The period from the end of the Civil War to about 1905 saw some key changes in American country roads, including the passage of the first state-aid road laws, the creation of the first federal road agency, and the growth of a strong urban-rural coalition promoting rural road improvements. Although these have been well discussed, two significant but unrecognized changes lay at their heart. First, the effect of the good-roads campaigns of the 1890s in convincing farmers to embrace a major intellectual shift: trading the belief that roads were "natural"--local resources to be husbanded--for the idea that they were "technological"--publicly owned tools to be engineered in the service of social ends. Second, how the shifting uses of rural roads, from groups of urban cyclists touring the countryside to mail carriers delivering letters to farmhouses, not only strengthened the growing ties between rural and urban areas but also helped transform the basic political relationships between isolated communities and county, state, and national governments. Together these turn-of-the-century changes paved the way, literally and figuratively, for the growth of the extensive highway system that today is such a dominating characteristic of the American landscape.

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