By JIM KEVLIN : RICHFIELD SPRINGS
Michael J. Till grew up in Independence, Iowa, and Route 20 in front of his house was the stuff of his boyhood daydreams, spanning the nation as it does, from Boston’s Kenmore Square to Newport, Ore.
His future wife, Christine, was from Pittsburgh, and when married the young couple used to drive Route 20 from Minneapolis east to visit her family.
As Dr. Till’s career in pediatric dentistry led him into academe – he was dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Dentistry for years – he and Christine, on getaway vacations, travelled Route 20’s whole 3,365 miles.
Retired, the Tills decided on a plan to immortalize their beloved Route 20 – in truth, it’s loved by many – by capturing it on the printed page.
The first result of their effort – nine more volumes are planned – is “Along New York’s Route 20,” just published by Arcadia.
The Tills were at the Richfield Springs Historical Society Saturday, May 14, chatting about their project and signing copies.
Contrary to Route 66, which has been largely absorbed into the Interstate Highway System, on Route 20 “the original highway is still 90 percent intact,” Till said.
Route 20 actually goes through 12 states, the authors said, but that includes only about 20 miles of Pennsylvania and about the same of Montana, not enough for a stand-alone volume.
The couple chose New York first because more postcards have recorded this stretch than any of the others, John Sagendorf of the state’s Highway 20 Association encouraged them, and because of its historical routes.
In Otsego County, it includes both the historic Cherry Valley Turnpike and the beginnings of the Great Western Turnpike, two storied roads. “We wanted to capitalize on that,” Till said.
The Massachusetts volume is nearly complete, and Ohio is half-done, so the project is gaining momentum.
In their travels and through their research, the Tills have collected page upon page of Route 20 lore.
Here are just a few examples, not to ruin the anticipation:
• The “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, where Joe “Say It Ain’t So” Jackson helped fix the World Series, was hatched in Boston’s Hotel Buckminster, right on Kenmore Square.
• Samuel B. Morse developed the first working telegraph machine in 1837 in Cherry Valley, right on the future Route 20 (before the four-lane shifted the route a mile north), and he returned to C-V in 1844 to establish the first telegraph office.
• Route 20 cross four presidents’ hometowns: Millard Fillmore, East Aurora; James Garfield, Mentor, Ohio; Rutherford B. Hayes, Fremont, Ohio, and U.S. Grant, Galena, Ill.
• A stone obelisk in Sioux City, Iowa, memorializes Sgt. Charles Floyd, the only member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition to die en route, (of “bilious colic,” now thought to be a ruptured appendix.)
And much, much more. But see for yourself. “Along New York’s Route 20” is available at The Tepee, that Route 20 landmark just this side of Sharon Springs, the Richfield Springs Historical Society, and on amazon.com.