116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In 1911, the American Automobile Association, organized in 1902, urged national legislation for a transcontinental highway. One of AAA's members was Robert N. Carson of Iowa City.
Carson was the primary promoter and advocate for the Red Ball Route, a north-south network of dirt and gravel roads running from St. Louis, Mo., to St. Paul, Minn.
Communities vied for inclusion in this short line, overland route. Carson made it clear that inclusion relied on each locality's officials pledging to keep their stretch of the route in good condition for 'automobilists” to traverse. For that reason, each community had its own 'good roads committee.”
The Red Ball Route was laid out in 1913 from St. Louis to Hannibal, Mo., Quincy and Hamilton, Ill., to Keokuk, Mount Pleasant, Ainsworth, Riverside, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Waverly and Charles City in Iowa, and to Austin, Faribault, Northfield, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.
Good roads committees marked telephone and telegraph poles along the route with the Red Ball's official insignia, a three-foot white band with a red ball six inches in diameter on both sides of the poles.
Marking of the route came as far north as Western and as far south as Waterloo by August 1913. Good roads workers from Cedar Rapids were expected to mark the route from Shueyville north at least halfway to Waterloo.
Carson worked tirelessly to make sure that the premise of the Red Ball Route was clear in each community through which it was designated to pass. In Cedar Rapids on Sept. 18, 1913, he explained to the Commercial Club what had already been done and what still needed to be done to mark the route through the city. The Commercial Club decided that the route would come from the south up Second Street to Fourth Avenue, then go east on Fourth Avenue to Third Street, up Third Street to Second Avenue, cross the bridge, then go north on First Street to E Avenue and west on Vinton Road, reaching Vinton by way of Newhall.
With Kent C. Ferman appointed the chairman of the local good roads committee and the Lattner Bros. donating the use of a Reo truck, work began to sign the road within a few days.
State Highway Commission rules said the road needed to be 26 feet wide with the grade not exceeding 4 percent at any point. The roadway was covered with 12 inches of macadam, including a two-inch surface of finely crushed stone.
In 1914, another north-south highway was proposed to go through Cedar Rapids. Promoters of the Canada, Kansas City & Gulf Highway, headed by Red Ball founder Robert Carson, met with the Commercial Club and good roads chairman Ferman to select a route. The Red Ball Route was unanimously considered the best option. The C.K.C. & G was the first road marked for the entire distance from Canada to the Gulf and its location on the Red Ball Route was expected to be of immense benefit to Cedar Rapids. The Iowa Division of the transcontinental route was organized on April 23 in the Commercial Club rooms and a resolution that was accepted read, 'Resolved: That it is the sense of this meeting that the Canadian, Kansas City and Gulf road be improved as much as possible and that it will be thoroughly marked by Good Roads Day, and that on Good Roads Day, June 15, set aside by the governor as such, that every foot of the road in the Iowa division be dragged, in recognition of the governor's proclamation.” Responsibility for marking the new route was placed in the hands of Ferman and Verne Marshall, editor of The Gazette.
The country's highway system was soon going through very rapid changes. Established routes gave way to new ones as better roads became available. Henry County invested $10,000 in the Red Ball Route in 1916, cutting down hills, filling in hollows, straightening the road and repairing bridges. The road to Iowa City changed when parts of it were deemed impassable. Cedar Falls was added to the route from Waterloo to Waverly.
When the new Pershing Highway was proposed to share the Red Ball Route in 1919, Carson was not in favor. He felt competition between roads would spur more improvements by good roads committees. Nevertheless the Pershing Highway route was established mostly along the Red Ball Route from St. Paul to Keokuk.
By the 1920s, motorists were travelling a combination of the Lincoln Highway and the Red Ball Route to get from Chicago to St. Paul and back. The two highways connected in Cedar Rapids. From the Lincoln highway, the Red Ball route for St.Paul was picked up at the first intersection after crossing First Avenue or Second Avenue in Cedar Rapids, turning right, following markers. Tourists from off the Red Ball left Cedar Rapids on Second Avenue, following the Lincoln Highway markers. The total mileage from Chicago to St. Paul was 511 miles, 13 miles shorter than any other route between Waterloo and St. Paul or Cedar Rapids and St. Paul.
Under Robert Carson's supervision, local good roads committees succeeded in making the Red Ball Route one of the best roads in Iowa. It was located on state and county highways its entire length and designated by highway commissions as primary road No. 40.
The Red Ball Route became an integral part of University of Iowa football, especially the Iowa-Minnesota games. In 1922, a large delegation of Gophers made their way to Iowa during homecoming weekend over the Red Ball. Johnson County soon saw the need to pave the Red Ball and Linn County scrambled to match that plan. By 1927 the route between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids was paved.
In 1925, the roads were re-marked by the state. The symbols were replaced with mundane numbers. The Lincoln Highway became Highway 30 and the Red Ball became Highway 218.
The Red Ball Route, found in small sections of old Highway 218, or as County Road W-54, was the forerunner of the Avenue of the Saints.
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