History of the Houghton County Road
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
Up until this
year, only haphazard improvement of
wagon roads into the country, and
between population centers and the
copper mining areas existed.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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