Editor’s note: This is the first of five articles tracing the emergence of the Yellowstone Trail through Adams County and Hettinger, ND, in an effort to increase awareness of this historical roadway and to focus on the important part that Hettinger and Adams County, ND, played in that effort.
In 1912, as the automobile was becoming popular, few good, all-weather roads existed and certainly, no long-distance, carefully marked roads. Out here in the wind-swept,
flat-topped butte country, roads were still
dirt trails, cut out of gumbo and sand by meandering horse-drawn wagons.
But America is built on dreams and J. W. Parmley of Ipswitch, SD, had a dream. He dreamed of a good road for the emerging horseless carriages that would carry people and goods from Ipswitch, SD, where he lived, east to Aberdeen, SD. That dream quickly expanded west to Mobridge, SD, then further west to Hettinger, ND, and on to Yellowstone National Park. It ultimately became the first passable roadway from Minneapolis, MN, to Yellowstone, to Seattle, WA. And thus, the yellow stones (but more on that, later).
What became known as the Yellowstone Trail highway, now US Highway 12, grew to 3,700 miles long, beginning in Plymouth, MA, and ending at Puget Sound, WA. It still has the distinction of being the first transcontinental highway in the northern states and the first highway of any kind built completely without Federal funds. The southwest corner of North Dakota–from the state line southeast of Haynes, ND, to the state line west of Marmath, ND–is the only place in the state the Yellowstone Trail Highway exists.
Three men from Hettinger, ND, played prominent roles in the establishment of the association and in its subsequent work and development that led to the completion of the Yellowstone Trail roadway. They were O. T. Peterson, who served as the first secretary/treasurer; Dr. John G. Johns, Hettinger’s first physician who was on the Publicity Committee; and George
N. Keniston, Hettinger’s first minister of the Congregational Church, who served as Traveling Representative. They were part of the group of men Parmley gathered from each county along the Trail to create the Yellowstone Trail Association in October 1912.
From the first, the building of the road was a “grass roots effort,” employing no one, but involving everyone in the small communities along the roadway.