Following the Yellowstone Trail
by Leanne Brown
In 1912, as the automobile became a more popular and practical mode of transportation, the Yellowstone Trail Association was formed. The purpose of the Yellowstone Trail, also known as the Great Highway of the Northwest, was to provide a sound road for travelers from Minneapolis to Seattle. Eventually, the Trail was extended east to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The Yellowstone Trail passed through Carver County; specifically, Victoria, Waconia, Young America, and Norwood. The Trail loosely followed the roads that are now Minnewashta Parkway, Highway 5 and Highway 212. Because the Trail used already-existing roads, a system of mapping the Trail was created. At first, stones and telephone poles along the Trail were painted yellow. By 1919, however, metal Yellowstone Trail signs were posted along the route. The background of the sign was yellow and the arrow pointed toward Yellowstone National Park. In a Trail brochure, travelers were told that "turns in the road are denoted by removing the arrow from the center of the mark and substituting 'R,' meaning right, and 'L' meaning left, denoting a turn in the direction indicated. Two R's or L's are used for each turn in the country, one being approximately one hundred yards before the turn is made, and the other at the turn."
The roads which made up the Yellowstone Trail in Carver County did require improvements including grading, gravelling, and eliminating some of the train crossings. The money for these improvements came from the U.S. government, Carver County, and the towns through which the Trail passed. In 1917 and 1918, the county spent $35,000 on Trail improvements while Victoria contributed $250, Young America spent $750, Norwood allocated $1000, and Waconia paid $1500.
The Association publicized the Trail through tour information bureaus, maps, and Association conventions. One of the more unusual events it sponsored was a relay race along the Trail in 1916. The relay cars were expected in Carver County on September 13 and the Waconia Patriot gave front-page coverage to the event and warned residents to "be on the look out so as to prevent any accident. The streets should be kept clear at Waconia on the afternoon of next Wednesday to minimize any chance of accident as the cars will go thru town at high speed." The anticipated high speed: 31 m.p.h.
By 1931, the Yellowstone Trail Association had disbanded. A new Yellowstone Trail was planned to pass through Wayzata, Long Lake, and Maple Plain; Carver County was completely bypassed. According to the Waconia Patriot, new and improved highways as well as the unwillingness of local towns to contribute financially to the Trail, had led to the original Yellowstone Trail's demise. Many of the signs, however, remained along the route for years, reminding travelers of a time when communities had to band together in order to secure better roads.
The Historical Society sells the books Introducing The Yellowstone Trail (2000) by John and Alice Ridge and On the Yellowstone Trail which is a reproduction of the First Year Book of the Yellowstone Trail Association. Please e-mail us for price information.