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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Meridian Road





It's a lazy time here in the Red River Valley. So, let's take a few minutes to dream of days gone by ... and remember Grand Forks as it used to be ... when Ford Model T's put-putted around the city ... and a family might, on rare occasions, set out for Fargo on the gravel track that ran straight and true to the south of the city ... a track that, despite its primitive appearance to modern eyes, at the time was then one of the best and most famous highways in America: the Meridian Road, pictured above (from a still-existant stretch in Nebraska) and explained below.

The Meridian Road! It was North Dakota's own Route 66, and it's worth remembering today.

I always knew that U.S. Highway 81 was the road to Fargo that people used before the coming of Interstate 29. What I didn't know, but found out while researching a recent editorial on the interstate highway system, is that Highway 81 itself has a long and fascinating history.

In fact, it dates back to the early 1900s, when proponents of the "Good Roads" movement came up with the idea of a north-south route from Canada to Mexico. That was the start of the Meridian Road, later renamed the Meridian Highway, as the link to the Nebraska State Historical Society marker relates. The road was designed to follow the 6th Principle Meridian, principle meridians being the key longitiude lines that surveyors used to plot range lines.

And in Grand Forks, the road (scroll down to the U.S. 81 information) "followed the 'Mill Road', passing by the State Mill and Elevator (ahhh, prairie socialism at its zenith!) and continued on into Grand Forks. I'm pretty sure (don't quote me on this) that it followed Belmont Road out of town until South Washington Street was upgraded to four lanes," the info at the link relates. (By the way, scroll down on this fun page to see the Meridian Highway's identification sign, which is pictured to the right, in a lineup with dozens of other signs, including a bunch from old Route 66. Are there any of those original MH markers to be found on walls or in attics or museums around Grand Forks?)



The Belmont Road idea mentioned above seems right, because if you follow the current Mill Road from Home of Economy south into Grand Forks, the road becomes what's now 5th Street, which then connects easily with Belmont Road. I bet the old WPA Guide to North Dakota has a lot more information about this.

Two more nice links: This one from Thayer County, Neb., talks about how important the Meridian Highway was to the community of Belvidere; and how the town both rejoiced and mourned the road's passing: "In general, Belvidere will welcome the absences of the dust that the heavy traffic has stirred up for years, but will miss the business that the tourist and truck traffic has brought."

And the second link is here, the place where the beautiful picture above came from. Apparently, Nebraska found and protected a still-gravel stretch of the original Meridian Road ... so the pictures there give a great idea of what the road looked like in North Dakota, too, I'm sure.

10 Comments:

Blogger GrandForksGuy said...

Yes, Belmont Road was once a part of the US 81 corridor.

BTW, I'm not 100% sure of this, but I think that DeMers may have been a part of US 2 years ago before "Skidmore Avenue" became Gateway Drive. Anyone know about this?

2:12 AM  
Anonymous Dadinggf said...

Thanks for the interesting post!

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't mention thefight to get I29 to follow state #44 North to Drayton & Pembina. West of what weas Bowesmont I29 is on the meridian.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't mention thefight to get I29 to follow state #44 North to Drayton & Pembina. West of what weas Bowesmont I29 is on the meridian.

12:00 PM  
Blogger The Whistler said...

I'm not 100% sure of this, but I think that DeMers may have been a part of US 2 years ago before "Skidmore Avenue" became Gateway Drive. Anyone know about this?

I don't know for sure, but I think that US 81 would have gone through downtown up fifth and out of town on Old Mill Road.

I don't see how Demers would have been included on that.

The HWY 81 North past Home of Economy was only built in 1950. (That's for sure).

Gateway drive, (skidmore) probably wasn't much of a road until the Kennedy Bridge was built. I think that was built in the early 60's.

12:36 PM  
Blogger GrandForksGuy said...

I don't see how Demers would have been included on that.

I wasn't saying that it was part of old US 81..I was saying that it was part of old US 2. Essentially, the intersection of US 2 and US 81 - which is now the intersection of Gateway Drive and North Washington Street - used to be the intersection of 5th Street and DeMers Avenue.

10:01 PM  
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5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:26 PM  
Anonymous Jesse Mcgraw said...

I've passed U.S. Highway 81 a few times myself, but I never knew about its history until now. Thanks for this, Tom! Do you have a photo of the 6th Meridian Monument? It's a great remembrance of the surveying history of the states of Nebraska and Kansas. Actually, the Kansas Society of Land Surveyors celebrated the 150th anniversary of the 6th Principal Meridian last 2006. I think that monument is a must-see for all surveyors.

2:02 AM  
Anonymous David Frost said...

It's good to know that there are people interested in such historical places. The history of Highway 81 is really amazing, although it's not known by most people. Having knowledge about it can make a land surveyor curious.

2:52 PM  

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