Rhinelander Is Not a One-Horse Town

Jun 1, 2018

Every Friday, we turn back the clock on Morning Edition with local historian Gary Entz to find out what life in the Northwoods used to be like. This is part of a new initiative by WXPR to tell the history and culture of northern Wisconsin.

In recent months there has been increased discussion of what to do with the intersection of U.S. Highway 8 and Wisconsin Highway 47.  The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has identified it as a dangerous intersection that has experienced several accidents due to deteriorating pavement, blind spots, and inadequate merge ramps.  On any given day thousands of vehicles pass through the intersection, with traffic getting heavier during the summer tourist season.

None of this is new, and state highway officials have focused on the intersection of U.S. Highway 8 and Wisconsin Highway 47 for a long time now.  Back in 1927, which happened to be the last year of production for the Ford Model T, the State Highway Commission performed a count of vehicles passing through this intersection during the July 4th holiday, one of the busiest traffic days of the year.  During an observation that lasted from 6:00 am in the morning to 11:00 pm at night, State Highway Commission employees observed 1,492 cars with Wisconsin plates passing through the intersection.  This represented an increase of 54 cars from the 1926 July 4 holiday.  Tourist traffic actually decreased a little, going from 326 vehicles with out-of-state plates in 1926 to 310 in 1927 – a decrease of 16 automobiles!

Whatever decrease there may have been in out-of-state vehicle traffic was more than made up for by the increase in farm and delivery trucks going through the intersection.  Only 71 trucks passed through the interchange of highways 8 and 47 on July 4, 1926, but they could have used a roundabout in 1927 as a veritable traffic jam of 130 trucks navigated the intersection.  Thirteen motorcycle riders passed through on July 4, 1926, but only ten in 1927.  Perhaps those three motorcyclists of 1926 who did not return in 1927 opted for a different means of transportation because the count of 1927 showed an increase of two horse & buggies passing through U.S 8 and Wisconsin 47.  As an editorialist in 1927 remarked, at least it goes to show you that Rhinelander is not a one-horse town.

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear. Some sound effects for this commentary came from Freesound.

A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.