Historical Perspective

The Impassable Road

During the Great Depression, Frederick County had no money to maintain what infrastructure they had. Bridges were in danger of falling down and rutted roads caused many motorists to get stuck, especially when it rained or snowed. It was not unusual to see abandoned cars struck fast in the mud or snow right in the middle of the road for days.

In February 1937, a school bus full of Urbana children driven by Roger Geisbert became mired on the Urbana section of Thurston Road. The bus nearly blocked the whole road, and behind the bus was another man in a car who also got stuck. This gentleman went to a nearby farm and borrowed a stick of dynamite and—apparently in the practice of the time—dynamited his car out of the road and into a field. Geisbert and the students waited three hours for help. When it didn’t come, they began a march into Frederick. They were accompanied by Lester Gregg, who recently had ruined his auto by using the same dynamiting tactics that were used by the other motorist. Unfortunately for Gregg, he blew up his car.

The parade into town was directed by Charles White, director of the Farm Labor League. White had gotten wind of the impassible road, and he had recently led a protest in which residents refused to pay any more taxes until the roads in the Urbana section were repaired. Some of the children chanted, “Mud, mud, mud, we demand decent roads.” When they arrived at the Frederick County Courthouse, the kids participated in a sit-in. They left a note for the county commissioners. It said, “All winter long we can seldom go to church or Sunday school because the roads are too hard on the family car. Will you please try to get our roads fixed so we can continue our education?”

Things became so bad that Mrs. Ida Harris died because of the bad road conditions that affected the county. Mrs. Harris of Thurston came down with the grip and summoned a doctor. The doctor became stuck more than a mile away from her house. He tried walking, but his shoes became bogged down in the mess. For three days Mrs. Harris lay abed until her grip turned to pneumonia. A team of men equipped with a heavy truck, shovels and horses went to the house and managed to load Mrs. Harris into the truck. After an all-day effort managed to get her to the Frederick Hospital where she died hours later.

Newspaper reporters had been alerted to the situation in Frederick County. While trying to get to the scene where Mrs. Harris lay dying, their own car got stuck. It was left abandoned in the road. When they came back for it a few days later, they found that a cold front had caused the car to be frozen in the tire tracks of the road.

Frustrated by the lack of action by the state, the Farm Neighbors League of Urbana erected a large sign on the Washington to Frederick Turnpike three miles south of Frederick. The sign read, “See America’s Most Famous Bad Road, the Road that Governor Nice Promised to Rebuild” and “See Dynamite Bend Where a Car Was Blasted from the Mud.” Charles White, the secretary of the league, said that in the near future he would use an airplane and fly over the area, dropping leaflets.

This saga gained no traction until 1938 when almost a hundred citizens of Urbana traveled to Annapolis in hopes of meeting with Gov. Harry Nice. The chairman of the state roads commission told the group that trying to fix miles of dirt roads would be like “pouring money into the mud holes” that already exist. He said that his workers had reported that the ground was saturated with water at a depth of four feet. Gov. Nice then informed them that their road was fifth or sixth in order of precedence and that repairs and possibly paving would occur in the next year.

Nothing more was heard of the project until 1940 when the Frederick County Roads division took over the maintenance of the rural county roads from the state. The county men began improvements almost immediately. Working on small sections at a time, they had the road graded and surfaced with macadam by 1948.

Residents of Thurston Road and Urbana had their wish granted. One neighbor exclaimed, “It’s like a dream come true!”

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