Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Unsigned Interstate Highways

Despite being the highest standard of highway in the world, the Interstate Highway System has a few highways which, despite being fully part of the system, do not carry such a signed designation. This mirrors Illinois' Unmarked Highway System, although there are far fewer unsigned Interstates.
Three miles of US-131 in Grand Rapids between I-96 and I-196 is actually unsigned I-296. Image: Bill Burmaster
Since I began learning about the Interstate System in my youth, the fact that there existed "hidden" Interstates fascinated me. Today we'll go over some of these routes, and why they aren't signed as an Interstate.

Alaska & Puerto Rico:
The Interstate Highway System at its inception was much different than it is today, with regard to funding. During the initial construction of the system, 90% of the funds for the roads were provided by the Federal Government. Most Interstate highway projects today are funded with a mix of federal, state and local funds. 

Despite existing outside the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico were included in this funding mix for upgrading and building its own highways, which is why there are Interstates in these states and territory. 

Alaska, which only has Anchorage as a major population center, has four unsigned interstates; I-A1, I-A2, I-A3 and I-A4, which do not conform to the standards of the contiguous United States. Puerto Rico similarly has I-PR1, I-PR2 and I-PR3. This practice is codified in Section 103(c)(1)(B)(ii), 23 U.S.C., which states , "Highways on the Interstate System in Alaska and Puerto Rico shall be designed in accordance with such geometric and construction standards as are adequate for current and probable future traffic demands and the needs of the locality of the highway." (FHWA)


Alaska's Interstates, All Unsigned. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Puerto Rico's Unsigned Interstates. Image: Wikipedia Commons


Hawaii, having an urban population center in Honolulu, was able to build freeways consistent with the contiguous US, and signed them as I-H1, I-H2, I-H3 and I-H201. I-H201 was initially signed as HI-78, but has been signed since 2004.

Too Short to Sign:

Back in the mainland US, there exist several Interstate highways that are so short, it is simply better to not sign them. This is generally the reasoning behind not numbering Interstate highways, as the vast majority of unsigned routes are less than four miles in length.

Examples of this include I-315 in Montana, which runs less than a mile in length in Great Falls, MT. The entire route is signed as BL-15, which runs into the downtown area, and is not Interstate standard east of Fox Farm Rd. 

Map of I-315 and BL-15 in Great Falls. Image: interstate-guide.com
I've talked before about I-878 in New York, which was planned to be much longer than it exists as today. 878 as an Interstate officially exists (or existed) for all of 7/10 of a mile near JFK airport. In this case, the State of New York created a similarly numbered route along part of the planned Nassau Expy, and thus saw no need to sign 878 as anything else but a state route.

Image: Adam Moss
Another short, unsigned Interstate Highway that was planned to be a much longer route is I-478 in New York, better known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (or the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel). What's interesting is that New York City and State both freely acknowledge the number, and it's even signed on Google Maps, but no physical signs exist with the 478 designation.
Image: Untapped Cities
Interstate 444 is the final piece to the puzzle that is the Interstate System in Tulsa, OK, but as the road continues both north and south of the Interstate's endpoints as US-75, and with the possibility that an emergency dispatcher may confuse an incident on I-444 with one on I-44, it's more simple to keep the route as US-75.

I-444 in red. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Disagreements between Federal and State DOT's:

Occasionally, a state has a differing opinion on the numbering of a route than the Federal Government, although this is an uncommon situation. Currently, Interstate 910 exists in Louisiana from a junction with I-10 to US-90 along current Business US-90 (which ironically, is up to higher standards than US-90 itself). The FHWA approved signage in 1999, however Louisiana never acted upon it, instead preferring to wait until I-49 is extended into the New Orleans area for the route to become signed as an Interstate.


I-910 along Business US-90 in red. Image: Mr Matte, Wikipedia Commons
Changing from Signed to Unsigned:

Like with Hawaii's I-H201, a highway's status as an unsigned route is not set in stone, and various state DOT's occasionally change their mind with regard to Interstate highways. No example might be better than Tennessee's Interstate 124.

Michael Summa, 1975 via Interstate-Guide.com
First opening in the 1960's, I-124 runs less than two miles in the Chattanooga, TN area along with US-27. In 1986, the route began its decline toward unsigned status, as it would disappear and reappear on maps, with the reasoning being that motorists confused it with I-24. After a reconstruction project, none of the 124 shields were replaced, leaving just one along the entire route, before fully being taken off the route in 2003. While the road is no longer signed as an Interstate, it still exists on paper, just like all unsigned routes.

