Conservative Corner: Dixie Highway

Before President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “military” interstate highway system, of 1955, there were a few highways, created out of dirt that cobbled and tied together our nation. What comes to mind immediately, perhaps, is the fabled “Route 66.” Another well-known system would be the “Lincoln Highway.” But, are you aware of the Dixie Highway? It actually ran through Madison, and is now commonly known as Highway 90. When Ford’s Model T began populating roads in the early 1900s, there was no Department of Transportation on either the state or federal level. People up north, such as Paul Fisher, of Indianapolis, Indiana, wanted to get to Florida, but it was almost impossible to drive it with dirt roads the whole way. Most people couldn’t afford to go by train or aircraft. So on April 2, 1915, a project long dreamed of by Paul Fisher, a promoter and industrialist, along with Southern Governors, gathered in Chattanooga, Tenn., to figure out how to create a paved route to Florida. (April 3, 1915, New York Times, p. 7) They came up with the ambitious idea of having each community along the route pay for the paving for their own section. Most of them were eager to do it, because they hoped to spur tourism. But some couldn’t afford it, so there would be unpaved sections along the way, even years later. There was also a wide lack of uniformity in how the road was paved. Some communities just sprayed down tar, some used concrete and some just used gravel. In some places the road was two lanes and in others it was just one. Most communities used prison labor or county jail inmates. It was a vast experiment in the best methods for paving a road. Each locale also created their own signage, which is why you never see these left over signs at thrift stores, once the “road” was decommissioned. The roadwork was done over the next 10 years or so, and the end result had a major impact. Florida The Atlanta Constitution for April 15, 1915, had Florida’s governor, Park Trammel, appoint commissioners to get the route authorized and executed by the local communities. From Tallahassee, there was G. W. Saxton, and from Miami, there was S. A. Belcher. They enlisted the Chambers of Commerce’s, along the designated route. Money could be made, motel lodgings, restaurants, gas stations, map makers, car and truck dealerships, repair shops and the list for commercial benefit goes on. Now, the average person could afford to get to sunny Florida. With the speed of the cars, and the condition of the roads, cars could make the trip from Chicago to Miami in about ten days. And the South was changed. The Dixie Highway brought the prosperous Midwestern and Northeastern people into the depressed South. “It’s the biggest secret there is,” Ed Jackson says. “Most history books don’t even mention the Dixie Highway.” Jackson, over the past ten years, has researched and written a detailed history of the road for the Georgia Historical Society. The Atlanta Constitution of July 20, 2014, says that next year, a gathering is being planned in Dalton, in north Georgia, to try to get communities to promote the Dixie Highway the way that Route 66 communities have done.

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