As late as 1910, few highways existed in America, and inter-city highways were considered an unneeded luxury in most of the South. Built mostly between 1915 and 1927, the Dixie Highway was the first north-south interstate paved highway in the U.S., stretching from the Canadian border to Miami, Florida. The Dixie Highway was the brainchild of Carl G. Fisher of the Lincoln Highway Association. The plan was ambitious, but Fisher knew constructing the route was necessary for the success of his newly established city, Miami Beach, Florida.
In 1914, Fisher proposed a north-south paved highway to connect Chicago with Miami. Construction of the Dixie Highway began in 1915 by a loose confederation of counties. That changed in 1916, when Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act. States wishing to receive the limited funding provided by the act were required to create a state highway agency.
In 1917, construction of the Dixie Highway was stalled by World War I. By the mid-1920s, the project was largely completed with a network of roads interconnected across 10 states with more than 5,000 miles of paved road. By 1927, the federal government took over the route entirely with the creation of the US highway system. By the late 1920s, state and federal markers began to replace the Old Dixie Highway markers.
An old section of the highway exists today near the small town of Espanola. Officially recognized as the Dixie Highway-Hastings, Espanola, and Bunnell Road or Old Brick Road, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 20, 2005.
Legacy of the Old Dixie Highway
The Dixie Highway was one of the early examples of the economic impact of highway construction. Under the best of conditions, a trip from Chicago or Detroit to Miami could take two weeks. While hotels and restaurants along the way benefitted from some travelers, many families could not afford to eat out or stay in a hotel each night of their trip. So, they packed a tent and everything needed to camp out along the way – often loaded into a small, open trailer pulled behind their car. Families would set up camp in an open field or at a church or school along the way and then be on their way in the morning – hopefully before anyone noticed them.
By the 1930s, small camping trailers were becoming popular. They were followed by small trailer homes,
which contained a tiny sofa, table, kitchen, and bed (though no bathroom). After World War II, trailers became larger and included a bathroom. Not only could families vacation in Florida inexpensively, many older couples from colder climates decided to live there permanently in one of the exploding number of trailer parks for retirees. Almost all of Florida’s growing population would travel down the Dixie Highway through Georgia.
Old Dixie Highway Today
Today, the Dixie Highway is mainly a memory—though a few reminders remain. The old Dixie Highway still runs through Adairsville, and short segments elsewhere can be found. Occasionally, you’ll see the remains of what once was a motel that served travelers. But, most of the original highway is gone, renamed, paved over, or re-routed to newer highways. The final death knell of the Dixie Highway as a contiguous, driveable route came in the 1970s, when the final portions of I-75 and I-95 in Georgia were completed.