According to information from an Iowa Department of Transportation publication called “Discovering historic Iowa transportation milestones,” in the late 1800s there were no organized systems for guiding travelers crossing Iowa and travelers often became lost.
Therefore, local residents who had grown tired of giving directions made and placed many of the first road signs. At the time there were no established guidelines for naming the routes.
Frequently, associations and community groups designated route names and erected their own markers. These routes carried names such as the Star Route, Red Ball Route, Tall Corn Highway and Lincoln Highway.
Markers were painted on posts, poles, rocks and buildings. A red ball was painted on poles on Red Ball Route. Eventually, however, there were so many different markers that travelers became almost as confused as they were before the signs went up.
As a result of the confusion, some routes, like the Red Ball, were officially registered with the Iowa State Highway Commission under the 1913 Iowa Highway Route Registration Act, which required routes of 25 miles or more in length be registered.
The Iowa State Highway Commission was given the authority to determine which road association would be granted permission to use of the route names, and color combinations and designs of the route markings. The registration process continued through 1924.
There were 64 routes registered with the Iowa State Highway Commission during this period, including the “Red Ball Route,” which Mitchell Countians later dubbed, “Red Ball Road.”
The Red Ball route or “road” was considered of military importance and sponsored by the Red Ball Route Association. Its date of official registration was January 2, 1915.
The entire route originally ran from St. Paul, MN to St. Louis, MO. Cities along the route included the following: In Minnesota; St. Paul, Faribault, Owatonna. and Austin – in Iowa; Osage, Charles City, Waverly, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Mount Pleasant and Keokuk.
And now you know why it’s called the Red Ball Road.
2014 Mason City Globe Gazette, By – David Namanny