During the first part of the twentieth century road building
in this country progressed at a rapid pace.
Spurred first by the widespread popularity of the bicycle and
subsequently by the proliferation of the automobile road building became a
passionate march of progress. As better roads
allowed motorists to travel increased distances it became apparent that they
would need places to stop along the way.
The model of place that led to the establishment of waysides and
roadside parks was initiated by the traveling public. Stopping sties emerged in rural areas where
commercial establishments were not available.
Often they appeared in areas of scenic interest or merely in places
where there was room for a car to pull off the roadway. These earliest waysides materialized out of
necessity, when motorists needed or wanted to stop they pulled off and parked
along the roadside.
There is some dispute as to where the first established
roadside park appeared; claims have been made as to both
The following excerpt is taken from an article printed in American Road Builder magazine in 1957.
In the late 1920s, a
young county engineer in
In the days that followed, Mr. Williams saw this scene repeated with increasing frequency. An outdoorsman himself, he decided that people should have better facilities for resting and refreshing themselves along the highways. And he decided that he could do something about it.
During the winter
months, when some of his snow-plowing crews where standing by at the county
garage waiting for an expected storm, he put them to work knocking together
picnic tables from odd lengths of 2x4 scrap lumber. After the tables were constructed they were painted
an attractive green. The following
spring Mr. Williams put his first roadside table out at a site along Route 16,
3 miles south of the
It wasn’t long before the chief maintenance engineer of the Michigan State Highway Department began to receive letters from tourists complementing him and the department for their thoughtfulness in providing a clean and restful picnic spot and table. Mr. Tiney looked into the matter and liked Mr. William’s idea. The state highway department authorized the construction of more roadside tables and the establishment of additional picnic sites.
Highway 100’s Roadside Parks
1958 Guide to Roadside Parks in
Threatened Roadside Parks in
Minnesota Department of Transportation Historic Roadside Development
A Guide to Depression Era Roadside Parks in
The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways: Transformation of the American Landscape
In the late 1950s John Steinbeck traveled across the
I sought out
The kind of separation from local places described by Steinbeck is the exact context that would prompt highway developers to include safety rest areas in the Interstate System.
The Interstate Highway System was first conceived of in the late 1930s, but did not come to fruition until the mid-1950s with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The American Association of State Highway Officials described the new system of roadways in the following manner:
The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, more commonly known as the Interstate System, is a 41,000 mile key network of modern freeways, spanning the Nation, linking together and serving more than 90% of all of the cities over 50,000 population as well as thousands of smaller cities and towns…the System, comprising little more than 1% of the Nation’s total road and street mileage, will carry 20% of all of the motor vehicle traffic when it is completed.
Beyond its pure functionality the Interstate System was a symbol of American growth, prosperity and modernity. It was meant to create a nation of interconnected towns, cities and regions and thus a nation of interconnected population. The Interstate System transformed how Americans traveled; it made travel faster and more feasible. It transformed how we live, opening suburban housing markets and spawned new building types devoted to accommodating an auto oriented society, drive-through restaurants, drive-in movie theaters, strip malls, etc.
Among the chronicles of the Interstate’s legacy is the
construction of safety rest areas.
Places designed to allow motorists to pull from the roadway in order to
stretch, rest, eat and use a restroom. They
were places that supplemented the places that travelers would no longer be able
to access just off the roadway. Newly
constructed interchanges were void of commercial business and thus the early
Interstate traveler was confined to long stretches of roadway with little
opportunity to find services. While rest
areas were originally designed to provide only the basic amenities of parking,
bathroom, and picnic table developers soon found within them the opportunity to
reconnect people with the places they were traveling though, to add some humanity
back to Interstate travel in the form of a bathroom.
History of the
The Interstate Highway System
Links to the Eisenhower Interstate System
The Interstate is 50
The Interstate 50th Anniversary, the History of Oregon’s Interstates
Safety Rest Areas, a New Kind of Place
We feel that the most appropriate means of impressing the public with the value of the Highway Beautification Program is by developing quality rest areas, something they can see and use. At this time our philosophy seems appropriate, judging from the favorable comments received from the public on our rest areas.
By the late 1960s the development of rest areas nationwide was commonplace, and a priority. As Robert Jacobsen of the Nebraska DOT reflected in 1968 in the proceeding quote, rest areas were viewed as a public asset and places that the states had a responsibility to provide. While the concept of a place to stop along the roadway was not new, states had maintained roadside parks for decades, the detailed nature of rest area development and the amenities they provided was. These were not the rustic roadside parks of previous decades; they were modern sites serving a modern transportation system and a modern way of life. When stopping at an Interstate rest area travelers could expect to find, flushing toilets, running water, travel information, picnic tables often accompanied by barbeque grilles, shelters to protect them from the sun and wind while enjoying a picnic lunch, walking paths and in some places children’s play equipment.
In light of their favorable reception department of
transportation developers began to see that rest areas were more than the practical
function they served, they were state ambassadors. Developers perceived their ability to provide
notable roadside facilities as a means of creating a positive reflection on the
quality of their state government and its citizenry. This sentiment was heightened by the reality
that with much of the Interstate System bypassing existing towns, safety rest
areas could become the primary local contact that travelers would have within a
state. Robert Jacobsen continued his
Each safety rest area is considered individually to enable its development to reflect and express dominate topographical, historical, archeological, geological, architectural or biological features in the area’s proximity. Since the rest room building and information center has the highest usage, this facility is sited to be immediately recognizable and available to the motorist. The picnic table shelters are designed to create a pleasant exterior environment by using varying planes oriented to give maximum protection from the elements and to direct the occupant’s view toward points of interest. The unity of each safety rest area is emphasized and enforced through the character of all structures and the continuity of material use. Each area is developed with a park-like atmosphere bounded by indigenous flora.
The first safety rest areas opened in the late 1950s, first generation development continued through the mid-1970s, when most states had completed the majority of their initial development. The development of the sites was a tenant of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 which had initiated funding for the Interstate Highway System; rest areas were to be a part of its standardization. Initially they were to be funded on the same federal/state shared funding basis as the rest of the Highway System, with the federal government responsible for the majority of the expenditure; state governments were responsible for the planning and implementation of the System. However in 1959, just a year after the American Association of State Highway Officials issued the standardized guidelines for rest area development, (A Policy on Safety Rest Areas for the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways), federal allocations for rest area development were drastically reduced. The Bureau of Public Roads (later the Federal Highway Administration) notified state governments that hence forth funding for safety rest area construction would be limited to the purchase of land, construction of deceleration and acceleration lanes and parking areas; safety rest area buildings and all other structures and amenities would have to be delayed or built exclusively with state funds.
While this budgetary limitation dampened the intended
progress of rest area construction it did not halt it. By the early 1960s rest areas were open along
Interstate Highways in states such as
With the reinstatement of federal funding aid, state
governments gained an increased capacity to provide rest area facilities on a
growing scale. In the late 1960s through
the mid-1970s rest area development took on a progressive and creative tact,
and programs such as the one described in