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Signs to mark the Yellowstone Trail, like the one pictured above, have been purchased by area villages and towns.

Life in the past lane

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When automobiles were making their first appearances in St. Croix County, the Yellowstone Trail was a big deal.

About 98 years later the trail is becoming a big deal again, as local communities celebrate their connections to one of the first interconnected automobile routes of the early 1900s.

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To celebrate Hammond's link to the trail, a Yellowstone Trail Social will be held on Sunday, June 20, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Those attending the festival are encouraged to dress in attire from the 1920s. Community-wide garage sales, a vintage car show, an antique tractor show, a historic newspaper display, a book sale, root beer floats and more are included in the day's schedule.

The Hammond Community Library will offer children's crafts and activities.

Events will take place near the Hammond Community Library, along Davis and Charlotte streets, and on Broadway, which was the original Yellowstone Trail.

Local business owners, nonprofit groups and community members are planning this year's event.

About the Trail

The Yellowstone Trail Association was formed in 1912, with a vision of a traveling a road from Plymouth Rock, Mass. to Puget Sound, Wash.

But it wasn't like they could just pull out a road map and start driving.

At that time there were few good, all weather roads, no useful long distance roads and no government marked routes, according to materials from today's YTA.

The YTA didn't build the roads of the Yellowstone Trail, like County Road TT from Roberts to Hammond. Instead, its 8,000 members encouraged county governments to build them. Piece by piece the route came together and by 1919 it went from coast-to-coast. Through Wisconsin, the trail followed the Milwaukee Road Railroad for the most part.

Yellow signs with black arrows, yellow-painted rocks or yellow-painted telephone poles marked the trail. Today arrows on the signs point travelers along the Yellowstone Trail route but back then all arrows pointed toward Yellowstone National Park.

Once a year, communities held a Trail Day when citizens went to the road and worked on repairs. That tradition, however, has been scrapped from Hammond's upcoming celebration.

The Yellowstone Trail Association also promoted towns and businesses along the route, easing Easterners' worries of going west, according to current YTA materials.

Historical guides from the time -- complied by the current YTA -- describe the area.

The "Mohawk Hobbs Grade and Surface Guide: Yellowstone Trail" said in 1922 that Hammond was "occupied in dairying and grain raising. Rooms, not modern; small garage."

Baldwin's rooms, however, got praise.

"Free camp at park on highway. Good country hotel," the Mohawk Guide said.

Another guide said about Baldwin, "Camp maintained by Community Club in park on Main St. near creamery. Accommodations for 5 cars, 20 people. .5 acre. Opera House with moving pictures twice a week."

The Yellowstone Trail had about 20 solid years, but the need for it died in the 1930s with the advent of federal funding, a highway numbering system and increased availability of maps.

Today

The Yellowstone Trail Association was brought back to life around 2003 by John and Alice Ridge, of Altoona. Although it was paused for a few years, it's still in existence, headed by Executive Director Mark Mowbray, of Janesville.

The Ridges started their research into the Yellowstone Trail after hearing about it from John's father. He had traveled the trail from Wisconsin to the west in the 1920s, and left them a scrapbook of it when he died. After the Ridges retired from their professorships at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, they decided to look into it. Neither are trained historians, Alice said.

Their interest in the trail led them to write several books and publications about it. They're re-documenting the trail still today.

The Yellowstone Trail is an important part of this area, according to YTA publications.

"Many of us are tired of tedious, cookie-cutter Interstates and seek backroads to really see and taste the detail of new places. We want to experience life in the past lane through heritage tourism, without the gumbo, 25 mph speed limits and flat tires," a YTA brochure states.

Community groups, like ones formed in Hammond and Hudson, hope to turn the Yellowstone Trail into a tourist destination, much like Route 66 in the south.

Maps, guidebooks and more information can be found at www.yellowstonetrail.org.

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