Friday, August 29, 2014

U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States

Colfax Avenue is a part of the original Highway 40, the first coast-to-coast highway in the U.S. In 1953, George R. Stewart published U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States, a landmark book about everyday life along the highway. The book contains 114 photographs and 92 interpretive essays. Scholars and writers have cited this work as influential to the study of road as a form of place.

Stewart spent a lifetime wandering through the American landscape, wondering about its geography and history, and writing books about it. He loved to travel, by foot or road. In 1919, barely recovered from pneumonia, he hitchhiked west on the National Old Trails Road (later U. S. 40 and Route 66). He never forgot his experiences on this trip.

Stewart’s U.S. 40 is a fine example of his work. It uses the highway as a self-guiding interpretive trail to the geography of a “cross-section of the United States.” The book has already produced two outstanding “descendant” works: Tom and Geraldine Vale’s U.S. 40 Today, and German film director Hartmut Bitomsky’s film “U.S. 40 West.” The book (and its current apostle, Frank Brusca) also found its way into William Least Heat Moon’s Roads to Quoz.

And George R.Stewart’s U.S. 40 inspired Brusca to produce these excellent U.S.40/National Road web pages, in which he carried on and expanded Stewart’s work.

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