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Early automobile travel: 14 hours across Missouri

Tom Beatty, secretary of the Quincy, Ill., Chamber of Commerce Highway commission, created a series of Sunday drive routes that motorists could follow. This 1925 map, showing a portion of Marion County, included a portion of the Cannon Ball Trail. The map was published in the Quincy Daily Herald.

Mary Lou Montgomery

The growing popularity of the automobile contributed to a significant lifestyle change for Americans during the early decades of the 20th century. Previously satisfied with a horse and buggy for local trips, and riding the rails for longer journeys, the automobile offered the opportunity for Americans to venture across the country on their own.

Road establishment and maintenance was primarily the responsibility of local and county governments, with support from those living along the routes, including farmers. Without uniformity in road maintenance and route markings, traveling was a challenge for these new motorists.

Organizations – such as the Cannon Ball Association – sprung up across the Midwest recognizing and recommending routes for motorists to follow – and identifying those routes with their own unique markings.

The Cannon Ball Route was identified with a black ball painted on a white background.

The Cannon Ball Trail Association of Illinois was established circa 1909. The goal was to identify a designated route between Chicago and Quincy, Ill. The most feasible route proved to follow the already existing Burlington Railroad tracks.

Primarily, the organization didn’t build or maintain the roads; it merely recommended the best routes to motorists, which in turn influenced which routes motorists selected, and influenced local entities to provide maintenance.

Buckwalter views

On Nov. 22, 1916, the Palmyra Spectator published a letter written by Ezra L. Buckwalter, who had traveled from the Flower City to Lancaster, Pa. Following the Cannon Ball Route from Quincy to Princeton, Ill., (north of Galesburg) he wrote to the Spectator describing his experiences on the highway route.

“The Cannon Ball trail is simply a dirt road; some places in good shape, at other places it is bad and would be impossible to go over this route in a heavy car after a big rain,” he said. “We passed through many towns, and over many hills. I was much surprised to find the roads at so many places so hilly.”

The following year, the condition of the Cannon Ball trail east of Quincy brought a threat from the organization to omit Quincy from its recommended route.

As mentioned in a story in last week’s column about the Durst family, the area along Broadway to the east of 24th street was outside of the Quincy city limits.

Because the road from 24th Street west to 36th Street was not paved and was irregularly maintained, the Cannon Ball Association threatened to take up its trail markings and divert traffic elsewhere.

The Quincy Daily Herald of July 18, 1917, noted: “Abandoning the Quincy end of the Cannon Ball trail would be little less than a catastrophe.” The newspaper continued, “The Cannon Ball is the best known train entering the city and is traveled all the way from Chicago by many tourists and others. To cut it off abruptly outside the city, or to divert it to Hannibal or Keokuk would undoubtedly keep many people away from Quincy who now come here.”

In Missouri

In 1920, a push began to expand the Cannon Ball Route from Quincy and across Missouri. George F. Faxon of Plano, Ill., was president of the Illinois association, and visited towns along potential routes, studying road conditions and services available to motorists.

In October 1921, he visited Palmyra and its Commercial Club regarding the location of the route through Palmyra. "The route will come from Quincy to Taylor,” Faxon said, “and the strong probabilities are that it will be extended to Palmyra, but there are possibilities that it will branch off into Lewis county at Taylor or go up by the way of Hester through Marion.”

By early December 1921, the proposed route had been established: Starting at Quincy, it is laid out by the way of Taylor, Palmyra, Philadelphia, Shelbyville, Clarence, Macon, Moberly, Huntsville, Sallisbury, Keytesville, Brunswick, Carrollton, Richmond, Excelsior Springs, Liberty and Kansas City.

Palmyra was expected to contribute $300, to be paid in installments by the first of April 1922.

Across Missouri

Perry C. Ellis was an editor at Quincy, Ill., from 1899 to 1911. He was a primary player in Republican politics, and served as superintendent of the Illinois State Free Employment bureau until ill health prevented him from working. He died in 1925.

Four years before his death, he rode along on a trip across Missouri with Mayor O’Brien of Quincy and his family. Ellis wrote a commentary about the trip, which was published in the Quincy Daily Journal on Aug. 11, 1921. The trip from Quincy to Cameron, Mo., took just over 14 hours, including a break at noon for lunch.

Towns along the route were: Taylor, Palmyra, Warren, Emden, Shelbyville, Shelbina, Clarence, Macon, Bevier, Bucklin, Brookfield, Laclede, Meadville, Chillicothe, Utica, Breckenridge, Hamilton and finally Cameron.

The routes traveled included the Hannibal-Kirksville trail, Cannon Ball trail, the Big Four route and the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean highway.

The Big Four route was marked with circles of yellow, black and yellow, on poles, posts and trees.

The Cannon Ball trail was marked with a black ball on white.

The Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean trail was shown by markings of red and white.

Ellis paid particular attention to tourist camps along the route, and highway etiquette.

Tourist camps

He noted that Macon had erected a “welcome” sign for travelers, and that the town offered a “great camping place for tourists.”

Ellis wrote that, “Tourists were found making use of the many camps that have been established along the way. Talking with residents of places where all conveniences have been provided revealed that the tourists appreciated the efforts made for their care and comfort and show it in a practical manner.”


“Continuously on the way we were meeting tourists, people evidently taking travel vacation,” Ellis wrote. “One thing noted was the growing courtesy of the road. Some of the Missouri roads are narrow, and such is frequently the case with the bridges, a defect that is being remedied at this time in a number of places. Many times the endeavor of the mayor to yield a fair share of the road under difficult situations was met by proper courtesy and deference. The travelers occasionally saluted each other in return for some courtesy of the road.”

Hilly terrain

At the time of Ellis’ trip across Missouri, grading was under way near Macon. He made mention of hilly road conditions at several spots across the state, which made travel more difficult for some automobiles.

“Every description of car was met, from the heaviest and stateliest to those that, in the distance, seemed like tortoises as they slowly but surely climbed the hills.”

End of an era

The named routes were replaced by numbered routes circa 1927.

This illustration was published in an advertisement for Ford in the Quincy Daily Herald, Aug. 16, 1925.

This 1917 map shows several named routes leading from Hannibal and Quincy. Note the Quincy and Beardstown route; the White Star Trail, the Burlington Way, and the Big Four Route. Map from the Illinois Digital Archives. Numbered routes replaced named routes circa 1927.

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