By DAVID GREEN
Why is a man from Minneapolis in love with Route 20?
It’s the longest and northernmost of all the initial federal highways from the past century, but it never touches the Gopher State.
The explanation is simple, says Michael Till, the former dean of the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota.
“I grew up in a small town in Iowa and Route 20 was our Main Street,” he said. “I’ve had a lifelong relationship with the road. I’m a big fan.”
The Independence, Iowa, native has traveled the length of U.S. 20—more than once—and collected hundreds of historic postcards along the way.
So far he’s pulled out photos from his collection to create three books for Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History series.
His most recent volume, “Along Ohio’s Historic Route 20,” was published last month and Till will speak about the book at 7 p.m. Monday at the Fayette Opera House. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for guests to visit with the author and have books signed.
On the East Coast, Route 20 begins in Boston and makes its way through 12 states to the Pacific Ocean at Newport, Ore. It loses its name only when it passes through Yellowstone Park, as all roads do in national parks, but provides a 3,365 mile long trip across the nation.
The postcards Till publishes are all from before World War II and give the book a particular flavor.
“It’s a trip across Ohio as someone would have seen it in the 1920s, 30s and 40s,” Till said.
It’s a two-lane road with mom-and pop gas stations and mom-and-pop tourist homes.
“It goes back to when traveling was a real adventure,” he said. “When people would count horses on one side of the road and cows on the other”—before the Interstate highway system pulled travelers away from life along the side of the road.
Route 20 remains unique among many of the old federal roads because it was never replaced by larger highways or made into an expressway.
“We’ve driven every inch of that road,” he said. “Every state is different and every state is interesting.”
Till’s presentation Monday will focus on the western portion of Ohio and will include images of Caraghar’s (Assumption), St. Mary’s Church, Fayette’s Main Street circa 1930, Hotel Central at the corner of Main Street and State Route 66, Green Gable Cabins at the west edge of Fayette, the National Thresher’s Association 1950 event in Alvordton, and East Main Street in Pioneer.
He looks forward to interaction with audience members because he knows he will hear some new stories.
“I learn as much from the audience as they learn from me,” he said. “There’s nothing like local knowledge.”
Till has now completed postcard books about U.S. 20 in New York, Massachusetts and Ohio, and he’s currently working on his home state of Iowa.
“If I last long enough, I’ll get each of the 12 states done,” he said.