US Highway 32 is another of those routes, such as US 28 and US 55, that existed for such a short time that one might be forgiven for never having heard of it. Though it was one of the original routes laid out by the American Association of State Highway Officials (today’s AASHTO) in its 1925 plan, and subsequently commissioned in 1926, US 32 existed only eight short years before being swallowed up by other routes. Today, its old route is taken up by first US Highway 34 and, after Princeton, Illinois, US Highway 6.
As originally planned, US 32's eastern terminus was in downtown Chicago, not far from Lake Michigan and the terminus of the historic Route 66. Indeed, as it left Chicago, US 32 shared pavement with Route 66 for some few miles through the downtown area and the suburbs of Chicago, until reaching Cicero, that home of so many political improprieties. There, US 32 left Route 66 behind as it branched to the southwest on its journey through the prairies, making its way toward Iowa.
The highway’s first call was at Naperville, today one of the southwestern suburbs of Chicago, but back in the 1920s, a town unto itself. Until the late 1960s, Naperville, like some small and not-so-small towns in Illinois, had a reputation as a “sundown town”, meaning people of color shouldn’t be found there after sundown – if they knew what was good for ‘em! Today, of course, Naperville is now part of the greater Chicagoland area, and welcomes any and all residents and visitors. In recent years, the city has gained a reputation as a business and technology center.
Moving on along US 32, the traveler might have stopped for a short rest in the small village of Somonauk, once known for having the highest per capita ratio of churches in Illinois. It was less well known that the United Congregational Church located there was one of the stops along the Underground Railroad. Indeed, history relates that many prominent Somonauk citizens, largely unbeknownst to their fellows, were quite active in guiding slaves to freedom in the North.
Arriving at the central Illinois city of Mendota, US 32 crossed two major routes in Illinois: the diagonal US Highway 52, and one of the main north-south routes in Illinois, US Highway 51 (today co-located with Interstate 39). Mendota is home to the National Sweet Corn Festival, and the Hume-Carnegie Museum, housed in a well-preserved old building that once was one of the libraries founded by the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
As mentioned, at Princeton the route left present-day US 34 and continued along the route now taken by the great east-west highway US 6, also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. Like Somonauk, Princeton served as another stop along the Underground Railroad. For many years, it was home to the late actor Richard Widmark, remembered today for his many film noirroles, and his fine work in television.
US 32’s final stop in Illinois was in Moline, one of the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. It was here that the mighty John Deere farm implements company was born, befitting Moline’s status then and now as a major agricultural metropolis. Upon leaving the city, US 32 crossed first the Rock River and then the Mississippi River, leaving behind the flat lands of Illinois for the rolling prairies of Iowa.
The route continued on to Iowa City, the first capital of the state until 1876. Iowa City has gained a national reputation as a cultural center, being home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the International Writing Program, and is repeatedly named one of the best places to live in America. In recent years, Iowa City has been battered by natural disasters. In 2006, a severe tornado caused major damage, and then two years later the city was savaged by the Great Iowa Flood of 2008.
As it wound across Iowa, in a leisurely fashion, US 32 passed through Newton, Iowa, once known as the home of the Maytag Corporation. Throughout most of the 20th century, Maytag was a major manufacturer of appliances, particularly washing machines, and once enjoyed a superior reputation. Many will remember the company’s famous “Lonely Repairman” television commercials. After the acquisition of Maytag by the Whirlpool Corporation in 2006, the Maytag corporate headquarters in Newton was closed and the building was sold to a local telecommunications company. Today, through the work of one of the Maytag sons, the Maytag name survives as a line of fine wines.
The route entered the present capital of Iowa, Des Moines, from the northeast, crossing another important north-south route, US Highway 65. Des Moines is a city of many attractions, including being a popular base for US presidential candidates due to the relative importance of the primaries. For our purposes, however, we will cite it as the home town of the popular writer Bill Bryson. Des Moines today also enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a major Midwest cultural center.
Finally, the traveler reached US 32's western endpoint at Council Bluffs. Situated across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska, the city was once a major railroad junction center, with many of the transcontinental routes passing through or near the city. Council Bluffs is also remembered as the historic starting point of the Mormon Trail.
Droz, Robert V., "Sequential List of US Highways", US Highways From US 1 to US 830. July 2003. (July 2004)
Sanderson, Dale., "US Ends.com" (2018)