Backbone of America runs through county
US-50 highway began as local stretches of trail roads before being linked together into a transcontinental route running from New York to Los Angeles. In Kansas, it runs from Kansas City to the Colorado line west of Syracuse.
In Marion County, the original touring route zigzagged through the county on trails that took numerous turns, roughly following the present US-50.
The Hutchinson News named the road the New Santa Fe Trail Road in 1909, as automobiles were becoming more numerous. Shortly after, an association was organized at Hutchinson “to form a highway movement.”
The road was adopted by national touring clubs and the American Automobile Association as the official route from coast to coast.
The road was a dirt highway except in cities. It was purported to have “good natural roads” that were maintained by dragging.
In Kansas, the entire mileage was made a “County Road,” meaning that each county maintained its section of the road.
Fred Harvey Hotels along the Santa Fe Railroad was one of the factors that favored making the new trail road part of the transcontinental route. Travelers were assured of good food and lodging.
To put time in perspective, the AAA was established in 1902 in Chicago “in response to a lack of roads and highways suitable for automobiles.” City dwellers still generally used other modes of travel, such as boats and trains to commute between towns and cities.
Production of the Ford Model T began in 1908. The federal government became involved in road construction in 1916 with a grant of $75 million.
In the late ’20s, the transcontinental route was oiled and named US-50 as part of a national numbered highway system. In Kansas, US-50 was split between two trail roads, the Old Santa Fe Road as 50N, and the New Santa Fe Road as 50S. That changed in the 1950s, when 50N became US-56 and 50S became US-50.
The present hard-surface route was established in 1936. It was widened in 1995 and 1996.
Last modified Jan. 17, 2019