When Nevada’s highways had names, not numbers
In the early 20th century, highways throughout America had names rather than the impersonal numbers they have today.
In many cases, construction of those early roads was at least partially funded by private automobile associations and automobile-related companies interested in getting people to buy cars and drive around.
As the auto grew more popular, towns and cities competed for car travelers by joining a regional or national highway route. By the mid-1920s, hundreds of highways with evocative names like “Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway” and the “National Shortcut Highway” crisscrossed the country, including Nevada.
Numbered highways were introduced in the 1930s by the federal government in response to concern that the intense competition was confusing drivers. A busy intersection often had directional signs pointing in five or six directions – and some overzealous highway promoters were not above vandalizing rival road signs.
While the tradition of naming highways hasn’t completely died out – in recent years U.S. 50 was named “the Loneliest Road in America” and Nevada State Route 375 is called “the Extraterrestrial Highway,” most people refer to the state’s highways by their shorter, numerical names like “I-80” or “395.”
The following are a few of the descriptive names once given to roads in the Silver State.
Lincoln Highway – The granddaddy of early highways, the Lincoln Highway, which in Nevada roughly paralleled today’s U.S. 50, was America’s first coast-to-coast road.
Stretching about 3,300 miles from Times Square in New York to San Francisco, the Lincoln Highway was established in 1913 and commemorated President Abraham Lincoln.
According to an early guide book, the purpose of the highway was to “promote and procure the establishment of a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all descriptions without toll charges, and to be of concrete wherever practicable.”
Victory Highway – A rival of the Lincoln Highway, the Victory Highway took a more northern route through Nevada, following the historic Emigrant Trail (today’s I-80). Later called U.S. 40, the Victory was one of several transcontinental routes that evolved prior to the 1920s to link the Eastern U.S. to California.
Grand Army of the Republic Highway – In the mid-1920s, this elegant title was bestowed on the route that crossed the center of the state from Benton, Calif., to the state line near Baker (today’s U.S. 6). The name commemorated the Union Army that fought in the Civil War.
Midland Trail – Another name given to U.S. 6, the Midland Trail was originally known as the Cumberland Trail in the eastern U.S. The highway started in Washington, D.C., and ended in Los Angeles. The name referred to the route’s passing through the middle portion of the country.
Theodore Roosevelt Highway – Yet another former name for U.S. 6. This highway honored the 26th president and the name was apparently used until the late 1930s. The March-April 1939 issue of Nevada Highways and Parks noted that the “Roosevelt Highway enters Nevada from Delta, Utah, as an earth road.”
Bonanza Highway – The Bonanza meandered along Nevada’s western edge following most of today’s U.S. 95. The highway, named because it passed through many of the state’s mining towns, including Tonopah and Goldfield, stretched from the Oregon border to Las Vegas.
International Four States Highway – Quite a mouthful, this was an impressive name given to the route along Nevada’s eastern side (now U.S. 93). The total length of the road extended 1,500 miles from Canada to Mexico, through the states of Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and California. Also called the Pan-Pacific Highway, the International Four States Highway was the longest highway in Nevada at more than 500 miles.
Three Flags Highway – The Three Flags was a north-south arterial, which followed today’s U.S. 395. The name was derived from the fact that the route went from British Columbia, Canada, to the Mexican border, passing through three countries.
Arrowhead Trail – This highway crossed the southern part of the state along the path of today’s I-15 (which was earlier known as U.S. 91). An historic marker at Valley of Fire State Park notes that the road was built in 1914-15 as an all-weather route linking Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Conceived by Las Vegas promoters, it was supported by local chambers of commerce from communities along the trail and built by volunteers.
National Shortcut Highway – A case where the name says it all. This highway provided a direct link between Omaha, Nebraska and Las Vegas. Like the Arrowhead Trail, it mostly followed the route of today’s I-15.
Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway – In the 1960s, Winnemucca citizens revived the custom of naming roads when they gave this sobriquet to the completed highway, via State Route 140, from Winnemucca to the coastal town of Crescent City, Calif. In commemoration, a sizable redwood-tree slab stands in front of the convention center where the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea route meets the old Victory Highway.
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Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada” which are available at local bookstores.