The Yellowstone Trail began in 1912, as a grassroots organization, by citizens who wanted to improve their roads and promote their towns along that road, especially a section of road between Ipswich and Aberdeen, SD - 26 miles. When this road was graded and ditched on either side, it made headlines in the local newspaper with a look toward the future stating, "A good road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound". This quote stuck to many and soon became a motto of a new organization, the Yellowstone Trail Association (YTA) - taking the name of the National Park where the roads would connect to.
The YTA, did not build roads, however pressured/lobbied local and state officials to improve roads in a county or town area. The YTA actually sent out a bill to each of the towns along the trail. If the town or county paid the bill due, that county or town would appear in the YTA's literature, brochures and promotions. If a town did not pay, it literally did not exist on the YTA's map.
The route became popular and other highway trails started popping up, identifying main routes and naming them, one such that remains today would be the Lincoln Highway.
In 1916, the YTA approved an extension of the highway that would take it to the Atlantic Ocean at Plymouth Rock - which included a relay of a military message to be delivered in Seattle from Boston. This gave the road credence as a road that could connect each end of the country.
By 1919, over one million pieces of information had been distributed about the Yellowstone Trail to travelers in the towns. Problems began to arise when one road could be known by as many as 7 different Auto Trail names and as the Yellowstone Trail tried to move east by marking its road, some areas denied marking due to an already over crowded highway.
It is not known or documented very well in how much of the Yellowstone Trail arrow markings made it out of Ohio. Maps would show the trail running along various roads to Massachusetts and some newspaper articles or guide books would reference the Yellowstone Trail through NY and MA, but to find any physical evidence as to calling it the Yellowstone Trail, may be lost.
The trail did move over time, but prominently these sections of Route 20 were once known as the Yellowstone Trail (E-W)
- Weston, MA to Albany, NY (Turned S- to MA 30 to Boston)
- Auburn, NY to Avon, NY
- Irving, NY to Geneva, OH
- Painesville, OH to Cleveland, OH
- Clyde, OH to Toledo, OH
- Gary, IN to Chicago, IL
The slow death of the Yellowstone Trail came in 1926 when the US Highway Number system came into being. Part of the new system was to stipulate that all trail markers had to conform and not obstruct the new US Highway numbers. The names could still be used, but for reference and mapping purposes, the numbers would take precedent.
The nail in the coffin so to speak would be the onset of the Great Depression. Many organizations lost all of their funding and could no longer sustain themselves, plus, now the federal government was assisting in maintaining the highways and road building, as well as oil companies producing travel maps for free and giving them out at gas stations.
The Yellowstone trail was referenced for several years to come tho - as late as the 1940s. Since then it faded into history along its Route 20 sections. However starting in Wisconsin and through Washington State, the trail is still known and a resurgence in the past 15 years have allowed historic markers to be placed on the routes. As for the Route 20 sections, we have asked many local historians in every town to tell us about the Yellowstone Trail, and to them, this is the first they had heard of it.
Please visit www.yellowstonetrail.org for a lot more info and maps!