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The Ozark Trails, New Mexico —Spread of the Ozarks

All Roads Lead to Rogers

In 1913, William Hope Harvey, the failed guru of the Free Silver movement, found himself in a bit of jam. Having invested a chunk of his fortune in a remote resort near Rogers, Arkansas, Harvey rudely discovered that the only access to his investment ­ his own private train ­ cost too much to run.

Realizing that automobiles could bring tourists, Harvey proposed a network of improved highways radiating out from Rogers. With tentacles like an octopus, his network reached across the Ozarks, touching all the major population centers within a 300-mile radius.

Though initially motivated by self-concern, Harvey’s plan contained a higher aspiration: “My inclination runs toward doing something of a progressive nature that will promote the collective good, and I have now concentrated all that inclination on carrying out a system of roads known as the Ozark Trails” (Kennan, 1948).

His plan, however, did not call for building actual roads, but only to promote and educate the public on good highway design. In an approach that differed from other private highways, the Ozark Trails initially developed as a regional network, rather than a single east-west or north-south highway. Yet, by 1916, the concept had expanded to a primarily east-west highway connecting St. Louis to Las Vegas (Romeroville), New Mexico.

After 1913, interest in the highway expanded as the emphasis shifted to the West, resulting in increasing membership in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

This new direction took shape at an “adjourned session” of the 1916 convention in Oklahoma City. At the gathering of 7,000 delegates, three potential routes through Oklahoma were proposed. Of significance to New Mexico were the so-called Northern and Southern routes, connecting Oklahoma City to New Mexico.

Cyrus Avery, then a Tulsa County commissioner, pushed for the Northern Route because of its connection to the National Old Trails Road at Romeroville, creating a link to the Pacific. Following the 1917 convention in Amarillo, the OTA selected as its main line the Northern Route, establishing the future course of U.S. 66 across Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

End of the Ozarks

At the 1920 convention in Pittsburg, Kansas, meagerly attended by less than 200 delegates, Harvey gave a farewell speech, stepping down from his eight-year presidency.

The subsequent conventions “gradually devolved into factional debates over routes and membership questions…,” with the 1921 convention in Shawnee, Oklahoma “highlighted by an OTA movie … abruptly broken by a midnight raid of disgruntled delegates who cut the electricity and plunged the meeting into darkness.” (Krim, 1996)

The OTA briefly revived at the 1922 convention in Sulphur, Oklahoma, drawing some 1,000 delegates; however, the following year’s meeting in Joplin, Missouri, revealed a dispirited organization with less than 100 members in attendance — and the conspicuous absence of Harvey, who de facto still ran the organization.

Contributing to its demise were major changes in the funding of highway construction, shifting from the historic mixture of county and state monies to dominantly federal aid by the mid-1920s.

With this shift came a push to organize national highways by a number system rather than by name. The confusion of hundreds of named automobile trails — many claiming the same piece of roadway — prompted the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to devise a uniform system of numbered highways through the work of the Joint Board of Interstate Highways.

The U.S. numbered highway system and its attendant standard highway shields ushered the extinction of the named trails, as they could no longer claim or sign their highways.

Many fought hard to have their name affixed to a corresponding U.S. highway, only to be thwarted by the BPR, which purposely broke the named trails into different numbered highways.

In 1924, in order to align with the national system, then OTA president S.E. Hodgson proposed eliminating many of the Ozark Trails’ connector routes, making the road a straight shot between Chicago and the Pacific.

Cyrus Avery, an Oklahoma Highway Commissioner and a member of the Joint Board of Interstate Highways, saw a “ rational logic of a transcontinental highway through Oklahoma,” using the Ozark Trails as its backbone (Krim, 1996)

In 1925, a year after its demise, most of the Ozark Trails morphed into U.S. 60 between Chicago and Los Angeles, and a year later, due to pressure from Kentucky, became the soon-to-be-famous Route 66 from Missouri to Romeroville.

Sources Consulted/Further Reading

Kennan, Clara B. “The Ozark Trails and Arkansas’ Pathfinder, Coin Harvey.” The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. VII Winter 1948, No. 4: 299-316.

Good Roads in Arkansas” Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1913: 13

Krim, Arthur. “The Original Mother Road.” SCA Journal. Spring 1996: 21-26.

Lawler, Nan M. The Ozark Trails Association. M.A. thesis, University of Arkansas, 1991.

Murphey, John W. “The Ozark Trails Marker at Lake, New Mexico.” National Register of Historic Places nomination, prepared for the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, 2004.

The Ozark Trails Route Book. Monte Ne, Arkansas: Ozark Trails Association, 1919.

Route 66 Background, Oklahoma

Skipper, James. “Monte Ne, Arkansas: Lost Resort of W.H. ‘Coin’ Harvey” (ca.2005)

Image of OT Marker courtesy Tucumcari Museum

Copyright © 2006