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Voices and Votes: Out of the Mud


Belleville at the crossroads of proposed highways. The Belleville Telescope, May 27, 1915.

Situated at the intersection of Highways 36 and 81 in north central Kansas, Belleville is known by its slogan “The Crossroads of America.” The history behind the crossroads – both the highways and the slogan – can be traced back to A.Q. Miller. Miller was born in Washington County near Palmer and worked for the Clifton newspaper as a boy. In 1904, Miller bought The Belleville Telescope and became a prominent newspaper editor. For over a half century, Miller advocated for good roads and highways in Kansas from the pages of the Telescope and at the statehouse as a representative of highway associations. 



Road Days


Miller served on three highway associations: The Meridian Road (now U.S. Highway 81), the Rock Island Highway (now U.S. Highway 36), and the Pikes Peak Ocean-Ocean Highway. The Meridian Road followed the sixth principal meridian, connecting Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Miller served as the treasurer of the Meridian Road and his Telescope made the case for this north-south route through Kansas on May 27, 1915: “Its roads and highways may make or break a community. Good roads mean ease of intercourse, increased trade, economy in marketing. They are money savers for the farmer, and sources of pleasure and profit to all. Good roads contribute greatly to moral uplift, mental development and financial gain. They are an economic necessity.” Meriden

A map promoting the proposed expansion of the Meridian International Highway, 1927. Courtesy of, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply. 

The Rock Island Highway was a link in the east-west “Ocean to Ocean” highway, connecting to the Pike’s Peak Route of Colorado and the White Cross Trail of Missouri. Miller served as secretary/treasurer of the Rock Island Highway and touted the highway’s importance as a transcontinental link in the Telescope on March 12, 1914: “The necessity for a CENTRAL Transcontinental Highway through Missouri, Kansas and Colorado is self-evident. The route proposed is the route the motorist would naturally follow on account of its general advantages. It is the most highly improved, has the most interesting historic associations, traverses the most productive regions, opens up the most wonderful scenery and has the shortest mileage.”  

“A.Q. Miller’s story is an example of a citizen advocating for change ‘Beyond the Ballot.’” 

In 1920, Kansas voters passed a Good Roads Amendment to “Lift Kansans Out of the Mud” by permitting state aid to counties for roads. Road construction continued to be the responsibility of counties and townships in Kansas until the late 1920s – a policy that was, in fact, a violation of federal law. In 1929, Kansas voters passed another amendment to join the other 47 states to build and maintain a national network of highways.   mud

Pamphlet encouraging Kansans to vote yes on the Good Roads Amendment, c.1920. Courtesy of, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.  

Miller continued to advocate for highways in the Telescope, writing in February 1939 that the state should do more to attract tourist traffic through to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and the New York World’s Fair. “Kansas is in the direct line of travel between New York and California and should be receiving the lion’s share of truck-line traffic, but owing to adverse publicity which the state received a few years ago relative to ‘dirt roads’ and detours our eastern and western cousins are laboring under the impression that this state is still in the primitive stage of unimportant highways. …If the legislature would follow the example of many other states and make an appropriation to publicize the true conditions about Kansas roads and allow additional funds to promote the importance of the state resources from an industrial standpoint, the state's economic status would be materially improved.”AQ Miller

A.Q. Miller. Courtesy of the Republic County Historical Museum.

“A.Q. Miller’s story is an example of a citizen advocating for change ‘Beyond the Ballot,’” shared Ed Glenn, director of the Republic County Historical Society. “Miller’s ability to lobby for highways and good roads is a strong example of the use of the non-elected wheels of democracy. We look forward to telling his story alongside the Voices and Votes Smithsonian exhibition.” 

In the 1950s, Miller joined a group of dignitaries to drive from Belleville to the tip of South America. In September 1955, Miller, acting as president emeritus of the U.S. 81 Pan American highway, officially dedicated a new 20-mile paved stretch of U.S. Highway 81 south of Belleville. A.Q. Miller wrote his last editorial for The Belleville Telescope on the day of his death, December 29, 1959. Miller’s legacy lives on as the namesake of the School of Media and Communications at Kansas State University and as the champion for the good roads and linked highways that Kansas travelers enjoy today.  

Get the scoop on Miller and Kansas roads at the A.Q. Miller: Lobbying for Early Roads in Kansas exhibition at the Republic County Historical Society. The museum will draw on its archive of Miller’s news stories, photographs, and artifacts, including coins from his South American driving trip, to tell the full story of Miller’s impact on Kansas roads. The exhibition will be on display along the Voices and Votes: Democracy in America Smithsonian traveling exhibition November 25, 2023 – January 7, 2024. Visit for events and hours of operation. 


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