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THAT REMINDS ME: The Meridian Road: ‘High-gear all the way’

The Meridian Road — which later became Highway 81 — was big news around here 100 years ago.

It was under construction from Winnipeg to the Gulf of Mexico and was routed through Grand Forks. It traced the 97th meridian from Winnipeg to Laredo, Texas.

Early in April 1914, the Herald carried notices for the annual spring meetings of Meridian delegates along the Red River in North Dakota. Secretary C.W. Graves of the Grand Forks Commercial Club also was secretary of the North Dakota division of the Winnipeg-to-the-Gulf Meridian Road organization.

At the time, the Meridian Road through North Dakota was reported to be in fairly good shape. There were plans for the spring dragging and leveling of the road.

The Meridian Association embraced six North Dakota counties along the Red River --– Pembina, Walsh, Grand Forks, Traill, Cass and Richland. Each county was sending two delegates to the spring meeting. Officers were President E.Y. Sarles of Hillsboro and Graves of Grand Forks.

The Meridian Road through North Dakota had been properly sign-marked with the official arrow of the road. It was expected that each county would keep the signs standing and in good shape. The county groups also were to plan for spring dragging and leveling.

Following the county meetings in April 1914, there was a May meeting of the entire Meridian Road Association in North Dakota. That was held in on May 12, 1914, in Grand Forks, where E.Y. Sarles was president of the state association.

At that time, it was reported the Meridian Road was a first-class dirt road for more than 1,500 miles or about three-fourths of its entire length. In 1912, a drive from Winnipeg to Oklahoma had been reported to take about nine days at an estimate of around 130 miles or more per day.

“It is now a high gear road all the way,” the Herald reported.

“It is practically level over all 2,000 miles. From Winnipeg to White Rock, S.D. -- a distance of 350 miles -- it is level as a floor.”

Principal cities on the road from Winnipeg were Grand Forks and Fargo along with Watertown and Yankton in South Dakota. Then the road led to Norfolk and York, Nebraska. It continued on through Salinas and Wichita, Kansas, then to Enid and Lawton, Oklahoma.

In Texas, the road went through Ft. Worth, Waco, Houston, Galveston, Austin and San Antonio.

There was excitement about the new road because it crossed all East to West “ocean to ocean” highways.

At the time, it was believed destined to be a necessary part of the great highway system. And it gave promise of enriching every community through which it would run.

Those who planned the now-long-forgotten highway were looking ahead.

At the outset, the Meridian was an international roadway tracing the 97th meridian. It later became Route 81, a major north-south route running through the Great Plains from Canada to Mexico.

According to the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, it originally was named Meridian Highway. And it has been called North America’s first international automotive highway.