Jan 2007 Stereoscope The D-L-D Highway By Dr. Robert C. Anderson
Did you ever wonder why the road to the Prairie Home Cemetery northeast of Holdrege has a “gentle curve” at Lincoln Street and 18th Avenue? Well, let me tell you about it.In May of 1911, a meeting was held in Holdrege with representatives from 17 Nebraska counties located along the Burlington Railroad transportation corridor. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Good Roads Movement, a national movement organized to improve road conditions. The Omaha-Denver Trans-Continental Route Association was formed at that meeting. The route of the O-L-D (Omaha-Lincoln-Denver) Highway was chosen at that first meeting. It was to become a segment of a proposed future transcontinental highway. They pieced the route together using existing roads. The only new construction was to connect established roads. A 54-mile stretch between Hastings and Holdrege was at one time, part of an earlier road called the “Oregon Trail Highway.” It now became part of the O-L-D Highway.The O-L-D ran along section lines and had many jogs and sharp turns between communities. In 1912, enough money was raised to purchase road drags and distribute them to farmers along the way and it was their responsibility to keep the road smooth. By late 1913, warning signs were placed at approaches to railroad crossings, bridges, and sharp turns. “These signs were 18″ wide red bands painted on posts, telephone poles, and trees.”¹ Early highway travel was made difficult because of poorly marked roads. The official highway markers were an 18″ wide white band painted also on poles and posts, with the letters OLD painted in black.Detroit was considered a gateway for tourists from Canada and the New England states. In May 1920, the O-L-D became the D-L-D (Detroit-Lincoln-Denver) Highway. Others said D-L-D meant “dry, long and dusty.”¹ “Spanning a distance of 1,700 miles, this road became one of the most established and highly traveled highways in the country.”¹ The new highway markers were a 14″ white band painted on a telephone pole or fence post. Three inch black borders trimmed the top and bottom. The initials DLD were boldly stenciled in black on the white center. “The Nebraska Automobile Club claimed that the D-L-D was ‘the best marked highway in the Midwest’ and included the slogan ‘follow the poles’.”¹ One of the original posts and marker is on display at Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska.By 1924, most of the highway from Detroit to Denver was graveled. The path of the D-L-D through Nebraska is essentially the same as the present US Highway 6 with only a few minor changes.I find the route of the OLD/DLD through Phelps County and particularly Holdrege to be most fascinating. The route skirted the north edge of Funk and continued directly west past the Prairie Home Cemetery and made a “gentle curve” onto Lincoln Street. Continuing south on Lincoln, it then turned west on 11th Avenue. Proceeding west on 11th until it turned south again on East Avenue. The highway went south for 6 blocks and turned (Post Office corner) west to the auditorium at 5th and Grant Street. Again south 1 block on Grant to 4th Avenue, and finally straight west on 4th out of Holdrege and past The Christian Homes Orphanage for approximately five miles and then turned south to Atlanta.There were no stop signs as the highway meandered through Holdrege. Instead iron “buttons” were placed in the center of the intersections. They were dome-shaped and were about 12-15 inches in diameter and 6 inches high with STOP or NO U TURN stenciled on a flat surfaced side.The buttons were designed to prevent rollovers if they happened to be run over by a wagon or car. I have been unable to locate any of these buttons as they were sent away along with the courthouse cannons as scrap-iron for the WWII war effort.Many gas stations and grocery stores lined the D-L-D route as it wormed its way through Holdrege. There was even a grocery store called the DLD Grocery on the north side of West 4th avenue where the Villager is today. The building was eventually moved 17 miles north of Holdrege. It has been said that there were 21 service stations all at one time in Phelps County along the D-L-D, but this cannot be verified.“As the nation became more mobile, a consistent method of identifying automobile routes was needed.”¹ Highways were “named trails” such as Oregon Trail Highway, Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highway, etc. “Founded in 1924, the AASHO (American Association of State Highway Officials) responded by adopting a numbering system for highways from coast to coast in 1926.”¹ The D-L-D became US 38 in 1926 and then US 6 in 1931. In 1935, the first paved road in the county was US 6 from Funk to Holdrege. By 1938, the old highway D-L-D, now US 6, was hard surfaced across the entire state.A relocation project occurred from Funk to Holdrege in 1939. The new route followed the CB&Q right of way from Funk to Holdrege, and along 4th Avenue through Holdrege, avoiding the residential area.I can only imagine that Lincoln Street on the east, and Denver Street on the west edge of Holdrege, are in memory of the D-L-D, and that “gentle curve” on the cemetery road is still a reminder of earlier times when 25 miles per hour was fast enough.–end ¹ Nebraska State Historical Society & Nebraska Department of Roads. (August, 2002) Nebraska Historic Highway Survey.