A century ago, when the United States was just beginning to establish its network of roads, somebody decided that those roads should be given names, rather than the numbering system used today.
Most of these named roads or trails weren’t developed by the federal or even state governments but by cooperative efforts of the communities along the route.
The folks to the east of Jamestown had a a pretty grand plan when they named their route “King of Trails.”
The King of Trails extended from Sioux City, Iowa, to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The original plan from the 1920s had it passing through the North Dakota counties adjacent to the Red River but over time changes in the communities supporting the trail moved it into Minnesota where it is now known U.S. Highway 75.
Competing with the King of Trails was the “Meridian Highway” that traveled much the same route but terminated at Pembina, North Dakota.
The central part of North Dakota had its own named road in the “Sunshine Highway.”
Not nearly as grandiose sounding as the King of Trails but still a positive name for marketing the idea of traveling the area for an enjoyable time.
The Sunshine Highway passed through North and South Dakota roughly on the route of U.S. Highway 281. In this area it passed through Pingree, Jamestown and Ellendale and appears to have connected to the Meridian Highway at Yankton.
Utilizing the two routes, a traveler could get from the Canadian border to Galveston, Texas, although it was hardly a direct route.
Because these routes were organized by local governments, all used existing local roads. The local communities were responsible for putting up signs, although I would guess that varied in effectiveness from community to community.
The organizers or the roads used publications to promote the road, advertise the businesses along the route and give directions along the route.
One brochure from a South Dakota route warned travelers to take the left fork in the road when they came to the cemetery outside of Sioux Falls.
The Jamestown Alert published an article about the budding highway system in 1922 promoting both the King of Trails and the Sunshine Highway.
“The ultimate destination of the north and south highway is Brownsville, Texas,” wrote the Alert. “The road is expected to be completed with the next five years.”
The United States government got into the highway planning game and established a numbering system in 1925.
With the advent of Highway 281, which has existed in some form or another since 1931, the dream of connecting the Canadian border with the Gulf of Mexico came true in a relatively easy to follow route.
The highway, which begins at the International Peace Garden and ends at Brownsville, Texas, is the longest three-digit U.S. highway in existence at 1,875 miles.
And you don’t have to take a fork in the road by a cemetery on any of those miles.