Historic U.S. 61: Otter Drive, Homer Township
Located In: Homer Township, Winona County
Length: 0.33 miles
Also Marked As:
Otter Drive was once part of one of the earliest paved highways in Minnesota. After being bypassed it became a local road, and later provided access to Emil's Otter Sanctuary, a major attraction for motorists along U.S. 61 in the 1950's (recently featured in Cathy Wurzer's documentary "Tales of the Road, Highway 61".)
An 8 foot concrete road was constructed along U.S. 61 between Winona and La Moille in 1913/14 as one of three constructed in the Winona area, the other two being along the future alignments of U.S. 14 and State Highway 43. The road was graded to twenty feet wide, with 8 feet of concrete pavement in the middle, and 6 feet of gravel shoulder on each side. Construction was funded under the provisions of the Elwell Highway Act of 1910, which created a funding scheme that split the cost of highway construction between the state, counties, and local authorities. Roads built under this act were known as "State Roads", a designation that would persist until the trunk highway system was created by the Babcock amendment in 1920.
The construction of the road was marred by difficulties. The original contractor, Carlton and Prinz of Minneapolis, forfeited their construction contract when they were not able to complete the roads by the end of 1913, citing labor difficulties. The paving was completed by the firm of Hanlon and Oakes in 1914.
By the time U.S. 61 was routed onto Highway 3 in 1926, the 8-foot pavement's days were numbered. A contract had been let by the Department of Highways to replace the old road with a more modern grade and pavement. The November 20th, 1926 edition of the Minnesota Highway News announced the beginning of grading work to replace what they called "Minnesota's first concrete highway". The press release also stated that the concrete was still in decent shape despite the primitive techniques used to construct it. However, traffic had increased too much to let the old road remain in use. The new grade was completed in 1927. This section was bypassed in order to straighten the road.
Information for the above history was primarily taken from articles in the Winona Republican Herald, accessible online courtesy of Winona State University.
Otter Drive still uses the approximate path of the old road just east of Homer. There is no sign of the old concrete on the publicly accessible portion. A gate blocks access to the rest of the old alignment. The eastern-most end of this section has been bypassed and appears to have been obliterated.
Photo Tour - Photos taken in October, 2007
The west end of Otter Drive, with modern U.S. 61/U.S. 14 in the background.
There's not much to see on Otter Drive. The old pavement is either gone or paved over.
The end of the line. I believe that the concrete visible in the lower left is may have been the driveway to the Otter Sanctuary.