Wright’s last book traces history of Egyptian Trail

It’s easy to remember the historic Dixie Highway. Its name is on street signs from the north edge of Homewood to the south edge of Flossmoor. But the Egyptian Trail is not so well known, even though it ran along the same route from 175th Street to Flossmoor Road.

Jim Wright

The late local historian Jim Wright sought to bring the history of early 20th century road system, “The Egyptian Trail in Illinois: A History from Chicago to Cairo,” published by The History Press. The book copies were received locally in September and were featured at the Homewood Historical Society booth during the Homewood Fall Fest on Sept. 23.

Wright’s sister, Nancy Dubetz, helped create captions for the book’s photos, and Mark Leschuck, a member of the historical society board of directors, helped Wright with proofreading and transportation as he visited sites along the trail while doing research for the book.

In the book’s preface, Wright notes that he first learned about the Egyptian Trail while doing research for his book about Dixie Highway, which was published in 2009. He started doing research on the Egyptian Trail, but progress was slow until the summer of 2022, when he renewed his efforts to finish the book in spite of increasing health problems.

Dubetz said he was determined to finish the book.

“I think I got that book into the publisher on Wednesday and he passed that Friday,” she said. “It was very important to him that this book got in.”

Her brother was always fascinated by transportation history, she said. He loved railroads, cars and roadways. He served for a time on Homewood’s Rail Committee. He was the longtime historian and treasurer for the A’s R Us antique car club. The group was instrumental in erecting historic markers along Dixie Highway and in organizing the Driving the Dixie rolling car show.

She said his interest might have been piqued, in part, by stories heard as a child about the work done by a great-uncle in Iowa whose construction company did road paving.

Local history connections
The Egyptian Trail was the brainchild of two Mattoon businessmen. Iverson Lumpkin and Ernest Tucker, who founded an organization in 1915, the Egyptian Trail Association, to develop the trail from Chicago to Cairo.

It was a grassroots effort built by farmers and local businessmen in communities along the trail who had an interest in improving transportation in order to better market their products, according to the book.

“People came together,” Dubetz said. “Everybody used their own resources.”

The effort had connections to Homewood and Flossmoor, too.

Flossmoor was the starting point for the Good Roads Train, a series of promotional and demonstration events sponsored by the National Good Roads Association to stir interest and support for roadway improvements.

The event included the building of a length of good roadway to show the possibilities road improvements could offer. The campaign went from April to July, 1901, 23 years before Flossmoor was incorporated.

Homewood’s contribution to the trail came from Joseph Tienstra, a painter who produced signs in 1915 that marked the trail. In the book’s preface, Wright said he learned about Tienstra’s work from his son, Garrett Tienstra, and confirmed the report through newspaper archives.

Although the trail never achieved the fame of Dixie Highway, its legacy still lives in the state and in the region. It was the predecessor of Interstate 57, which also runs from Chicago to Cairo, according to the book.

Had he lived longer, Wright’s work might have continued to illuminate the history of early roadways.
Phil Serviss, who assisted in researching the Dixie Highway book, said Wright planned to study the Yellowstone Trail next.

“The Egyptian Trail” is available at the Homewood Historical Society, 2035 W. 183rd St., for a $24 donation. The historical society is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. The books is also available from online book sellers.

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