Friday, May 29, 2020

The Lund Highway

In general, the major highway corridors in the western United States tended to follow pre-existing rail lines where they existed. But if you take a look at a map of southwestern Utah, you'll notice the Las Vegas-Salt Lake City rail line takes a path well west of I-15 (and US 91 before it). In fact, none of the I-15/US 91 corridor in Utah south of about Nephi was ever a railroad route.

Route of the Los Angeles & Salt Lake (now Union Pacific) Railroad through the Escalante Desert.

Presumably, this was because the route along the Sevier River, through Delta, along the Beaver River, and across the Escalante Desert was more rail-friendly with much milder grades. However, much of that route was through desert with little to no population and sparse water supply. Most of the area's small towns had sprung up at the base of the larger mountains to the east (where water was more plentiful). Thus, towns like Beaver and Cedar City were bypassed by the railroad.

The railroad's closest approach to Cedar City was at a place called Lund, located more or less above the first E in "Escalante Desert" on the map above. It was opened up to settlement in 1911 and saw a fair amount of activity in the 1910s, but after a 1922 flood partially destroyed the town, population began to decline and never really recovered. Lund continued to hold some importance as a railroad junction after a branch line to Cedar City was built, and was still the major transfer point for railroad tourism to the southern Utah parks. However, as automobiles and especially the interstate system began to replace the railroad for long distance tourism, Lund began to fade away. After the railroad stopped passenger service through Lund in 1969, just about everyone who was left moved away. Only a handful of people still live in the area.

Route History

The Utah state legislature added a road from Cedar City to Lund to the state highway system in 1912. In 1915, a connection from that highway to Parowan (seat of Iron County) via the Parowan Gap was added as well. The Cedar City-Lund road likely began at Main Street in Cedar City, ran west on 200 North (modern SR 56), turned north on the Lund Highway, and proceeded from there northwest to Lund. The Parowan Gap road began in Parowan and followed 400 North, Gap Road, and Horse Hollow Road to Wye Junction, where it met the Lund Highway about 16 miles southeast of Lund.

The legislature cut back the size of the state highway system in 1919 to only the most important corridors, plus any federal aid projects. The road from Cedar City to Lund had been improved with federal aid in 1917, so it was retained in section R of the 1919 state highway law. The Parowan Gap connection was removed from the state highway system in 1919, but brought back in 1921.

Here's how the area looked in 1923. By that time, the Arrowhead Trail (the main north-south road through Cedar City and Parowan, which would become US 91) had been numbered SR-1, but the roads to Lund remained unnumbered state highways.

Utah State Road Commission, 1923.

In 1927, a complete statewide numbering system was finally assigned. Both the Parowan Gap and Cedar City-Lund roads were numbered SR 19:
19. From Cedar City northwesterly via Wye Junction to Lund, also from Wye Junction to Parowan.
The original 1927 system had several of these multi-segment routes. Most of the spurs were split off in 1931 and given their own numbers - The Wye Junction-Parowan road was given the new SR 128 designation. But two years later, in a chain shift caused by the deletion of the original SR 121, it was renumbered again to SR 127. Here's how those routes appeared on maps at the time:

Rand McNally (Nevada-Utah), 1939.

In 1935, another connection between SR 19 and US 91 was added. This one was further south and ran along Midvalley Road in Enoch, and it was numbered SR 199. It was apparently insignificant enough that it never appeared on most commercial maps. But it did show up on the Census's 1940 enumeration district maps:

US Census, 1940.

Although Midvalley Road connects to old US 91 today, it appears that was not the case in 1940. So 199 would have had to make a brief southward jog on Enoch Road and then potentially east on Homestead Blvd to connect with US 91. But whatever it did at the east end, it didn't last long, because all of 199 was decommissioned in 1943 - only eight years after it was created.

The other interesting thing on that set of 1940 maps was the southern terminus of SR 19. Contrary to what Wikipedia might say, SR 56 ended at SR 19 west of town, and it was 19 that continued on to US 91 downtown:

US Census, 1940.

That was changed in 1945, when the road heading west from downtown Cedar City became an extension of SR 56. As a result, 19 was truncated out of Cedar City and now entirely followed the Lund Highway. That was probably a good change for route continuity and to better match traffic patterns - at this point, traffic heading west on 56 to the iron mines and beyond was probably beginning to outpace traffic to Lund. 

As railroad passenger travel began to decline in favor of the car, the state highway mileage in the area started to shrink as well. SR 127 was decommissioned in 1953, leaving SR 19 as the only state highway access to Lund. In 1969, the railroad ended passenger service along its Las Vegas-Salt Lake line, and SR 19 was deleted the same year. Since then, no state routes have served the northern Escalante Desert.

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