I am often amazed to observe how portions of our local landscape have evolved over the years.
The drastic alteration of basic topography can be disorienting and leave places almost unrecognizable. A particularly good example I stumbled upon recently is the sweep of Yellowstone Avenue.
For years after the establishment of Cody the terrace west of town remained largely devoid of traffic or development. The original road stretching west followed modern Skyline Drive and continued to Irma Flat and Marquette, where it ultimately branched off to the North and South Forks.
The building of the Shoshone Dam necessitated a good road through the canyon and once constructed this path became the main travel artery from Cody to Yellowstone. It began on the north side of the river at the Depot Bridge and headed across the sagebrush terrace and into the Shoshone Canyon.
While undoubtedly a thrilling drive, the road was at times perilous due to steep grades, sharp turns and narrow-gauge sections. Moreover, it was not well-liked by local business owners either. By the 1920s merchants in Cody were adamant the way to Yellowstone be re-routed through the center of town.
Following negotiations between local leaders and the Wyoming Department of Transportation the matter was finally settled. The new road would lead west out of Cody along the south side of the river and meet up with the old route in Shoshone Canyon.
This plan was not without its hurdles. For one, the deep ravine carved by Sulphur Creek needed traversing. A rickety wooden bridge had been built across the gulch in 1904, but it was precarious, and townspeople held it in contempt. As a result, an improved bridge was installed over the creek and the road grade drastically leveled, making for a safe and easy drive.
In 1925 the Hayden Arch Bridge was completed to connect the enhanced “double width” drive from Cody to the old rocky path on the north side of Shoshone Canyon. In celebration of the new “southside” highway the Cody Enterprise commented that the old road which had been “a bugaboo and a terror to many of the tourists who came to and from Yellowstone will now be one of the most pleasant and enjoyable drives to be found anywhere in America.”
Colloquially named the “Yellowstone Highway” and the “West Cody Strip,” the improved roadway was in fact part of U.S. Routes 14 and 20, both created in 1926.
Apart from the sulfur mine and Riverside Cemetery there had heretofore been little growth west of town. But the enhanced transportation infrastructure allowed some business owners, such as Cassie Waters, to relocate themselves on the new road as it funneled tourists and locals alike.
With the substantial increase in tourist traffic following World War II the still-modest infrastructure west of town again demanded a serious upgrade. Flush with post-war federal infrastructure funds the Wyoming Highway Department made further designs to upgrade the road into the boulevard it is today.
In 1955, Yellowstone Avenue was widened and paved, an improvement the Enterprise reported had “long been wanted by the people of Cody.” In addition to this already significant project, the Taggart Construction Company raised a massive earthen causeway to span Sulphur Creek. This development forever changed the character of Yellowstone Avenue from an unassuming approach road on the edge of town to a bustling commercial strip.
Only time will tell what future advancements are in store for these ever-evolving features of our community.