A Road is Still a Road by Any Other Name

Did you know that the Blues Highway goes through Red Wing?

That same highway is also known in these parts as Great River Road, Hiawatha Pioneer Trail, Disabled American Veteran’s Highway and Voyageur Highway. It’s also U.S. Highway 63 from Red Wing to Lake City.

Most of us know it as just Highway 61 but I learned all these other names when I was researching what part of the highway is going to be reconstructed this summer.

The many names for the highway can be seen just by looking at Google Maps. Highway 63 just across the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor into Wisconsin is called the Gaylord Nelson Highway. Google still lists the high bridge as the Eisenhower Memorial Bridge, probably because the maps still show the old bridge with road construction for the new one in the early stages.

Remember that federal highways are designated as running either north-south or east-west, not something in between like northwest-southeast, which Highway 61 actually does in this part of the state. Phil Duff, former editor and publisher of the Red Wing Republican Eagle sternly reminded me of the proper highway designation when I did some reporting for the paper nearly 40 years ago.

Federal highways, with rare exception, use odd numbers for north-south routes and even numbers for east-west. So, Highway 61 is north-south while Highway 10 is east-west. Interstate highways, which are also federal, follow a similar numbering scheme. I-94 and I-90 are east-west while I-35 is north-south.

Highway 61 Revisited

It’s pretty cool to be able to say that your town is right on the Mississippi River with the famous Highway 61 going right through it, thanks in part to Bob Dylan’s album and title song “Highway 61 Revisited” and his enigmatic song “The Walls of Red Wing.” They may or may not have anything to do with Red Wing. You could look it up.

Before Highway 61 was rerouted along He Mni Can-Barn Bluff, it turned south at Plum Street, following it to Seventh Street where it then followed the street eastward to the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing (we still call it the Training School). That’s where Seventh Street ended and Highway 61 continued on.

It’s hard to imagine today’s traffic following that route. Back then, major highways often zig-zagged through towns, sharing local streets. Now they usually go around the towns. You can still find remnants of old highway routes, often by looking carefully on Google Maps. As an example, short sections of “old” Highway 61 can be seen between Red Wing and Frontenac. A bit of research will reveal many remnants of old roads and bridges.

It’s also interesting that the actual road to the correctional facility is a very short state highway, Minnesota Highway 292. A map of the facility by the Minnesota Department of Corrections labels the ring road inside the fenced area as County Highway 292. Google Maps labels the whole road at the facility as County Highway 292. I doubt very much if Goodhue County is maintaining that road.

We also have Highway 58, from Main St. in Red Wing to Highway 52 in Zumbrota. It’s a constitutional highway because it and 69 others have their definitions tied to the state constitution. The state highway numbering system does not follow a specific pattern, except to avoid conflicts with US and interstate highway numbering schemes.

Tourist Trip

Both highways 58 and 61 are designated as part of the Hiawatha Pioneer Trail which might sound like they were part of some special route used by natives and early settlers. The real reason for the 2,400 miles of road designations in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota was to promote tourism. The route tried to touch as many historic and scenic areas as possible using existing highways. The trail was supported with a donation of $1 million from the American Petroleum Institute. Surprise, surprise. 

Minnesota State Highway 19, on the west side of Red Wing, travels all the way across southern Minnesota, from Highway 61 to the South Dakota border. The section between Red Wing and Gaylord is designated as the Colvill Memorial Highway in recognition of local Civil War hero Colonel William Colvill.

Even rural roads can have different names. A historic name like Apple Farm Road might now officially be called 270th Street if east-west or 270th Avenue if north-south. This allows for more specific addressing such as John Doe, 1234 270th Avenue rather than John Doe, Route 2, which doesn’t work well with your smart phone navigation app.

Verbal directions to John Doe’s house today might be, “John Doe? Sure. Just keep going and when you get to Svenson’s old green barn, which is red now, turn left onto Swamp Road. That road is 798th Street now. Then go about a mile and when you come to a bunch of empty buildings, that’s Sumner’s Corners. Turn right onto Gravel Road, which isn’t gravel anymore. It’s also not Gravel Road anymore. It’s 120th Avenue. Follow it to the first place on the right. I think that’s what you want. Look for a large statue of a rooster in the yard.”

You can give a road a hundred names but it’s still a road.