On The Road to Yellowstone
The Yellowstone Trail and American Highways 1900 - 1930


U. S. Map

Ohio Map.  Founded in October 1912 at Lemmon, South Dakota, the Yellowstone Trail is "America's Oldest Organized Highway."  It predates the founding of the Lincoln Highway by one year, although in its original form was not a transcontinental route like the Lincoln.  However, by 1920 the Yellowstone Trail had become an ocean-to-ocean highway, crossing the northern part of the United States as "A Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound," or less poetically, between Boston, Massachusetts and Seattle, Washington.  Forgotten in Ohio, the Yellowstone Trail passed through Ashtabula, Cleveland, Lorain, Sandusky, Fremont, Toledo, and Bryan.  A dirt road named "Yellowstone Trail" near Hamlet, Indiana is the easternmost identification of the old coast-to-coast route.


Natural sandstone pillars like this were planted along the Yellowstone Trail in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. According to a 1913 article from the Aberdeen, South Dakota newspaper, "they measure from six to ten feet long, being from twelve to eighteen inches through at the base, and from six to eight inches at the top.  They are ideal markers when painted yellow with the words 'Yellowstone Trail' painted on them."  The only surviving marker with the classic obelisk shape has been moved to this street corner location in Hettinger, South Dakota.


"A twelve-inch band or circle with a six-inch black arrow" was the official mark of the Yellowstone Trail, although there were also signs with "L" and "R" for upcoming left and right turns.  Founder Joseph W. Parmley had this suggestion regarding the many different kinds of yellow paint:  "Now the very best yellow is the medium chrome yellow.  Buy it dry; from thirteen to sixteen cents a pound and mix linseed oil in it."  Arrows painted on signs pointed to Yellowstone National Park, which was reached by a spur road from Livingston, Montana.  This sign can be found now in the Dakota Buttes Museum in Hettinger, North Dakota.


This painted yellow circle with black arrow is in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, and author Hal Meeks speculated that it may be the sole surviving mark of a 1915 trail blazing trip by a Mr. Warwick.  This mark was an upgrade over "simple splotches.


About the Author
Harold A. Meeks

The late Harold Meeks was an Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of Vermont.  His membership in the Lincoln Highway Association was partly responsible for his interest in the Yellowstone Trail.  The importance of the Lincoln Highway and other named roads is a significant part of his book, with several contemporary pictures included from Ohio.  When not exploring the old named trails of America, Hal and his wife Milly lived in Essex Junction, Vermont.  Hal died December 18, 2005 and will be greatly missed by his family, friends, the Lincoln Highway Association, and old road fans across America.

Copyright 2000 by Harold Meeks
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ISBN No. 1-57510-079-7