Whatever Happened to the Dixie Highway?

The story of the Dixie Highway is the story of American travel from blazed trail to superhighway. The Dixie Highway still serves the public, albeit in a manner the early road boosters could scarcely have dreamed.

In the early days of the automobile, getting places was an adventure. You quickly learned which of your local roads were suitable. Long distance journeys were more complicated. The best method of the day was to buy an expensive tour book and have someone to read out the turn-by-turn directions, much like the modern electronic devices. Road maps, another option, still required a navigator.

A better system for identifying good routes for travel was needed.

Trail associations were born.

Trail Associations were public / private partnerships. Their membership included state road boards, automobile booster clubs (like AAA), hotels, construction companies, and civic organizations like the UDC. Trail organizations collected dues to improve and promote a specific path connecting two or more destinations. Each trail association came up with a name and a marker. Notable men from the War Between the States were frequently honored in this manner. Often these roads were sectional, northern and southern roads keeping to their own regions.

The road we call the Dixie Highway started out as a plan to connect Chicago to Jacksonville, crossing the north – south divide. In the “Southern Good Roads” magazine (1) published in December 1914, it was reported that W.S. Gilbreath of Indianapolis was promoting such a trail to be called the “Cotton Belt Route” at the fourth annual American Road Congress on November 9th. He was interviewed by the Atlanta Constitution and stated, “It is not at all impossible … to put one direct road from Louisville to Jacksonville … and be ready by next fall for the thousands of tourists who would gladly flock to the south.”

By February 1915, “Dependable Highways” magazine (2) was reporting a new name, “Dixie Highway to signalize fifty years of peace.” By that time, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida were on board. Chattanooga was enthused about the potential auto trail. Intervening communities were starting to compete to be on the route. Miami started to push for a southern extension from Jacksonville.

By May 1915, “The Road-Maker” magazine (3) was reporting on the April formative meeting of the “Dixie Highway Association”. Ohio was added to the states planning a connection to the Dixie Highway via Cincinnati. President Woodrow Wilson sent a telegram of congratulations to the gathering.

The competition for inclusion along the Dixie Highway was so strong that instead of a single “Dixie Highway”, a “Dixie Highway System” was born. As reported in “The Road-Maker” magazine for July 1915 (4), Michigan was added to the highway association, bringing te highway north to Mackinac City. Fierce rivalries between boosters of the Louisville – Nashville and Cincinnati – Lexington - Knoxville routes were both appeased. Florida now had a connection through Tallahassee as well as the planned route from Macon to Jacksonville.

By December 1915, “Southern Good Roads” magazine (5) was reporting the slogan of the Dixie Highway association was “We all live on the same street.” The first sign was announced, a blue bale of cotton with the words “Dixie Highway” on it. These signs were to be posted in 1916. Markers were to be placed at all county lines and at places of historical interest.

The cotton bale sign proved to be too complex for everyday usage and few examples survive. The more common and famous sign was white-red-white with a white “DH” on the red band, or a band of red bisecting a white sign horizontally. Tri-banded trail signs were the most common and prolific. They could be painted on telephone poles and were far cheaper to produce than more complex symbols for route identification.

ADania,
          FL June 1915s the original planned mainlines were completed, other communities joined the Dixie Highway. In 1916, routes for the western Dixie Highway extended south from Tallahassee through Ocala, Orlando and Fort Myers to rejoin the Dixie Highway at Miami. (6)

The final addition to the Dixie Highway, completing the eastern route, was a line of existing highways stretching from Knoxville to Asheville, NC to Greenville, SC and connecting to Waynesboro, GA. (7)

This 1923 map of the Dixie Highway was issued by The Dixie Highway Association and shows the location of the highway in each State. Like today, road construction was always occurring somewhere along the system, financed with road bonds and supported with Federal Aid.

The Trail Associations had achieved the goal of making good roads a matter of concern for everybody. The final flower of that concern was the replacing of those auto trails with a system of numbered US highways, agreed to on Armistice Day, 1926. The numbered grid broke up the named highways. Some claimed that cold numbers could not inspire like a well-chosen name. As the states moved to erect the now familiar six point shields in 1927, many civic organizations like the UDC sprung into action, placing and re-placing historical markers before the names and events were lost to history.

