FEATURE : Highway 61 (and 66, 41, 30, and more) revisited


Jean Bevier is a graphic designer with a passion for language, typography, and the open road. Last summer, she bought a new Honda Civic and spent half a year cruising around America’s network of secondary roads. From the Lincoln Highway to the Dixie Beeline, she photographed the fading signage that marks the motor courts, drive-in theaters, service stations, roadside stands, and coffee shops of small-town America. Her photographic odyssey has resulted in a series of gorgeous images that chronicle the remnants of our country’s original highway culture. Alarmingly, many of the signs are so weathered and dilapidated that before long they will be gone forever. Also vanishing is the proud connection to place that spurred the roadside signage boom of the 1930s through the 1960s.

Jean explains that the U.S. highway system was originally designed to connect one town with another across the country. Roadside signage helped each town brand its unique persona and entice motorists to stop for a closer look. Today, however, the goal of the interstate system is to bypass towns so that travelers can move from point A to point B in the shortest possible time. This diametric shift cut off the oxygen to countless towns, hastening their economic collapse. Motorists now stop at generic chain hotels and fast food joints clustered at the interstate exit ramps. In essence, we have found a quicker way to get to Nowhere in Particular.

The decline of America’s secondary roads is a cautionary tale for educational communicators. New technologies are like the super highways of communication. Faster, more efficient technology should not replace brand strategy, but instead help us reinforce it.

Click on photos to enlarge, click again to close photos.

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Photo series above by Jean Bevier. Click here to see more of Jean’s American signage series.

Jean Bevier is an assistant professor of graphic design at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Jean’s work explores language and typography through a variety of media. Jean is an emeritus member of the University & College Designers Association (UCDA), having served on its Board of Directors as well as co-chairing two national conferences for design educators. She has been a UCDA member since 1990 and currently serves on the UCDA Foundation Board of Directors.