 in Oak Dale, Illinois. They spent their honeymoon traveling to Junction City.

George accomplished his goal of having his own store. It was in Abilene where he and Annie lived for eight years of their marriage. They became parents to four children. George and Annie came back to Junction City and George was again involved in the B. Rockwell Mercantile and Grain Co. with his brother. When Bertrand’s health failed and he moved to Kansas City, George ran the company for two years until George and Annie moved to Florida in 1928.

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