Dave Banack’s post about Matthew Streib, the cyclist on an American Pilgrimage, reminded me that I had once heard that bicycles, not automobiles, were the impetus behind the development of decent inter-city roads in the United States. Sure enough, the ample authority of the all-wise Wikipedia confirms that the Good Roads Movement was spurred by 19th century cyclists just like Matthew Streib who needed decent roads on which to travel.

Very early in the 20th century Americans had begun their love affair with the automobile, as motorists took to the newly blacktopped roads to tour from one end of the continent to the other. The Lincoln Highway, the first great (paved) transcontinental road, passed through Salt Lake City, bringing tourists who stayed for a day or three, looking around Temple Square, visiting the Great Salt Lake, getting a eye-full of the Mormons, before continuing their travels.

Many travelers, whose goal was going somewhere, not being there, preferred to bypass the hotels and camp next to their cars. Campers needed water and convenient places to buy supplies; the cities they camped in needed not to be sickened by waste in the city waterways. These complementary needs led to the development of “auto camps” throughout the country.

In Utah, these camps sometimes were established in schoolyards, where campers could use the toilet and cooking facilities of the high schools lying idle during the summer traveling season. In other Utah cities, dedicated auto camps were set up near the highway, with toilets, a building for cooking, a grocery store, and plenty of water; eventually small cabins were built, and the auto camps evolved into the familiar motels. These amenities were announced on signs along the highway, inaugurating today’s familiar billboard clutter.

Enter the Mormons.

Salt Lake’s auto camp was established in the west part of town, in the jurisdiction of Pioneer Stake. By 1921 it had the usual amenities found in any such western camp. In earlier years stake leaders had noted the increasing thousands who spent time at the auto camp before passing along, and they realized they had an unusual service opportunity. That summer of 1921 they pitched a large tent at the camp and held church services, both on Sundays and during the week. Meetings were short and casual, and relied on music and the recitations of Sunday School children. The various ward choirs in the stake took turns providing music, and talented instrumental soloists offered their services. Stake officers provided brochures, sold copies of the Book of Mormon, and answered questions. Some 25,000 tourists were served in that first year alone.

In 1922, the project expanded, and stake members build a small chapel, open on one side to face rows of benches in the open air. And word began filtering back from missionaries in the field, that they had been welcomed into the homes of people who had stayed at Salt Lake’s auto camp and changed their opinion of the habits and character of the Mormons.

I do not know how long Pioneer Stake kept up their short-term ministry to the travelers at the auto camp; research continues.

(Auto camp missionaries, in case one of them is your grandpa: Ed H. Eardley, Jerry Hancock, Charles S. Hyde, J. Leonard Love, James H. Sullivan, Gustave B. Dreschel, Rulon J. Sperry, Frank B. Woodbury, Howard Layton, Charles H. Hyde, Sylvester Q. Cannon. Alexander Buchanan, D. Eugene Hammond)

added 30 July 2008:

Auto Park missionary corps, 1922:

Seated (front row), left to right: E.H. Eardley, Charles H. Hyde, Sylvester Q. Cannon, D. Eugene Hammond, Jerry Hancock, Alexander Buchanan.

Standing (back row), left to right: James H. Sullivan, Rulon Sperry, Howard Layton, Charles S. Hyde, Frank B. Woodbury, J. Leonard Love, Gustave B. Dreschel.

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