“Road trip!”

Are you planning a road trip for the upcoming holiday weekend? Or getting on the New York State Thruway any time soon? Maybe you will use one of AAA’s Triptiks, a Google Maps printout or a Global Positioning System to help you. These items were not available to motorists at the turn of the 20th century. So what tools would our Victorian- and Edwardian-era ancestors have used to navigate to their destination? The answer can be among some recent additions to our Digital Collections.

One of them is the Standard Road-Book of New York State, Rochester Section, ca. 1897. The volume includes quite a few advertisements for auto supplies and repair stations; many promote a wide selection of tires and fireproofed facilities.  The enclosed maps are very nice, but most roads do not have highway numbers or names.

Directions to locations such as Buffalo relied on landmarks such as schoolhouses, trolley tracks, telegraph and telephone poles, silos and railroad crossings. Today these types of directions would be more likely to be found with road rally directions sheets. However, some landmarks still exist today. I tried to mentally follow the route offered for Buffalo, which you can do using the handy maps:

ROCHESTER TO BUFFALO, 72 Miles.Via Churchville and Batavia.

See Map Plates Nos. 30, 32 and 35.

Leave Rochester via Main Street west, crossing bridge on to West Avenue [most likely the Erie Canal bridge] to large church in fork [which must be the West Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, below, as seen in 1928]


Here take right fork with trolley. One-half mile beyond at four corners, turn right, leaving trolley, and proceed to end of road. Here turn right under R. R. and continue direct for six miles, where at fork bear left on macadam, through North Chili to Churchville, 15 miles [I believe you can follow this today if you check Map Plate 30]. Three miles beyond Churchville, at fork, bear right leaving wires, and proceed through Bergen to end of road. Here turn right through Byron to four corners one mile beyond Byron.[Begin using Map Plate 32]. Here turn left to end of road, where bear left and continue for five miles to right-hand road just beyond schoolhouse. Here turn right to four corners, where again turn right on main traveled road, picking up trolley and following same on. Main Street, Batavia, 34 miles. Continue out Main Street past Fair Grounds. Keep straight on across Tonawanda Creek through East Pembroke, crossing railroad to and through Pembroke to Clarence, 56 miles. Straight on, crossing railroad three times to Williamsville. [Begin using Map Plate  35]. Proceed direct through the village, picking up trolley, which follow to Main Street direct into Buffalo, 72 miles.”

A second item is an early version of the AAA Triptik : Western New York Perpetual Route Book, by the Automobile Club of Rochester, 1910. This volume conveniently gives route directions from both directions and mileage for each leg of the journey. Blank pages are provided for updated information to be sent to the buyer of the guide. All trips originate at the club headquarters, located at the Seneca Hotel in downtown Rochester.

An advertisement claims that the routes have been covered by a locally-made 1910 Selden car, which reportedly had not a bit of wear and tear or mechanical problems after almost 20,000 miles of driving:


Here are some excerpts from routes in the AAA guide. Note the importance placed on road surface types, and again, landmarks.

Part of the route to Durand Eastman Park: “Turn LEFT (second road to left) go 1 miles and turn sharp RIGHT around large tree; continue on over narrow road, very sandy, to forks. Take RIGHT fork and then next. LEFT fork to Lake Front.”

Part of the route from West Walworth to Lincoln: “West Walworth. Pass through. Turn LEFT with telegraph poles (old apple drier on right). Straight to Lincoln.”

Part of the route to Ithaca: “Flint. Pass through. Turn RIGHT (Large brick house on right, red barn with silo on left, follow telephone poles. Pass road on right. Cross R. R. Cross Macadam Road. Keep Straight on. (Stanley 1.5 Miles to right.) Cross bridge. Cross R. R. Pass road to left, go straight part red barns. Brick school house on left. Halls Corners.”

As travelers needed to take breaks or arrived at their destinations, there were hotels and restaurants which catered to them, offering such amenities as running water, telephone connections and garages. Often hotels promoted their proximity to repair shops and vice versa, in case a motorist needed help.

Although most ads cover the area close to Rochester, there are a few which promote resorts as far away as New England and Maine.

Nyehurst in Pittsford:


Hotel Rathbun in Elmira:


Hotel Villas in Valois


Perhaps you would like to do some serious shunpiking this summer and attempt to recreate one of the routes in these books. Be sure to enjoy a fresh chicken dinner in the Finger Lakes or elsewhere, and check out the running water at your hotel (both still easy to do)! You may be disappointed at the lack of telegraph wires, however – I heard the last telegraph message in the world will be sent from somewhere in India in the next few months.

Elizabeth Spring

Digital Collections Librarian

Published in: on June 26, 2013 at 9:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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