Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Yellowstone Trail was one of the first transcontinental highways. In April 1912 a group of local businessmen began to create an improved highway from Ipswich, South Dakota, to nearby Aberdeen. This effort was led by local booster, state senator, and "good roads" advocate Joseph W. Parmley. Parmley saw that the automobile would come to dominate commerce in the years ahead and was determined that his town not be left behind.

From this humble beginning the Yellowstone Trail Association was organized in October 1912 to promote a marked highway from the Twin Cities to Yellowstone National Park via Aberdeen. Boosters along the route began painting the association logo–a yellow circle with a black arrow pointing in the direction of Yellowstone–on roadside poles, trees, and even rocks. The association achieved a major victory in 1914 by successfully lobbying the National Park Service to allow private autos into Yellowstone Park.

The Yellowstone Trail quickly emerged as the most important northern highway and the primary auto tourist route to and from Yellowstone. During its heyday in the early 1920s the Yellowstone Trail Association maintained a permanent office in Minneapolis along with numerous tourist bureaus in prominent cities along the route. Information tents were placed at strategic highway junctions to entice travelers to take the Yellowstone Trail instead of some other route. The Yellowstone Trail Association was supported by private memberships held by businesses along the route.

Private highway associations began to decline in 1926 after the passage of federal highway legislation, which established the U.S. Route numbering system and placed the federal government in the forefront of highway construction. With the federal government now marking and funding highways, the primary functions of the private highway association disappeared. In the late 1920s, like so many other highway groups, the Yellowstone Trail Association fell on hard economic times. It was permanently disbanded in 1930.

Mike Bedeau Virginia City, Nevada

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