Gettin' Stuff Dunne

Edward F. Dunne - The Man With The Plan

On a Wednesday morning in May of 1915, Illinois governor Edward Fitzsimmons Dunne and an entourage arrived in the Illinois River town of Chillicothe just after dawn. They paraded down a wooded park road and into a large gravel lot with a fleet of vehicles driven by prominent business owners and supporters. A shiny new Cadillac Type 51 V-8 touring car carried Dunne, along with several other long wheelbase cars including a White five-passenger touring sedan. Accompanied by the applause of a local audience, the governor stepped out of his Cadillac addressed the crowd and toured a new two-story clubhouse belonging to a group of 'automobilists' known as the Peoria Auto Club.

The Peoria Auto Club's Clubhouse Then and Now

Dunne had fond memories of central Illinois. His family moved to the city of Peoria when he was a child and he finished high school here. Dunne's father was active in the city council and politics, so it was natural for him to follow in his father's footsteps. After getting married and settling down in Chicago, Dunne grew into a fine politician. When he wasn't dealing with messy meat packing scandals or city corruption, he dabbled in transportation projects.  He also drove steam rollers. This guy was bad to the bone y'all.

"Rollin' Out"
Photo Credit: The Automobile April 23, 1914

After pushing for municipal ownership of traction systems (interurban street cars) as mayor of Chicago between 1905 and 1907, Dunne expanded his push for the construction of transportation infrastructure in the form of modern automotive highways through the issuance of municipal bonds. By 1915 he knew it was time to expand the highway network in his heartland state, so he embarked on a "Good Roads" tour with two reporters, one from the Peoria Star, the other from the Chicago Tribune who documented the journey. The reporters noted one point in the trip where the Cadillac encountered a flooded roadway. Dunne just told the driver to press onward, and he did. Let's just say the car took it but the passengers didn't. Water sprayed everywhere and the Cadillac served as a handy flotation device. Dunne didn't back down from a challenge...he drove into it.

Credit: Illinois Highways Vol 2-4

The bright white 2-story clubhouse that kicked off Governor Dunne's Good Roads tour on May 19, 1915 was nearly completed after being commissioned by the Peoria Auto Club in the years prior on a 54-acre parcel of land known as Columbia Park. With the rising popularity of the automobile and a nearby industrial city with a growing upper class, the use of the automobile brought the need for better roads. Like-minded folks banded together to help improve transportation infrastructure and build pleasure destinations like the PAC clubhouse along the river.

Ladies enjoying a sunny day at the Peoria Auto Club Clubhouse. Date unknown.
Photo Credit: Chillicothe Park District

Within a 30 minute drive of Peoria, the Chillicothe club house featured a large ballroom, fireplaces, and a scenic park-like setting where motorists and their passengers could spend the afternoon before heading back to the big city on a bumpy gravel road. The PAC clubhouse stood just a few hundred feet from picturesque Galena Road along the Illinois River along the Ivy Trail, a proposal for a modern concrete version of the Ivy Trail would stretch 282 miles from Chicago to East St. Louis.

Credit: Illinois Highways Vol. 2-4

Supporters like the PAC believed the final road would be safe and efficient. It would pass right through Chillicothe near the clubhouse. Plus, such a road would be a sure-fire way to drum up business and grow automobile sales. Governor Dunne took to the streets and sold the idea to the public like a boss.

Governor Edward F. Dunne stands with highway commissioners along a newly constructed road bed, 1915.
Photo: Illinois Highways Vol 2-4. 
His contemporaries in Montana, Kansas and elsewhere declared their own 'Good Roads Day' publicity tours in the spring and summer of 1915. One piece at a time, road construction expanded across the Illinois prairie. Bond issues passed, equipment was purchased, highway commissions established. People were put to work and soon there would be a lot less dust and mud-caked automobile fenders.

This map from 1915 shows where the early key routes would be.

Sadly, World War I put the brakes on most capital spending, including the pricey expansion of state highways. It wasn't until April of 1919 that the final details of the Ivy Trail were ironed out and the $2 million cost was approved. According to Chillicothe mayor Doug Crew, construction was slated to begin on a paved two-lane road later that year but after some flooding, highway officials made the decision to vacate the original alignment for the Ivy Trail and relocate to higher ground west of the Rock Island railroad tracks. This became modern day Illinois Route 29 and its a heavily used four lane divided highway. The PAC clubhouse on the side of the big highway of tomorrow...was now a little further from the main road. All was not lost. The building still stands after a colorful history and multiple changes of ownership. 

Today the building is known as the Shore Acres Clubhouse, and is owned and maintained nicely by the Chillicothe Park District. The organization recently celebrated the building's centennial with a car show, live music and period baseball and dancing.

And cake. There was cake! What's not to love? 

So what happened to the "Good Roads" governor? 

Edward F. Dunne served one term in Springfield and then fell into relative obscurity. Its too bad, because he did a lot of remarkable things during his time in office. Things like giving women the right to vote a year before the federal government did. Yep. He also hung out with Teddy Roosevelt, battled the Ku Klux Klan, and was a commissioner for the 1933-34 Worlds Fair in Chicago at the age of 80. But hey, why teach about him, right? He must have been one of those 'progressives' that we don't dare mention...his spirit might be contagious.

Maybe we should teach about dudes like Dunne. Maybe we need another Good Roads Movement and miles of fresh cement. And maybe we should all thank the guy above that someone had initiative back in the day to carry out a vision and build the foundation for the transportation infrastructure that we take for granted every single day.


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