Story of the Susquehanna Trail in the Good Roads Movement

Susquehanna Trail road sign in York County, PA (2014 Photo, S. H. Smith)

Susquehanna Trail road sign in York County, PA (2014 Photo, S. H. Smith)

This Susquehanna Trail road sign is located in York County.  I’ve shown the end of the intersecting road; please comment if you can solve the mystery location by identifying the full name of that road.  I’ll have additional clue(s) in the follow-up posts in this series, if required.

We have the Susquehanna Trail road name in York County as a result of the Good Roads Movement in Pennsylvania.  The Susquehanna Trail Association was established in Williamsport on February 2nd, 1917; it was modeled after the successful nationwide Lincoln Highway Association, founded four years earlier.

Just as with the Lincoln Highway, the Board of Governors of The Susquehanna Trail Association deliberated and made site visits to select the existing road segments that would be part of the Susquehanna Trail.  Upon each road segment being selected to be part of the Trail, it was included in the group of roads that the Association campaigned and fund raised for their improvement.

This is the beginning of a series of posts on the Susquehanna Trail.  This initial post provides a background on the Good Roads Movement in Pennsylvania and leads up to the establishment of the Susquehanna Trail Association on February 2nd, 1917.  The series will conclude with the summer of 1918 competition between York and Gettysburg to be selected as the town on a southern extension of the Susquehanna Trail.

The posts in this series will primarily utilize newspaper accounts from that time period to tell the story.  Sources also include a combination of State Highway Department historical information and road histories noted within early maps and guides.

For this post, I’m relying heavily upon the 1925 Official National Survey Maps and Guide for Pennsylvania.  The National Survey Company published similar highway map guides for many the United States.  These books contained a combination of highway map pages and guides.  The maps primarily focused on the major inter-county and inter-state highways; i.e. they were primarily for use by the long distance travelers or vacationers.

The 1925 Official National Survey Maps and Guide for Pennsylvania lists the principal named highways in Pennsylvania and their State Route numbers.  Since I’m looking at the beginnings of the Susquehanna Trail, I’ll examine State Routes 1 to 4 in greater detail:

  • Lincoln Highway . . . . . . . . .  State Route 1
  • Lackawanna Trail . . . . . . . .  State Route 2
  • William Penn Highway . . . . State Route 3
  • Susquehanna Trail . . . . . . . . State Route 4

Brief descriptions of these four state routes follow.  A common fact to all descriptions; is that in 1911, most of the remaining private turnpikes throughout the state were taken over by Pennsylvania, becoming state roads.

The Lincoln Highway (State Route 1) is the first highway across the United States.  It was promoted by The Lincoln Highway Association; established in 1913.  This association became the model that many later Good Roads Movement organizations followed.  In 1911, Pennsylvania Department of Highways took over the old Lancaster Pike and the Pennsylvania Road, extending from Lancaster to Pittsburgh, and numbered the highway State Route 1.  After Pennsylvania Route 1 was selected for inclusion as part of the Lincoln Highway, it carried both designations.  Over the years 1925 to 1928, the “modern” state route numbering system was implemented, resulting in a Route 30 designation over most of this route.

Lackawanna Trail (State Route 2) traverses the eastern border of Pennsylvania; a route extending from Philadelphia to Binghamton, New York.  In 1911, Pennsylvania designated a road between Philadelphia and Scranton as State Route 2.  In 1915, The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad abandoned a railroad right-of-way between Scranton and Binghamton.  In 1917, as a result of the advocacy of the Lackawanna Trail good roads movement, the State of Pennsylvania constructed a new highway on top of the old railroad grade. Over the years 1925 to 1928, the “modern” state route numbering system was implemented, resulting in a Route 611 designation over most of this route.

William Penn Highway (State Route 3) is an east-west highway from Easton, through Harrisburg, then north a distance along the Susquehanna River to the Juniata River, then west to Pittsburgh.  In 1911, this route from Easton to Pittsburgh was designated State Route 3 by Pennsylvania.  The William Penn Highway is not so much a good roads movement, as it is a scheme by businessmen along Route 3 to promote this highway as an alternate east-west route instead of the Lincoln Highway.  The earliest mention of the William Penn Highway appears in 1916; it was a promotion of businessmen and civic-leaders in the Easton area.  That name designation commenced to spread across the state along Route 3. Over the years 1925 to 1928, the “modern” state route numbering system was implemented, resulting in a Route 22 designation over most of this route.

Susquehanna Trail (State Route 4) is a route promoted by the Susquehanna Trail Association; an association established in Williamsport on February 2, 1917.  This Good Roads Movement closely followed the model created by the Lincoln Highway Association.  The Susquehanna Trail Association was organized for the purpose of promoting and advising on an improved road between Harrisburg and Williamsport (already known as State Route 4) and continuing northward to connect to improved roads in New York State.

The Board of Governors of the Susquehanna Trail Association immediately selected Route 4, along the Susquehanna River, between Harrisburg and Williamsport as part of the Susquehanna Trail.  The deliberations and site visits to select the road north of Williamsport, that would be designated the Susquehanna Trail, took several months.  In August 1917, the Board of Governors selected the Williamson Road and began a campaign for its improvement.  A year later, the competition was on between York and Gettysburg to be selected as the town on a southern extension of the Susquehanna Trail (the subject of a future post).  Over the years 1925 to 1928, the “modern” state route numbering system was implemented, resulting in a Route 111 designation over all but the Harrisburg to Sunbury part of the Susquehanna Trail, which became Route 11.

The day following the establishment of the Susquehanna Trail Association, the Gazette Bulletin of Williamsport, PA (issue of February 3, 1917) printed this article:

Susquehanna Trail Given Great Boom

Permanent Organization Effected at Meeting Held Yesterday Afternoon

Will Work For Greatest Good For Greatest Number

Tioga and Bradford Counties Sent Large Delegations to Advocate Route Through Their Respective Territories

Whatever route may be chosen for the Susquehanna Trail, whether it goes by way of Canton and Troy, or over the Williamson Road by way of Blossburg and Mansfield, the controlling principle should be only this—to make the cubic dollar serve the greatest good.  There are various things to be taken into consideration—the engineering problem, the grades, the cost of construction, the population to be served, etc.  But, let us all unite and work hand to hand to secure this great highway, so dear to us because of its associations, and then we will have a route by which the peoples of New York and other states may come down and visit the matchless beauties of northern central Pennsylvania.

Related posts include:

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts

About Stephen H. Smith

Stephen H. Smith is a design engineer who worked at York International Corp. for 33 years before retiring several years ago to research and write books full time; his second career. The initial emphasis was on family history when he won a national award during 2002 for his first book “Barshingers in America." Positive feedback and that award were influential in his decision to retire early from engineering and start a retirement career.
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