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FreightWaves ClassicsInfrastructureInsightsNewsTrucking

FreightWaves Classics: Remembering a war hero and advocate for good roads

Rodney Slater, who served as the Administrator of the FHWA and U.S. Secretary of Transportation. 
(Photo: cityyear.org)
Rodney Slater, who served as the Administrator of the FHWA and U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
(Photo: cityyear.org)

The setting was Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. On this date in 1993, then-Federal Highway Administrator (and later U.S. Transportation Secretary) Rodney Slater had the primary role in a ceremony that honored Roy Stone, who had distinguished himself as a Civil War hero and a good-roads advocate in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

Battle of Gettysburg

During the Civil War, Stone served in the Union Army. July 1, 1863 was the first day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. Then-Colonel Stone and his Pennsylvania Bucktail Brigade held off advancing Confederate forces along McPherson’s Ridge. 

General Stone. (Photo: Library of Congress)
General Stone. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In honor of Stone’s bravery, the road in that section of the national park was named Stone Avenue in his memory. However, at some point the Stone Avenue sign disappeared. 

Slater unveiled a replica of the long-missing street marker during the ceremony. Because November 19, 1993 was the 130th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Slater recognized Stone’s heroism. 

Stone’s brigade was composed primarily of untested troops that had not seen previous combat. Despite that, the brigade withstood multiple Confederate assaults and were among the last U.S. troops to withdraw from that area. During the battle Stone was severely wounded in the hip and arm. 

On December 12, 1864, President Lincoln nominated Stone for appointment as “brevet brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers, to rank from September 7, 1864, for gallant services during the war, and especially at Gettysburg.” The U.S. Senate confirmed Stone’s promotion on February 20, 1865.

During the ceremony Slater said, “General Stone was one of the many brave men President Lincoln spoke of in his Gettysburg Address when he said, ‘The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.’”  

General Stone went back into active service in 1898 and led troops in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.

U.S. Office of Road Inquiry

The dedication ceremony honoring Stone and returning a sign to Stone Avenue was part of a broader effort to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S Office of Road Inquiry. That Office was the original predecessor of the Federal Highway Administration. Founded in 1893 under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Office was established with Stone as its first director. He served in that position from October 3, 1893 until October 13, 1899.

Stone was appointed to the position due to his advocacy on behalf of the Good Roads Movement. His contributions led to major changes and improvements in road construction and design. 

In 1905, the Office of Road Inquiry’s name was changed to the Office of Public Roads, a division of the USDA. The name of the agency was changed again 1915 to the Bureau of Public Roads and then again to the Public Roads Administration in 1939. At that time the Public Roads Administration was moved to the Federal Works Agency, which was abolished in 1949. When that occurred, the agency’s name returned to the Bureau of Public Roads, and it was placed under the Department of Commerce. In 1966 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) was created; the functions of the Bureau of Public Roads were transferred to FHWA in 1967.

On October 15, 1966 the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) was established by an act of Congress. The Department’s first official day of operation was April 1, 1967. Along with several other federal agencies, the FHWA became part of the USDOT at that time.

An aerial view of a small part of the Interstate Highway System. (Photo: dreamstime)
An aerial view of a small part of the Interstate Highway System. (Photo: dreamstime)

Scott Mall, Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.

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