It Really Ought to Be Signed:

While generally unsigned Interstate highways, like the ones mentioned above, have a decent reason to be unsigned, there exists an unsigned Interstate in Maryland that is longer than a main route of the system, with which it shares an interchange. That route is I-595. 

Route of the unsigned I-595 between I-95/495 and MD-70. Image: Alchetron
At almost 20 miles in length, I-595 is about as long as the average 3-digit Interstate Highway, and two miles longer than I-97, which is by far the shortest 2-digit Interstate Highway at just 17 miles in length. I-595 runs along the well-known US-50/301, which is the explanation for keeping the route unsigned (despite that numerous US Routes and Interstates run concurrently).

The road has a pretty long history, as it was first proposed to become part of I-68 in 1975. AASHTO rejected that idea, but approved extending I-97 westward, and making the road east of I-97 Interstate 197. 

Maryland continued to push for I-68, but that never materialized, as I-68 was to be applied to a road in Western Maryland and West Virginia, from I-79 to I-70 in Morgantown, WV and Hagerstown, MD, respectively. Once the road was fully brought up to Interstate Standards, AASHTO approved I-595 for the route, but Maryland chose not to sign the route. Maybe they're waiting for an eastward extension of I-68, who knows. Their reasoning, according to a response to a 2001 email from Scott M. Kozel, was that "we did not feel that either the posting in the field or the noting on a map would serve any useful purpose for the traveling public".

Nonetheless, the designation occasionally referred to on Maryland's traffic information website, CHART.

For more information on the rest of the Unsigned Interstate Highways, Interstate-Guide.com maintains a complete list of all the unsigned Interstate Highways in the US. 

Thanks as always for reading!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Unfortunate Railroad History Preserved in a Cemetery Plot: Showmen's Rest in Forest Park, IL

On June 22, 1918, one of the worst train wrecks in American history occurred near Hammond, IN. 86 people lost their lives with another 127 being injured in the crash, which was caused by an engineer asleep at the controls. 
Photo: Northwest Indiana Times
Early that morning, one of three Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus trains had stopped to oil up a wheel bearing, with the rear car jettisoning out onto the mainline, when a troop train was coming up behind it at full speed. Immediately upon impact, the four rear cars of the circus train caught fire, trapping anyone inside. Unfortunately, nearby marshes were the only source of water to fight the blazes.

Sadly, they were nearly to Hammond, which was the next stop on their tour. The two other trains had made the journey safely.

Image: The aftermath of the wreck, attracting numerous people to see the wreckage. (Wikipedia Commons)
According to the Northwest Indiana Times,  Triage was done at the now-demolished Michigan Central station in Hammond. While many workers were beyond help, others were treated for burns and released. One circus worker even was back at work the next day, only suffering a shoulder injury. 

"The Show Must Go On"


The Hagenback-Wallace Circus would only miss two shows as a result of the crash, as competing circuses lent them workers until others could be hired.

Five years before the crash,  in 1913, the Showmen's League of America had purchased a cemetery plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, IL specifically for circus performers. It would be this plot of land which would be used to bury many of the workers in the crash.

Many of the deceased workers were unable to be identified as it was common for circus workers to be employed days, or even hours, before the next performance. Working conditions and quality of life were nothing like we're used to today, as most had to share cramped quarters with one another. 

Nonetheless, the workers were buried with a dignified funeral five days after the wreck.

Image: The Funeral at Showmen's Rest, 1918. Chicago Tribune
The plot of land is marked by four elephant stones inside the Cemetery. 

One of the elephants which designates a corner of Showmen's Rest. You can see another elephant in the background.
I visited the cemetery earlier this month, and was taken aback by the sheer number of unidentified graves that occupy the site. I photographed every grave, and made it into a short video for easier viewing.

Thanks as always for reading!



Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Forgotten Railways of Chicago: Cemetery Spurs and Stations

If you go outside the city limits of Chicago in any direction, and you will find numerous large cemeteries occupying the land. In fact, in some cases you don't even have to leave the city.

