Scarborough’s Tour Book, 1917


For early motorists guides such as Scarborough’s were indispensable

Early motorists faced many challenges – awful roads, angry farmers who detested their presence, mechanical breakdowns, a dearth of filling stations, etc. – but one of the biggest challenges was just finding one’s way.  Until 1917 there were no official, government-designated highway routes anywhere and a national network of routes wouldn’t  exist until 1926.  Worse, most of those awful rural roads didn’t even have names!

Enter Scarborough’s Official Tour Book, a motorist’s trip planner and survival guide published by the Scarborough Motor Guide Company of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Scarborough’s wasn’t the only such guide out there at the time – automobile clubs were springing up almost everywhere and most of them provided members with a wealth of helpful information including turn-by-turn directions to get from place to place.  This 1917 edition of Scarborough’s is, however, more comprehensive than any I’ve seen, running to more than 1100 pages just for the central states of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

This tome includes crude supplemental maps of each of the states, broken down into smaller regions, but its main purpose is to provide printed directions to help the motorist plan a trip.


Imagine motoring along in your Overland with this on your lap as you’re trying to get from Grand Rapids to Saginaw.

This is the recommended route from Holland, Mich., to Kalamazoo:

 Trip 1209

Holland, Mich., to Kalamazoo, Mich.–51.2 miles.

(via Allegan.)

Mostly gravel. Quite sandy in places.

0.0 Leave Holland at intersection of River Ave. and 8th St. Go east on 8th St.

0.6 Turn right at railroad onto Lincoln Ave. and cross railroad

1.5 Railroads.

2.1 Good stone road 2.0 miles.

6.0 School on right.

7.0 Church on left. Turn left at four corners.

7.6 Railroad.

10.6 End of road. Turn right.

12.4 Hamilton. Cross bridge.

16.5 School on left.

17.8 School on right.

18.7 Railroad.

20.7 Railroad.

23.6 Bridge.

25.3 Curve right at river onto Cedar St.

25.6 Turn left at pavement onto Hubbard St.

25.9 Allegan. Turn right onto Brady St.

The Auto Shop

one block then right and cross bridge onto Marshall St.

26.8 End of pavement. Straight ahead.

29.2 School on left.

31.0 Lake on either side.

34.0 Cross bridge and turn left.

35.9 Otsego. Straight ahead.

39.2 Plainwell. Turn right.

Main St. Garage

39.7 Cross bridge and keep straight ahead.

42.7 Turn left then right.

44.3 Cooper.

49.5 Railroad.

49.9 Pick up trolley, entering Kalamazoo on Douglas Ave.

50.2 Straight ahead leaving trolley.

50.5 Turn left at car line onto Main St.

50.7 Railroad

51.2 Kalamazoo at Court House, Main and Rose Sts.

Park American Hotel

Obviously, having a passenger along to act as navigator would have been quite useful and having an accurate odometer would have been critical.  Notice that city streets are mentioned by name but that rural roads are not.  If you missed them or confused the “School on right” at 6.0 miles with the “Church on left” at 7.0 miles, who knows where you might end up.

(Notice also that three businesses are mentioned in the directions, The Auto Shop in Allegan, Main St. Garage in Plainwell and the Park American Hotel in Kalamazoo.  I suspect that those businesses either paid to have their names mentioned or bought one of the ads which are liberally sprinkled throughout the book.)


Postcard of the Park American Hotel, c. 1920

A page of instructions on how to use the book suggests that motorists “first refer to the large Key Map.  This gives a skeleton outline of every charted trip in the book . . . .”  The trip number of the route is indicated on the Key Map and you can then flip to the “Charted Trip Section” to get your turn-by-turn directions.

A copy of Scarborough’s cost $2.00 in 1917.  That would be almost $36 today according to the CPI inflation calculator.  You could, however, get a free copy of the next year’s edition if you photographed a “beautiful scene, a point of interest or an historical spot” and sent it in for publication.  If the editors accepted it next year’s copy was on them.


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