Forgotten Cousin of Route 66
It was a momentous event. It was the last US highway to be fully paved. And so on September 21, 1952, The New York Times noted that paving of U.S. 6, the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, had been completed a week earlier in Utah and that a two day celebration would “mark completion of thirty-three and one-half miles of arrow-straight asphalt pavement running from a point just beyond Hinckley, about six miles west of here, to Skull Rock Pass in the Little Drum Mountains.”
The October 11 issue of Business Week noted that U.S. 6 “… was designated a transcontinental highway in 1937. Technically, it was. You could get from Provincetown to Long Beach on it if you chose to try. But from Delta, about 80 mi. east of the Utah-Nevada border, to Ely, some 80 mi. west of the border, you ran into trouble. Much of this stretch of road was nothing but a wagon trail-rutted, filled with dust. It was one of the worst chunks of federal road in the country.”
The forgotten cousin of iconic Route 66 has an interesting history. And as it courses across the country from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to central California, it remains a quest for legions of passionate fans of the great American road trip.
In October 1925, the Joint Board on Interstate Highways proposed a 75,884-mile U.S. numbered system. One of the routes in the initial highway systm was U.S. 6 that would run from, “Provincetown, Massachusetts, to New Bedford, Fall River, Providence, Rhode Island, Hartford, Connecticut, Danbury, Brewster, New York.”
By the time that AASHO approved the proposal on November 11, 1926, there had been several modification to several U.S. highways. As an example, U.S. 60 was renumbered as U.S. 66. The adjustments to U.S. 6 were even more dramatic. And over the course of the next few decades, there would be other adjustments that finally resulted in U.S. 6 being designated the longest highway in the United States.
Published in 1927, the first official AASHO log of the U.S. routes, published in 1927, defined the route of U.S. 6:
United States Highway No. 6
Total Mileage, 707
Massachusetts Beginning at Provincetown via Sandwich, New Bedford, Fall River to the Massachusetts-Rhode Island State line at East Providence.
Rhode Island Beginning at the Massachusetts-Rhode Island State line on Waterman Avenue, East Providence, via Providence, North Scituate to the Rhode Island-Connecticut State line at South Killingly.
Connecticut Beginning at the Rhode Island-Connecticut State line at South Killingly via Danielson, Brooklyn, Clarks Corners, Willimantic, South Coventry, Coventry, Bolton Notch, Manchester, Burnside, Hartford, Farmington, Plainville, Bristol, Terryville, Thomaston, Watertown, Minortown, Woodbury, Southbury, Sandy Hook, Danbury, Mill Plain to the New York-Connecticut State line west of Mill Plain.
New York Beginning again at Kingston via Kerhonkson, Wurtsboro to Port Jervis.
Pennsylvania Beginning at the New York-Pennsylvania State line at Port Jervis via Matamoras, Milford, Honesdale, Carbondale, Scranton, Clarks Summit, Tunkhannock, Wyalusing, Towanda, Mansfield, Canoe Camp, Wellsboro, Coudersport, Farmers Valley, Kane, Warren, Corry, Waterford to Erie.
A major change was made to U.S. 6 in the summer of 1931. From the Federal Highway Administration Highway History page. “The route was changed again on June 8, 1931, when AASHO’s Executive Committee approved State highway agency requests to modify the route in Pennsylvania and extend U.S. 6 to Greeley, Colorado. The approval read:
U.S. 6, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado. U.S. 6, which now begins at Provincetown, Massachusetts, and ends at Erie, Pennsylvania, is extended so that the original description of U.S. 6 stands as heretofore, except that from Waterford, Pennsylvania, to Erie, Pennsylvania, it shall be known as U.S. 6 N. Then beginning at Waterford, Pennsylvania, the following additional routing is established temporarily: Cambridge Springs, Meadville, Conneaut Lake, Pennline to the Ohio-Pennsylvania line west of Pennline. OHIO, beginning at the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, west of Pennline, via Andover, Chardon to Cleveland (it being clearly understood that the final designation of this route between Waterford, Pennsylvania, and Cleveland, Ohio, is subject to a more definite location, dependent upon certain road improvements contemplated by the State Highway Departments of Pennsylvania and Ohio). Further permanent location of this route continues as follows: Cleveland, Lorain, Fremont, Bowling Green, Napoleon, Bryan, Edgerton to the Ohio-Indiana State line, west of Edgerton. INDIANA, beginning at the Ohio-Indiana State line, west of Edgerton, via Waterloo, Kendallville, Ligonier, Nappanee, Bremen, Lapaz, Walkerton, Westville, Hobart, Hyland, Munster to the Indiana-Illinois State line, west of Munster. ILLINOIS, beginning at the Indiana-Illinois State line, west of Munster, via Joliet, Mendota, LaMoille, Rock Island to the Mississippi River, opposite Davenport, Iowa. IOWA, the description of U.S. 6 across Iowa is made by the absorption of the present U.S. 32 in Iowa. NEBRASKA, the description of U.S. 6 in Nebraska is the same as present U.S. 38 and absorbs that number. COLORADO, the description of U.S. 6 in Colorado is the same as present U.S. 38 and absorbs U.S. 38, terminating at Greeley.”
After U.S. 6 absorbed these segments, highway number “38” disappeared from the 1932 log. Surprisingly U.S. 32 remained in the log even though the 181 mile highway only connected Davenport, Iowea and Chicago. On June 21, 1937, when U.S. 6 was extended to Long Beach, California, 3,652 miles from Provincetown on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, it was designated a transcontinental highway. The eastern terminus was at New Beach Circle and the western terminus at the intersection of the Long Beach Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway designated as U.S. 101.
This webiste also notes one more major change to U.S. 6. “Under State Senate Bill 64, California renumbered its State highway system, effective July 1, 1964. The State law provided that each route should have a single number, with precedence given to retention of present sign route numbers in the following order: Interstate routes, U.S. numbered routes, and State sign routes. To comply with this requirement, the State asked AASHO’s U.S. Route Numbering Committee to approve a shift in the western terminus of U.S. 6 to Bishop, thus eliminating the combined section of U.S. 6/395 between Bishop and Brown. On June 18, 1963, the committee approved the request. While the route retained the U.S. 395 designation between Bishop and Brown, the former segment of U.S. 6 beyond Brown became State Route 14. After the 1963 change in California, U.S. 6 became the second longest highway in the country (3,227 miles). The longest was and remains U.S. 20 (3,345 miles).”
I have yet to fully explore U.S. 6. But it is on my “to do” list. And with with every mile driven, my eagerness to follow the highway from end to end grows stronger.
Recently I had Jim Hinckley’s America related business in Colorado. And that provided an opportunity for some backcountry exploration in southern Utah and northern Arizona. As a bonus I also had time to explore a bit of U.S. 6. in Utah and Colorado.
And once again I wasn’t disappointed. Counted among the highlights of that exploratory adventure was the discovery of the Grand Junction Palomino Inn in Grand Junction, Colorado.
There are a number of vintage motels dating to the 1950s and 1960s along U.S. 6 in Grand Junction. The original signage had been replaced long ago. Most were tarnished relics that rented by the week or month, or perhaps by the hour. But the Palomino Inn was clean, reasonably priced, and at every turn reflected the pride of the owners. To the best of my knowledge this is the last historic property along U.S. 6 in Grand Junction that still functions as a motel.
Are you ready for a road trip?