This stems from an early Chicago ordinance that disallowed cemeteries within the city limits, meaning many located just outside the city. This is why some villages, such as Forest Park and Hillside, have a larger population of dead individuals than the living. As Chicago annexed surrounding areas and grew, on occasion cemeteries that were once outside the city were now within it, even in spite of the ordinance.

Chicago Aurora & Elgin car serving Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside. Image: Electric Railway Review via GreatThirdRail
A funeral today often consists of dozens of cars en route to a cemetery, however, how did people reach cemeteries before the advent of the automobile?

Railroads provided the service, and in fact were required by law to do so. On the weekends, funeral trains were actually a boon for passenger traffic. This is partly why there are numerous cemeteries near and adjacent to railroad rights of way. In today's blog, we're going to explore some of the lines and stations in and around the Chicago area, which were used primarily by funeral trains.

According to Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries, "some funeral trains used regular railroad trackage,  but special spur tracks were also laid directly into many outlying cemeteries." Coffins and mourners traveled to the cemetery in specially built cars. Both freight railroads and streetcars served cemeteries along their routes. The predecessors to the CTA's "L" Trains all served funeral trains as well.

Waldheim Cemetery with streetcar tracks in front of the entrance. Image: Oak Park River Forest Museum
One example of this would be the Chicago Harlem & Batavia Railway, a dummy line service Waldheim Cemetery at its end, despite mostly running along Randolph St in Chicago and its western suburbs. This line was gone not much after the turn of the 20th century.

While most of these spur tracks and stations are long gone, there are nonetheless pieces of scarchitecture to be found if one looks hard enough.

Pictured: A scar of the CA&E line to Mt Carmel in Hillside between Roosevelt Rd between Mannheim Rd & Wolf Rd
Mt. Carmel Cemetery was once served by the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad. The line's primary service was for funeral trains, although it was also served as a stop between the cemetery and the main line at Bellwood, IL. Trains stopped serving the cemetery in the 1930's, yet satellite imagery still holds clues to the existence of this once gravely stop.


Some ghostly remains of stations still exist at a few of these cemeteries. For example, Rosehill Cemetery, now on Chicago's North Side once had a station on the adjacent Chicago & Northwestern line. Stairs which led down from the platform can still be seen today.


Image: Rosehill Cemetery Entrance Stairs by Gary J. Sibio

Interestingly, this was the second station built at Rosehill. The tracks that are elevated today were not always that way, and an earlier station stopped at the cemetery before the track elevation took place.


Image: The earlier Rosehill Station, spelled as two words. In reality, both are wrong, as the original plot of land was called "Roe's Hill", but got the name Rosehill as the result of a clerical error.
Elevating the tracks required installing an elevator to transport the coffin down into the cemetery at the station. That elevator still stands today. 

Image: Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries
Burial grounds have existed long before white settlers came to this land, and as such, unfortunately some development has occurred over American Indian burial grounds. One example is Haase’s Park, owned by Ferdinand Haase, an early German settler of Forest Park, who built a park on such land. To access this, a spur track was constructed by the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, in exchange for gravel necessary to build the rest of the railroad. Such gravel removal destroyed most of the original glacial ridge, leveled much of the land, and uncovered several Native American burial mounds. (Oak Park River Forest Museum). While the spur track is long gone, a wye is still quite visible today, as it is now Brown Ave and Circle Ave in River Forest.

Ultimately, funeral trains became a victim of paved roads and automobiles, as it is more convenient for the deceased and their loved ones to be transported to a cemetery and laid to rest on their schedule, as opposed to a railroad's. Chicago Aurora & Elgin last ran a funeral train in 1934, after which their Mt Carmel line was abandoned. (Chicago & Cook County Cemeteries)

Nonetheless, their memory is a great reminder of the role that railroads played in shaping our world today, and how different the world was before cars were readily available.

Finally, although Springfield is quite far from Chicago, Abraham Lincoln's legacy, as well as his funeral train, are well worth reading up on, and mentioning in this blog, especially since a spur track from the main line was built to service Oak Ridge Cemetery, his final resting place.

Image: Lincoln's Funeral Train. TIME Magazine.
I've created a map of all known cemetery stations and spur tracks in the Chicago area, as well as the spur track to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Let me know if I missed anything or if you have further things to add to it, just like any of my other maps!




Thanks as always for reading and have a Happy Halloween! Tomorrow we will discuss a tragic piece of history at the intersection of railroads and cemeteries that occurred in the Chicago area.