Sam Hill and other visionaries organize the Washington State Good Roads Association on September 14, 1899.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 2/16/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5218
On September 14, 1899, Seattle and Goldendale businessman Sam Hill (1857-1913) and 13 other men organize the Washington State Good Roads Association at a meeting in Spokane. Among the founders is Seattle City Engineer Reginald H. Thomson (1856-1949).

Unbalanced Hobby Riders

The League of American Wheelmen started the Good Roads movement in 1880. Their bicycles fared poorly on the dirt and mud tracks that made up most of the U.S. road system.

The development of the automobile in the 1890s created a greater need for road improvement. At that time in Washington, roads were the responsibility of county commissioners and there was no coordination as to how one county's roads connected to roads in the next county.

Roads as Religion

The Washington State Good Roads Association met annually and lobbied for a state highway system built, maintained, and managed by state officers. Since this infringed on the prerogatives and perquisites of county commissioners, they criticized the Good Roads Association as "unbalanced hobby riders" (Good Roads Association). The association got the legislature to organize a state highway department in 1905, the 14th such agency in the nation.

The association's biggest booster was founder Hill who had the time and money to stump the state and the nation on behalf of good roads. He proclaimed, "Good roads are more than my hobby; they are my religion" (Tuhy, 129).


Sources: Brief History of the Washington State Good Roads Association (Seattle: Washington State Good Roads Association, 1939); John E. Tuhy, Sam Hill: The Prince of Castle Nowhere (Portland: Timber Press, 1983), 129-137; Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1998), 73-87.

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