Transportation Histories

The history of land-based transportation networks is critical to understanding American history. Native Americans created well-worn trails across North America long before European settlers brought wagons, horses, and eventually automobiles. Today, these routes provide important access to public lands that offer hunting and fishing grounds for all citizens. New policies that aim to protect the natural resources that these routes traverse have caused disputes that frequently end up in the courts. Additionally, state and federal agencies may need the history of a particular travel route as mitigation to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. In either case, SHRA has done considerable research on the evolution of the country’s road network, using wide-ranging sources from county-level records to National Archives materials relating to military wagon roads and postal routes. We are conversant and familiar with road law and have presented at Continuing Legal Education classes in this area with specialist attorneys.  SHRA contracts regularly with state transportation departments and other agencies interested in historic travel patterns.

SHRA has worked on the history of roads in North Dakota, Idaho, Washington, and New Mexico.

Select Past Projects

History of Cow Creek Road (2012)

Cow Creek Road lies within Washington County, Idaho, and has provided residents historic access to what is now the Payette National Forest for more than 100 years. In 2012, Washington County, Idaho initiated quiet title proceedings and hired SHRA to examine the historical basis for potential RS2477 claims for Cow Creek Road. As part of this quiet title proceeding, SHRA examined the settlement of Washington County, crops that were grown, the rise of two towns, the history of the area’s grist and saw mills, and transportation patterns throughout the rural region. SHRA researched the road’s long history, including who created, maintained, and used it and for what purposes, presenting findings at a public hearing and submitting a report for public consumption. SHRA worked with the county GIS staff to create maps that included several layers of historical information and helped the public and the county staff better visualize the narrative history.

ITD/Salmon River (2016)

In 2016, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) replaced the aging Little Salmon River Bridge. Because the original historic bridge was constructed in the 1920s, its destruction triggered the requirements of the 1976 Historic Preservation Act. As a result, Idaho’s State Historic Preservation Office required the ITD to record the history of the travel route that included this bridge. ITD hired SHRA to research and write the narrative, which included sources from the Idaho State Archives, ITD archives, local newspapers, and National Archives records from the General Land Office and the Secretary of the Interior related to military wagon roads and topography.

For further information, please visit our Case Studies page.