Auto traffic common in 1920s

Downtown Iron Mountain has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. To recognize this honor, The Daily News is publishing a series on the history of downtown Iron Mountain. These accounts were researched and written by Robert O. Christensen, National Register Coordinator from the State Historic Preservation Office in Lansing, and edited by Dickinson County Historian William Cummings.

1920’s Iron Mountain

During the 1920’s Iron Mountain experienced boom times.

Contributing to the city’s growth and development was its central location in the Upper Peninsula, at the intersection of key highways in the region.

The automobile, still a rare sight in 1910, became a ubiquitous form of transportation for long as well as short-distance travel by the 1920’s.

As a result, state and local governments pushed programs of road improvement during those years. Michigan’s 1905 law establishing the state highway department also initiated a system of state support for road improvement.

A 1913 act began the development of a state trunkline system, authorizing financial incentives to local governments for reconstructing roads to meet state standards, and a 1919 act provided for “the construction and maintenance of trunk line roads by the State Highway Department” (Eighth Biennial Report, 7).

An Upper Peninsula map in the 1916 biennial report shows an embryonic trunkline route, the predecessor of today’s U.S. 2, across the south side of the peninsula that, labeled Route 12, followed Stephenson through Iron Mountain.

State trunklines were first designated with numbers as a result of the 1919 highway act, and the southern cross-U.P. route became state Highway 12 and was incorporated into the federal aid highway system in 1927 as U.S. 2.

A 1919 map in the Ninth Biennial Report also shows other state routes already established that roughly correspond with today’s main roads toward Marquette, Houghton, and Green Bay.

Automobile travel around Iron Mountain was swelled by growing commercial traffic as well as growing tourist and visitor traffic made possible by improved roads.

The fall hunting season, which had brought visitors by rail in the past, took on a new and greater importance in the 1920’s as far larger numbers arrived by car.

During hunting season the News contained extensive advertising that highlighted local stores, accommodations, restaurants, and nightclubs that welcomed and counted on the area’s visitors.

While much new development in the form of tourist cabins, combination stores and gas stations, and nightclubs took place around the edges of town and farther out in the country, the motor vehicles owned by visitors passing through town as well as local residents resulted in a proliferation of auto-service-related development well beyond what was seen in the previous decade, including auto dealership and repair garage buildings and, particularly, gas stations – some of it located within the district.