Historic Drives: Four of America’s Greatest Roads
Did you know there are roughly 150 federally protected roads in United States? Find out which ones Congress considers significant to America’s rich car culture and then weigh in on your favorite place to drive and why.
Within the complex system of American roads and highways are 120 “National Scenic Byways” and 31 “All-American Roads” designated by the United States Department of Transportation. These roads are deemed extraordinary —worthy of recognition and special protection—much in the same way certain historical landmarks, old buildings, and manmade monuments in this country are special.
All-American Roads—described by Congress as “destinations unto themselves”—include the Las Vegas Strip and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. National Scenic Byways are recognized for their archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and/or scenic qualities. These include Alaska’s Marine Highway, Death Valley Scenic Byway, and the Great River Road, which follows the length of the Mississippi River. As the name implies, National Scenic Byways are more about an area’s unique and region-specific scenery and, in the case of a few, the direct links to America’s deep-rooted automotive history. These include:
Woodward Avenue has been the main artery of Detroit's transportation network since 1805. In 1909, the stretch of Woodward Avenue between Six Mile and Seven Mile Roads became the world’s first mile of public road to be paved with concrete.
The total length of Woodward Avenue (also known as M-1) is 21.48 miles. Many historically significant sites are still located along its route, but it is safe to say that most historic vehicle enthusiasts know Woodward best for the annual summertime Dream Cruise that draws thousands to the area to celebrate Detroit's automotive heritage.
The Lincoln Highway
A portion of America’s first transcontinental highway, U.S. Route 30 (also known as Lincoln Highway), runs through urban cityscapes and riverfront towns for roughly 179 miles in northern Illinois. From its eastern portal at Lynwood to its Mississippi crossing at Fulton, the Illinois section of the Lincoln Highway is the only stretch of the original route that has been designated a National Scenic Byway.
Historic Route 66
U.S. Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in America, originally ran for 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, before ending in Los Angeles. Today, only a few original stretches of the “Mother Road” still exist in Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Route 66 remains a fixture in American driving culture. Over the years, many preservation groups have worked successfully to save and “landmark” many of the old motels and neon signs along the road.
Roads Less Traveled—Tell Us Yours
Great roads are in the eye of the beholder. What makes a road desirable to a big-city commuter or a family stuffed in a minivan for a summertime road trip tends to be the stuff drivers of historic vehicles would rather avoid.
The Historic Vehicle Association would like to hear from its members about some of those “roads less traveled”—great driving roads that offer little congestion and lots of sheer driving pleasure. For instance, one great stretch of highway you have probably never heard of is northern Michigan’s M-22. This 116-mile, winding country road follows the Lake Michigan shoreline through the up-and-coming wine country of the Leelanau Peninsula and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a place ABC’s Good Morning America last year named “The Most Beautiful Place in America”.
We’re looking for the unknown and under-appreciated—American roads that manage to blend history, scenery, and sheer open-road pleasure. Take a moment to comment below or head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page and tell us about your favorite. We’ll spotlight select members’ most popular choices in a future eNewsletter.