The Florida Division was the second state to place a monument marker for the Dixie Highway. This marker was near the Florida-Georgia boundary (modern US 319). The dedication of this marker was September 30, 1927. “The land was donated by Anna Jackson Chapter member, Mrs. Nicolas Ware Epps, Honorary Division President.” (8) Paramount News was on hand to film the outstanding event, which drew over one thousand attendees. Of special interest were three Ohio Union soldiers. These men were in the area to return captured General Finley’s Brigade’s Confederate flag.

Included in the program for the unveiling of this marker is “This Marker is placed on the Dixie Highway in the State of Florida by the Florida Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, as a Memorial to our beloved Chieftain General Robert E. Lee.” (9) The bronze plate with General Lee on Traveler was placed on a concrete marker. The inscription reads “Erected and Dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Friends in Loving Memory of Robert E. Lee and to mark the Route of Dixie Highway…Erected in 1927.” (10) The marker was originally located north of Killearn Lakes Development (originally a part of Pine Hill Plantation). The marker was later moved near the DeSoto Trail marker near Maclay Gardens. At the time the highway was widened, it was placed in storage. During this time it deteriorated, and was found by Gene and Sue Cowger in very poor condition. The marker was repaired and cleaned and relocated to its present location. The Anna Jackson Chapter rededicated the monument at its present location on January 19, 2009, the anniversary of General Lee’s birthday.

Two Historical Places – Historic LaGrange Church and Cemetery and LaGrange Community (colored) Cemetery are located on the “Old Dixie Highway.” The church is located at 1560 Old Dixie Highway and the Community (colored) Cemetery at 1575. According to one source, a Dixie Highway marker (picture is shown) is located on the Brevard-Volusia County Line; however, the marker may or may not remain.

Many of the markers may be missing or moved to other locations, as did the one in North Florida. The idea of travel between the Midwest and the South is carried forward by I-75, which connects the most northern extent of the Dixie Highway in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to Miami, Florida. The decision to name the nascent route “Dixie Highway” in 1915 to commemorate 50 years of American peace still resonates today, reminding us of what connects us, the ties that bind our country together: Freedom, Commerce, and History.

Bibliography

Footnotes:
  1. “Southern Good Roads” magazine, December 1914, page 33

  2. “Dependable Highways” magazine, February 1915, page 20

  3. “The Road-Maker” magazine, May 1915, Vol. VI, No. 6, pp 10-11

  4. “The Road-Maker” magazine, July 1915, Vol. VII, No. 4, pp 5-6

  5. “Southern Good Roads” magazine, December 1915, page 22

  6. “Good Roads” magazine, January 6, 1917

  7. “Dixie Highway” magazine, July 1924

  8. Centennial History of Anna Jackson Chapter 224 Tallahassee, Florida 1898-1998, page 75

  9. Centennial History of Anna Jackson Chapter 224 Tallahassee, Florida 1898-1998, page 79

  10. Dixie Highway Marker-Monument, US 319 Leon County, Florida

"The" Dixie Highway ends up being an incomplete description. Dixie Highway was a system of roads. Every major paved road along the way was added in.
The Dixie Highway today exists primarily on street signs. Local roads bear witness of a grand past as major interstate corridors.
Today, you could make a good case for calling I-75 the Modern Dixie Highway, it follows the east DH leg from Canada / Upper Michigan to Knoxville, then bears southwesterly along the DH Tennessee Connector to Chattanooga and follows along the DH west leg from there south to Miami, reforging a link broken when the US numbered highway system was forged.
This website is an attempt to give connections to those various city streets, as an aid the modern auto-tourist and to answer the curious among us who looked up at a faded street sign and wondered... where did this Dixie Highway go?

Color key

Primary guideline for these directions is the 1923 Dixie Highway outline map as posted by T. Zimmerman

Mainlines:

Connectors: Joined the West and East mainlines

Loops: Alternate routes along the mainlines

Images of the Dixie Highway

Links

Resource Materials

Assistance provided by these folks:

Marc Fannin, John Boteler, Adrian Leskiw, Chris Bessert, Luke McNeeley, Russ Hansen, Don Powell, Annette C. Harrell

U.S. Highways: From US 1 to (US 830)

E-mail me with Comments, Corrections, and Suggestions

Page first posted by Robert V. Droz on November 29, 2001
Page last updated February 19, 2014

Post 'completion' message:
Making this site was similiar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing and a faded picture of the original box. Undoubtedly many segments were missed along the way, or I described a segment that is now undrivable. Please let me know if you find one.