By Brandon Martin
Route 66 is where travelers, adventurers, desperados, and dreamers throughout history have fallen in love with the open road.
The historic route and other roads during the time eventually paved the way for the country’s interstate highway system and revolutionized how commerce and travel operated in the 20th century.
While seldom thought of, the routes that Americans would take before the public system has been a fascinating area of study for Martinsville-based author Stephen Provost who has written two books on the subject.
His latest rendition America’s First Highways, Provost dives into the world of “auto-trails,” the name given to privately funded roads that bridged the gap “between the era of the stagecoach turnpike and the age of the federal highway.”
The book consists of personal and collected photos taken of some of the most famous auto-trails such as the Lincoln, Lee and Dixie highways.
Along with the collection of historical photos, Provost said the book also provides some of the most interesting stories told by the men who built the auto-trails such as Carl Fisher who is responsible for constructing the Dixie and Lincoln highways.
According to Provost, the man compiled a fortune through his investments with Prest-O-Light and the Indianapolis 500 but he is best known for developing Miami Beach into what it is known for today. After investing so much money, Fisher would go on to “lose it all in the Great Depression.”
The book is the second volume of the author’s America’s Historic Highways series following Yesterday’s Highways. In addition to this series, Provost has also published two other works named Highway 99 and Highway 101 which chronicle the early development of California’s highways.
“I hope these books give people a taste of things that might otherwise be forgotten,” he said. “There is so much richness in our history and I want people to have a resource so these things don’t go by the wayside.”
The Fresno, Calif., native, said that he first developed his interest in early roadmaking from trips taken with his parents up and down the state.
“I collected a bunch of my family photos from the trips we would take and it kind of grew and grew,” Provost said. “After a while, I had a nice collection and then when I added in what I found from all of my research, I had enough to publish.”
In addition to his nonfiction works, Provost has also written fictional novels as well such as his Academy of the Lost Labyrinth series which he describes as “a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter.”
He said that his love of creative writing began when he was in school but that he decided to endeavor on a career in journalism due to financial concerns.
Now a full-time author, Provost said that he gains satisfaction from both his nonfiction and fiction books. He loves the creative freedom of fiction but “non-fiction is like a scattergram where you have to put pieces together in a coherent way.”
Since moving from California, Provost said that he now enjoys life in Martinsville with his wife Samaire Wynne who is also a writer.
“My wife had a friend who lived in the Shenandoah Valley and I had just been laid off due to staff cuts,” he said. “I decided to be an author full time and the cost of living in California is really high. Martinsville on the other hand, isn’t that expensive to live in and we really enjoy the climate.”
He said the couple had been viewing areas to relocate along U.S. Route 58, eventually finding the perfect house in the “City Without Limits.”
The closures due to the coronavirus have affected Provost as well who said he would normally be promoting his book at events at the Spencer-Penn Centre and the Bassett Fair.
He said that, if possible, he would like to attend events in the fall such as Oktoberfest and the Virginia Museum of Natural History Dragon Festival in order to make up for time lost.