|History of The
Houghton County Road Commission
|The Houghton County Road Commission was born on April 4, 1910 as the county electorate voted 7,100 for and 989 against a Good Roads System, established in order to develop an organized improvement and expansion of roads in Houghton County.
Up until this year, only haphazard improvement of wagon roads into the country, and between population centers and the copper mining areas existed.
The advent of the Model T Ford, of which under 1,000 vehicles existed in Houghton County in 1910, created the impetus to develop a meaningful road system.
Offices for the Road Commission were opened in rented quarters in downtown Hancock with a personnel of six employees. Equipment consisted of three Pierce Arrow plows, a Model T Ford, one motorcycle, and five other truck vehicles. Late in 1911, the offices were moved to the Shelden Dee building in Houghton.
The Board of Road Commissioners began their road building responsibilities with a budget of $29,051.00, provided by the County Board of Supervisors. The first priorities for road improvements were to reconstruct and straighten the route between the two major population centers of Hancock and Calumet.
The first road project was to improve the highway between Mesnard and the Rhode Island Mine.
The early years concentrated on developing the highways at the perimeter of the population centers for the purpose of serving the mining needs and also to create a system of farm to market roads, the first of which was the Otter Lake Road, into south Houghton County.
As the Road Commission improved the major routes, the state reimbursed them a portion of that cost and then designated those roads as state trunkline and paid for their maintenance.
The first Road Commission members, appointed by the County Board of Supervisors, were Chairman F.J. McLain, and members E.S. Grierson and Theodore Dengler. The first County Highway Engineer was Randolf Martin.
The early years had the Road Commission developing the roads, which were to eventually, become state trunkline highways while individual townships and cities were developing the remainder of the roads in Houghton County.
The completion of a road between Marquette and Houghton initiated the placing of the first tourist road signs by the Copper Country Commercial Club in 1916.
The year 1917 brought the first news headlines about two collisions on one weekend, along with the first arrest and $10.00 fine of an Alston man for drunk driving, AAfter a wild zigzag journey across the Houghton County bridge.
In 1919, the Road Commission replaced the horses, which pulled large snow rollers with tractors. A news article stated, while the tractors are slower than horses, 2 m.p.h. vs. 4 m.p.h., they do not tire in the large drifts and will make the round-trip between Hancock and Calumet in one day.
In 1922, the Road Commission hoped to keep the roads open for automobiles until January 1, and only for horse sleigh after that.
In 1923, the Road Commission moved their headquarters from Houghton and the Shelden Dee building to the Lake Superior Smelting Works property in Ripley, where some equipment and materials were already being stored.
Road use changed dramatically between 1915 and 1925 as daily traffic counts on the Houghton-Hancock bridge changed from 491 teams and 993 cars in 1915 to 85 teams and 4,897 cars in 1925.
In 1926, the Road Commission hired the first motorcycle officer, Bud Kennedy, to patrol the county roads.
In 1927, the first trunklines are kept open for the entire winter.
The McNitt Act passed in 1931, mandated that the County Road Commission shall absorb 20 percent of all township roads each year, until all 653 miles had been made county roads.
In 1934, the Road Commission experienced the heaviest period of activity in its history, as 4,731 Civil Works Administration employees were on the payroll.
Today, the responsibility of the Road Commission exists much as it did in the late 1930's, to maintain, with Michigan Transportation Funds, some 858 miles of county roads outside of the limits of the seven incorporated cities and villages.