From the Museum Archives: Victory Highway — modern era arrives in Northwest Colorado
Paul Knowles/Museum of Northwest Colorado
Following the end of World War I in 1918, the US economy took off and millions of U.S. soldiers came home with dreams of owning an automobile. While cars became increasingly popular, the U.S. road system left a lot to be desired- consisting largely of remnants of decades-old wagon trails. Then, in 1921, the Victory Highway Association was formed and everything changed in our little corner of NW Colorado.
The purpose of the Victory Highway Association was to create a well-maintained transcontinental highway in honor of the men and women who served in WWI. It would be named “Victory Highway” and would travel the entire width of the continent from New York City to San Francisco. Much to the delight of local residents, this new highway would travel right through the heart of Northwest Colorado down current-day Highway 40.
Almost overnight, gas stations, motels, restaurants, and tourist shops sprang up in preparation for the inevitable wave of travelers. The immediate and lasting impact on the local economy cannot be overestimated. Nearly every edition of the local newspapers touted the new and updated structures beginning to line their towns. It’s actually hard to find many articles during 1921-1922 that don’t record the local excitement and anticipation. As one article put it in 1921, “You think you have good tourist travel now—wait until next year, and the next, and you will think all the autos in the world are going through Maybell”. The anticipation was warranted. Instead of the few hundred people coming for business or recreation, thousands upon thousands passed through NW Colorado that otherwise never would have.
In the mid-twenties, the Board of Public Roads began establishing a new country-wide system of highway numbers and by 1927 the Victory Highway became officially known as U.S. Highway 40. Today, you can still drive down one of the last vestiges in the U.S. of this bygone era- Craig’s main thoroughfare, Victory Way.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. This article was originally published on the museum’s Facebook page. To learn more about the Victory Highway, or other Northwest Colorado history, visit the museum at 590 Yampa Ave., or follow the museum on Facebook at facebook.com/museumnorthwestcolorado.
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