This sign was recently erected at the beginning of westbound U.S. Highway 6 in Provincetown, Mass. I was there about two weeks ago.
U.S. 6 has a rich history to it. Originally laid out as a transcontinental
highway from Provincetown to Long Beach, California, it was shortened to its present length and now terminates at Bishop, where a similar mileage sign can also be seen.
I’ve had a curiosity about this highway ever since I moved to Grand Junction, as U.S. 6 passes about 2 blocks from my house in the form of North Avenue. I’ve explored sections of the highway in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Colorado.
If you’re really interested in the character and scope of what is an unfortunately forgotten byway in many parts of the country, check out this website, which is an extraordinary county-by-county photographic chronicle of the life and times of U.S. 6. The Mesa County page can be viewed here, with navigation links at the the top of each page to go east or west.
The Wikipedia page for U.S. 6 contains a quotation attributed to George R. Stewart, who said of the roadway, “Route 6 runs uncertainly from nowhere to nowhere, scarcely to be followed from one end to the other, except by some devoted eccentric”. Well, that fits. Mr. Stewart wrote a book about U.S. 40 instead.
I decided to check Mr. Stewart’s writings out a little more, and found out some incredible stuff. Along with being one of the country’s most revered experts on place names and their history, he was an English professor at Berkeley and an accomplished novelist and historian. He wrote definitive historical accounts of the ordeal of the Donner Party and the Battle of Gettysburg. His novel Earth Abides was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Stand, and his novel Storm influenced the National Weather Service’s practice of assigning names to tropical storms and hurricanes.
Most interesting of all to me is that Mr. Stewart and I share the same birthplace, though sadly I had never heard of him until now.
Without George R. Stewart, the eccentric nature of U.S. 6 would not have been expressed satisfactorily, we would likely not have an understanding of why places are named what they are, and the name of the 80’s band Katrina and the Waves would not make us cringe a little today.
So now you can begin your week being able to discuss something other than how the current season of Mad Men ended last night.
Have a great week ahead.