1924 Road Tripping – Part I: Out of Ohio and Through Missouri and Kansas

An ad from the Santa Fe New Mexican, June 19th, 1920.

An ad from the Santa Fe New Mexican, June 19th, 1920.

A while back I came across a vintage postcard from Santa Fe featuring the slogan “The Most Wonderful 50 Mile Square in America.” I had never heard the phrase before so I did some research (i.e. I “Googled” it) and found that the slogan was created by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce some time in the later 1910s or early 1920s and was used to promote Santa Fe automobile tourism. It highlighted the fact that from the Santa Fe Plaza Square, one could drive 50 miles in any direction and see sites unlike anywhere else in America. Automobile maps were emblazoned with the slogan, as were many other tourist items and postcards.

One of the Google hits I stumbled across was a letter by one Edith Bordner, of New Philadelphia, Ohio, who mentioned the phrase in her correspondence while traveling through the area in the summer of 1924. It turned out to be the second of three such letters. In the summer of 1924, from early June to the end of August, Miss Bordner and a friend, Anna Carnes, and Mrs. Carnes’ 19 year-old son, Claude, made the arduous trip from Ohio, through St. Louis and Kansas City, across Kansas and into Colorado Springs, Colorado, and then onto the southwest and California. Their final destination would be Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The portion that took them from Ohio to Los Angeles followed the National Old Trails Road that I wrote about a few days ago.

After a few days of digging I found the other letters she wrote. She sent them to her home town newspaper, The Daily Times, which published them.

I have since discovered a plethora of information about Edith Bordner, and her companions. She made this trip when she was 49 and Anna was 52. Edith never married and though no known reason exists, events in her past may have had something to do with it. She was a lifelong resident of New Philadelphia, an accomplished pianist and violinist who studied with great masters for a while in New York, and she spent her life teaching music in her community until she passed away in 1944.

Anna Carnes was a divorced mother of one in the summer of 1924. She married in 1899 and had a child one year later. Norton Carnes was the older brother of Claude (born 5 years later). Nearly a year after Claude was born Anna filed for divorce from an abusive and cheating husband. Then a few years after that (1910) her first born was accidentally shot and killed while he and some other children were playing around with a rifle. This left her and Claude alone for the years leading up to this trip. Her ex-husband flitted his life away and died relatively young in 1922.

I’d like to think that the pair of friends on this trip were akin to a historic Thelma and Louise in terms of it being about two women stuck in a small town in Ohio but dying to be free from troublesome pasts. Sadly, the letters from Edith never say what the impetus for the trip was.

I have decided to write a larger book on the trip, probably historical fiction as there simply isn’t enough to really delve into the real-life protagonists. Mostly I’m interested in historical travel and experiences in the west, especially those made by automobile. Especially made by those who have never undertaken such a thing. I’ve spent the past week sketching out the ideas and creating the list of characters based on these people, ones mentioned in the letters, and in the towns the women lived, and others encountered during the trip.

Before that, however, I want to share the basic story of the trip as told through the letters, themselves. In this note I present the original trip announcement and the first letter Edith wrote and sent back home.

The trip was announced in the Society section of The Daily Times, a section in which Edith appears numerous times throughout her years in town as she hosted recitals and gave various music performances, or sponsored other musicians including her own students. It all begins, then, on Monday, June 4th, 1924 with the short announcement:

TRIP TO CALIFORNIA

Miss Edith Bordner will leave Wednesday morning for Los Angeles, California, by automobile with Mrs. Anna Carnes and son, Claude, of Sandyville. They will take the southern route. Their first stop will be Columbus, where they will be guests of Gov. and Mrs. A. V. Donahey, who are personal friends of Miss Bordner. They will also visit an uncle of Miss Bordner’s in Wichita, Kansas, and Joseph Bordner in Denver, Colo. The trip will take them through Colorado Springs and the Grand Canyon.

From Los Angeles the party will motor to San Francisco and Oregon, visiting places of interest along the way.

Miss Bordner will return by train in August.

During her absence Jack Collins of Athens University, a nephew and pupil of Miss Bordner, will conduct her violin classes at her studio at 127 West High street.

The team left Wednesday, June 6th, and by July they had made it to Colorado Springs when Edith sent the first letter.

MISS BORDNER WRITES OF INTERESTING EXPERIENCES IN TRIP THROUGH WEST

Miss Edith Bordner, who is making a trip to California by automobile, has arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and writes the Daily Times the following account of her trip:

“We had very fine paved roads to 30 miles west of St. Louis, where we struck dirt trails, which were high and very narrow, the branches of the trees touching the top of the machine often. Missouri has few paved roads and no bridges over small streams. We forded ten in one day and one was quite swollen and swift from the rain the night before, so a tractor pulled us across, just two feet above the dam.

“We had to put all our baggage in the car and hold up our feet, as the water came in the car and almost covered the engine.

“As we were going into Kansas City, it rained slightly for about an hour, which was the only rain we have been in since we left Ohio. We have had no muddy roads either and think we have been very fortunate. Always just escaped both.

“We visited a week in Kansas and reached Colorado Springs Wednesday, June 27th. Went out of our way to see the Royal Gorge. We saw the train pull through the gorge from the highest point. It looked like a toy train and the road just like a ribbon.

“On our way from there we came through “The Phantom Canyon” for thirty miles. The mountains are very high and the road most places is high and very narrow with many sharp curves and some tunnels five hundred feet long and many high bridges.

“After we were in twenty miles it got dark and with another Ohio party we had to pitch our tents and camp all night. We slept with our clothes on between woolen blankets with double ones on top and then nearly froze. There was snow on the mountains above us. The road cost a million dollars and is considered by many people the most beautiful scenic road in the U.S. However I would never want to go through except on a burro.

“We went up Pike’s Peak on cog train yesterday and made snowballs on the summit.

“We are visiting friends from home here and sightseeing.

“Colorado Springs has the widest streets of any town in the U.S. except Detroit and is very beautiful.

“The Broadmoor Hotel, built by Spencer Penrose, brother of Boise Penrose, the politician, cost a million dollars. It is the most beautiful hotel, west of the Mississippi. This is a great tourists’ town with skylight prices.

“We are all very well and enjoying the trip very much.

David

Amateur photographer, cyclist, and beer brewer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

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