Highland News Leader

Political connections help steer the Cumberland Road through Highland

Roland Harris
Roland Harris

“Illinois was the paved road developer of the United States,” this was a story written by Chuck Rhodes of Collinsville in 1979.

Chuck is the biggest collector of Hug Truck Co. of Highland information and photos. Chuck also collects old Hug trucks and has completely restored a No. 42 Hug truck and drove this truck in Highland’s Sesquicentennial Parade in 1987.

Chuck and I have been friends since that time, and now Chuck, is supplying the Highland Home Museum with Hug Truck Co. booklets and photos. We have one large frame of C.J. Hug information from Chuck and another from my collection in our “G&H Room.” Also, there’s one frame of Hug farm photos in the North Farm Room, courtesy of Beverly Hug (Charles) Strackeljahn and a 9-by-36-inch photo from Francis Boeser and reproduced by Anne Mueller Cicero for the museum. This long photo is of the Hug Truck Co. employees, management and two new Hug concrete dump trucks; it was taken in 1927 in front of the former brick office buildings of the Pet Milk Co., formerly the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co., at 6th and Zschokke, which was purchased in 1925 by the Hug Truck Co.

Now, let’s get back on the road with Chuck’s information the Cumberland Road.

“The Cumberland Road was built in 1811 to 1818 from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia. Then, between 1816 to 1825, additional road was surveyed all the way to Jefferson City, Missouri. Construction began across Ohio, Indiana and into Illinois, between 1820 to 1824. During this time, construction was turned over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

(It was then being called the National Trail, later U.S. Route 40, and today the new route is Interstate 70, which passes just north of Highland.)

“The old Cumberland Road was started with the McAdams System, the old stone road surfacing. By the 1830s, it was again improved, with the additional bituminous material but the ‘tar’ used with the aggregate sometimes did not cure for several months.”

The “Centennial History of Highland” (Pages 47 and 48) says, “By the time of 1840, the town leaders learned that the Cumberland Road was being extended through Vandalia to St. Louis. The surveyed route was not through Highland, but would turn at Pocahontas, then through Saline, now called Grantfork, then Marine.

“Joseph Suppiger’s old friend, Col. James Semple, one of the six men who started Highland, had been elected to the U.S. Senate. Semple had not yet disposed of all his interest in Highland, and it was not hard to persuade him to help Highland get the new road. Through his influence, a change was made, and the Cumberland Road, then being called the ‘National Trail’ was re-routed from Pocahontas, through Highland, St. Jacob, then to Troy. A meeting was called in Highland at the Eagle Inn, and the money was pledged to complete the project from Pocahontas to Troy.

“Illinois law at that time provided that each male should work five days a year on the roads. The ‘Badenites’ (Germans) and Swiss, living between Pocahontas and Highland, were very pleased that they were getting a good road and did more work than had been expected of them. All Highlanders, who had no necessary employment, were asked to donate their services at road work. Every morning, several wagons were drawn up to the Eagle Inn and took the volunteers to the job site. They cut down trees and made ditches for the Army Corps of Engineers. The St. Jacob area men also aided the Highland men, when the road reach their area. Bridges crossing Little Silver Creek, then Silver Creek, west of St. Jacob, was a major task. It was accomplished by laying logs side by side, and this construction got the nickname of ‘corduroy roads.’ The new road, with bridges over the streams, was completed all the way to Troy by summer of 1843.”

Now back to Chuck’s story: “Road improvements in the United States were still moving very slowly, and it wasn’t until the late 1850s, with the invention of the JAW Rock Crusher, and then in the 1860s with the first steam roller, roads started to get better. But then came the Civil War.

“Then, brick paving became popular in the fall of 1893, but cost about $16,000 per mile. Then in the late 1890s came the car, which magnified the drastic need for an improved road system. First came the steam-powered cars, then the battery-powered, then gasoline engine cars. Cars were fast replacing the horse and were just beginning to catch on.

“By 1904, there were 153,000 miles of roads in rural America, macadam (broken stone of even size used in successively compacted layers typically bound with tar or bitumen) covered 39,000 miles, 15,000 miles were improved with gravel or rock, and only 123 miles of brick roads. The rest were just dirt roads, very muddy at times. The first Portland Cement concrete roads were used in 1907 and by 1908 came the Henry Ford’s Model T on Oct. 1, 1908. This car, and many other makers, greatly increased the demand for an improved road system with a hard surface. Then came the motor truck. Concrete roads were off and running.

“In August 1912, the secretary of agriculture and postmaster general were given $500,000 to improve rural roads. The state and local governments had to contribute  2/3 , and  1/3 came from this appropriation. This went into effect in 1914, and then, from this experiment, came the Federal Aid Road Act in 1916.

“Then came world War I, and major highways had to be improved to move the war material. The state of Illinois approved $6 million in November 1918, to be paid for entirely by motor vehicle license fees. This was spent making a road network to every county seat and aided the four major Federal Aid Routes in Illinois. Concrete highways were on the move.”

One of Highland’s general contractors and owner of a wood planning mill became interested in making concrete roads. Christ J. (C.J.) Hug and the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co., plus Helvetia and Saline townships, started making one-lane concrete roads to the farmers who brought milk into the Highland plant. Hug’s need for better equipment and trucks will be my next column.

My thanks to Chuck Rhodes and the “Centennial History of Highland.”