Charles Thatcher's Good Roads

Charles Thatcher was an early 20th century "good roads" advocate - described in the attached article below as "the good roads national boulevards apostle." The article is from the July 2, 1909 Indianapolis News and describes the passage of Thatcher through the city of Indianapolis as he waged a multi-state tour to raise support for upgrading roads across the country.
Let me say up front that this article artifact is in poor condition and while legible it requires patience. This was the condition of the source microfilm and it is the flat out best I could do.
Known as the good roads movement in the early days of the automobile, leaders such as Thatcher worked to raise support for improving roads to meet the needs of the new automobile. They correctly reasoned that unless roads designed for horses and wagons were not upgraded to accomodate automobiles the full potential of that burgeoning industry could not be realized.
Many recognized this potential in terms of economic growth realized not just from producing cars as products, but also igniting an explosion of productivity across all industries as the speed of trade was accelerated tremendously. Predictably, many conservatives resisted this industrial advance and certainly did not believe public monies should be used to advantage private industry.
The article reports that Thatcher had visited the Hoosier capital some 18 months prior when he traveled from Chicago through the south to the Gulf of Mexico. He arrived in Indianapolis the day the article was published driving two mules who tugged him along in a cart. Articles like this are important because they paint the context of the times. It's too easy to forget that most people, especially in countryside, still used horse-drawn conveyances. Check out the following excerpt I regard as colorful:
"They (the mules) were the same ones that he was driving to the same spring wagon, loaded with camping equipment and guns, when it came into Indianapolis a year and a half ago, and the same Rocky Mountain donkey trailed along behind as faithful as the two dogs that complete the outfit. Thatcher, still under a sombrero and cartridge belt, was as tall and raw-boned and as full of eloquence and enthusiasm for good roads as he was when here last. The whole outfit, from Thatcher to the trailing burro, looked not a day older or worn, though they have covered the south since last here, and had just landed in Indianapolis 350 miles from Cleveland, the distance covered in ten days. Thatcher is due to address a big good roads convention in Louisville next Wednesday night and his stay in Indianapolis will therefore be limited."
Upon Thatcher's arrival he was welcomed by the leaders of the Commerical Club. He addressed the membership at noon. Plans called for another meeting for those most interested in good roads and boulevard development the following day. The hope was to stir support for the movement in Indiana. Below Thatcher is quoted:
"I have been on the go all of the time since I was in Indianapolis and have been talking. And the result is that I believe we have advanced the interest of good government roads. Indianapolis is a keystone point in my plan, which is to have the government build at least four great national highways. Two of them would come through Indianapolis, and in arousing enthusiasts for these roads I am laying the foundation for a great national highways convention which I hope to hold either in Indianapolis or Louisville next year. At that meeting I hope to get the sentiment crystalized."
Thatcher went on to say that in that particular trip he was developing a plan for a great national boulevard running from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. He also reported that he had amassed so much enthusiasm for his mission that he had been asked to meet with numerous congressmen and senators at conventions throughout the coming autumn. He also claimed to have gathered enough support that the road he envisioned was already under construction between Detroit and Toledo.
Thatcher shared his vision for a great national highway that he hoped federal and state government would build. His objective was to create support for the project on his mule cart tour. He wanted the road to begin in Detroit to Toledo and from there follow the Maumee River toward Ft. Wayne. From there he saw it following the Old Indian Trail and then head to Indianapolis and from there to Louisville and on to Buffalo, Illinois. He wanted the road to continue south to the Nashville area and continuing south using the Natchez Trace trails to New Orleans.
Thatcher had ideas for the design and construction of the roads. He called for a boulevard 65-feet wide with state-of-the-art design not typically seen in the United States. He wanted the roads lined with shade and fruit-bearing trees. The quality of the article prevents us from determining the exact dollar amount Thatcher projects to pull all this off but equates it to the cost of building a battleship.
At this point I extend a deep and sincere apology as by some mistake I failed you and allowed a break in the article. A portion of it is missing. The good news is that its readability improves. 
Here Thatcher shared a vision for a western highway costing $7,000,000 from St. Louis to Washington state. He reported that he found a route from St. Louis to Denver that was 80 miles nearer to Pike's Peak than any railway at the time.
We also learn that the U.S. Congress had budgeted $200,000 to construct a military highway 140 miles from Ft. Riley to Leavenworth, Kansas that was planned to be 100 feet wide. They expected to use prison labor. Also, the article reports that Missouri voted appropriations for two highways.
Ohio was apparently moving forward. Thatcher is described as digging into his pockets to share letters from commerical clubs across the Buckeye state. These verified that work had begun on a 100-foot-wide boulevard across Ohio to Chicago.
Other highways designed with cars in mind were in various stages of planning. These include a boulevard from New York through Chicago and on out to Seattle. There were other discussions around the restoration of the old National Road from Washington D.C. to St. Louis and on to Denver using old pony express trails - again is a reference I find both charming and instructive in visualizing the context of the time.
Thatcher sought federal government funding and posited that an expenditure for a network of highways with an estimated cost of $50M was reasonable in light of an estimated cost of $10M for a Dreadnought, a name for the most common style of battleship.
Here's another Thatcher quote that speaks to his vision of economic impact:
"Such great national boulevards, these main ones, supplemented by others would put a new life into this nation and would affect us in a score of different ways. They would be of significant value commercially and strategically and as a source of uplift for our people. The farmer should not fight the automobilist., for he is an apostle of good roads, and is doing a great work in creating national sentiment for such roads, to be built by the government. The day is coming when the farmer's wagon will be geared to mature energy, and he will market his produce thirty, forty or fifty miles distant over good roads. Such roads would make it possible for the shop girl to get on her gasoline propelled cycle and get out of her narrow environment with little cost."
Remarkably, Thatcher had traveled 25,000 miles in the previous six years by pack train, wagon and the mule cart he had used to get to Indianapolis that day. That "outfit," as the newspaper writer refers to it, had served him for three years. In Cleveland he was so warmly received he was offered the use of an automobile. He refused. 
Thatcher's reasoning in not accepting the car was that he thought it would alienate him from the farmers along the way. He wanted them to see him as someone who had their best interests in mind. In the same vein, the article reports that while he owned fine clothing, he preferred to don a sombrero, corduroy trousers and his cartridge belt. The article posits that this garb, along with his mules, dogs and cart were crafted to project an image that would appeal to the average person and gain their support.
The article says Thatcher was the son of a Methodist minister in Wheeling (but does not note the state) and, for a while, was a civil engineer who had studied at Ohio Wesleyan University. Note that the article refers to life in the eastern United States as "artificial," which is evidence of the regionalism of the country. That's a condition that still exists today, hence we have our "blue" and "red" state maps.
The article concludes with an assertion that Thatcher, despite his eccentric presentation, was extremely intelligent and articulate. I also want to note that the article is peppered with oblique references to military advantages for improved roads. I suspect this was as much about selling the project(s) to local, state and federal government as anything substantively gained by the military. However, it is true that a network of roads would facilitate the rapid deployment of military resources should they be needed for national defense.

RoadsNews070209.pdf1.47 MB