You have just bought a brand new 1915 Studebaker and you want to drive from Chicago to Bloomington, Illinois. This is a daunting journey in the early decades of the 20th Century, since you never know what roads to take. Few rural roads are marked with names and most are unimproved dirt surfaces (that turn to mud after even a moderate rainfall).
Motorists did have a few tools to help them find the best available roads in those days. Some named auto trails were beginning to get marked. Those wishing to travel from Joliet to Iowa could follow the Lincoln Highway whose red-white-blue symbols with a large “L” had been painted on posts and trees all along the way. From Chicago to Bloomington, you could theoretically follow the signs for the Pontiac Trail, whose sign is shown here.
Or could you? A 1915 article in Illinois Highways, a publication of the state highway department, discussed the plans and general routing of the Pontiac Trail. The Trail was also included on the state’s “Map showing Marked Through Routes in Illinois” published in February 1917. However, other sources from the era do not mention the Pontiac Trail at all.
Several years ago, I started a page on my website titled “The Mystery of the Pontiac Trail.” I detailed some research into a primary source: the 1914 Automobile Blue Book, where detailed turn-by-turn directions are given for a trip between Chicago and Bloomington, with NO mention of the Pontiac Trail along the way. This is not surprising since it depicts the state of the roads a year before the trail was described in Illinois Highways.On that page, I promised to add more information from a 1915 guide, King’s Official Route Guide. That promise remained unfulfilled until I recently got a call from a gentleman in Pontiac that asked about the routing of the trail through his home town and namesake for the trail. This shamed me into pulling out the guide and resurrecting my research. I will soon add a new page to the website that will have scans from the book covering the entire route from Chicago to St. Louis–the way folks could get between those points 11 years before the birth of Route 66. I see no mention of the Pontiac Trail in the King’s Guide, but the Lincoln Highway and the Alton Way do get mentioned in the appropriate sections. Until I get that page up, here is a little taste of the routing through Pontiac, Illinois. The description through town is familiar to anyone that has driven through Pontiac: from north-to-south, it is Aurora St to Indiana St to Main St to Washington St to Vermilion St to Reynolds St. Today, you can drive this same route by crossing the tracks south into Pontiac adjacent to the Old Log Cabin Restaurant. Click on the image here and you can see a .pdf of three pages–the first two are the north-south directions, and the last is the south-north directions. Enjoy and stay tuned for the full routings from Chicago to St. Louis!