4/21/2008

Green Bay Road

I’ve been curious about the Green Bay Road since I realized I was living near it a few years ago. The original version of the road was commissioned in 1832 to connect Fort Howard in Green Bay to Fort Dearborn in Chicago. Much of the road followed old Indian trails that had been used for ages. It was essentially a road through the wilderness, allowing the military to communicate prior to the advent of radio and telegraph. The military couriers would walk the road on foot, hunting and gathering to sustain themselves on the months'long journey.

Modern day Wisconsin State Highway 31 approximates the trail in my neck of the woods. This road was the major North-South road in Wisconsin for many years. As more settlements popped up along the road, it began to be used for more routine mail delivery, and later functioning as a handy route for immigrants and daily business.

I spent some time searching through the 1838 survey maps of my area, but I’ve never quite managed to pin down the exact location of the road. Unfortunately, the surveyor in Racine county never bothered to mark which road was which on his hand-drawn maps, and mapped so many disconnected road fragments that it’s impossible to glean where the road actually lay. The Kenosha surveyor was much more accomodating, clearly labelling the "US Road" on his maps… which doesn’t really help me any.

But none of this is the reason for my post. While searching online for clues about the road, I learned that there had been a project to mark the historic route back in the late 1920s. The Wisconsin Society of Chicago (hard to imagine the existence of such a club today) installed concrete pillars adorned with brass tablets every couple of miles along the road.

I’ve often watched the roadside as I travelled along Hwy 31 in Wisconsin and Hwy131 in Illiniois, wondering whether this or that blank concrete post might not be the decrepit remains of one of these markers, and horribly endangering my fellow travellers of the highway in the process. ( I really ought to pay more attention to the road when I'm driving).

Last week, I finally found one of the markers. And, as so often happens, once I had the visual template, I quickly located another. I haven’t found any listing of surviving markers online, so I’ll start one here. If you’ve seen a marker, let me know, and I’ll add it to my list. I can’t imaging there’d be many left, since the road is now a 4-lane highway for its entire length. Widening the road would have wiped them out, except where the road’s bed was shifted to one side or the other. But I’ll keep this list updated as I locate them. Heck, maybe I’ll set up a geocache for them!

I find it amusing that these markers once set out to reveal an item of historical interest have now become items of historical interest themselves. And each time I see a marker, I know I’ll think of those crazy mail couriers travelling between the forts along the path, braving hostile natives, wild cats, and physical hardship in order to get the mail through.

List of Remaining WSC Markers:

County ........Location .........................................Coordinates ............Notes:
Kenosha...........Hwy 31 & 108th/72nd..............................42 31.090, -087 53.444.......Photo
Kenosha...........Old Green Bay Rd. & 104th St................42 31.373, -087 53.300.......Photo
Kenosha.......... Hwy 31 & Hwy E. .....................................42 38.364, -087 52.567 .......Photo
Kenosha ..........Hwy 31 & Old Gr. Bay Rd........................42 39.621, -087 52.430........Photo

Racine..............Hwy 31 (Mt. Pleasant Town Hall)...........42 41.889, -087 51.261........Photo
Racine..............Hwy 31 & Spring St...................................42 44.256, -087 53.300.......Photo
Racine..............Hwy 31 & Kinzie........................................42 43.415, -087 50.630........Photo
Racine .............Hwy 31 & 6 Mile Rd..................................***.......Photo

Milwaukee.......Packard Ave................................................................................................


Other Green Bay Road Markers:
Kenosha..........Hwy 31 frontage road................................42 31.976, -087 53.487..........Photo
Wisconsin........periodically throughout Green Bay Road Ethnic Trail............................Photo

3 comments:

Shevy said...

Great, now when I'm on Green Bay I'm going to have to look for these markers.

Roger said...

Has anyone found a mapof the route?

The Fishmonger said...

I haven't come across a map yet, but I'm still looking. There are two time periods I'm interested in: the time period of the markers (mid 1920's) and the time period of the original military road (late 1830's to 1840's). I'll post more if I find anything!

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