Before the establishment of the 1926 Federal system of assigning route numbers to highways in the United States, some important national highways were identified by prosaic names. Early motorists made their way along routes such as the Lincoln Highway (today’s US Highway 30), the National Road (today’s US Highway 40), or US Highway 6, the Roosevelt Highway. Perhaps the most famous of those old highways was the Dixie Highway, a network of roads that once stretched from northern Michigan down to Florida.
The Dixie Highway began as an idea of Carl Graham Fisher, a land speculator from Indiana. Fisher had been involved in the creation of the Lincoln Highway, and was well suited, by dint of training and experience, to promote a new national highway that would connect the North and South. By 1914, he’d gathered enough support for the idea to present it at the annual meeting of the American Road Congress in Atlanta, where it was very well received. The Dixie Highway Association was formed in April of the next year, with representatives from Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Illinois, and Florida. As much of the support had come from Tennessee, Chattanooga was selected as the Association’s home base.
The Association’s plan was to construct a modern highway starting at a point on the Lincoln Highway near Chicago. From there, the highway would run down through the old South and terminate in Miami, Florida. Representatives from Michigan joined the Association in 1916, leading to a decision to extend the Dixie Highway up to Sault Ste. Marie, and eventually a few miles into Ontario. Within a few years, the plans for the highway had grown such that there would now be two mainlines: an east leg (the original plan), and a new west leg. Later additions would include connectors between the two legs, and spur routes to serve communities close to the mainline routes. Initial funding for the project came from the states themselves, but over time the Federal government provided funding as well.
Both mainlines of the Dixie Highway were fully paved by 1927, with over 5,786 miles of road, and the Dixie Highway Association disbanded. By this time, the Dixie Highway was so well known that the American Association of State Highway Officials (now AASHTO) made every effort to incorporate it into the new Federal highway system. Many parts of the Dixie Highway received the new numbers, becoming part of US Highways 25, 27, 31W, and 41, among others.
The routing of the Dixie Highway, at its height in 1927, was as follows:
DIXIE HIGHWAY: WEST LEG
The original route of the Dixie Highway started in Chicago. From there, it ran south to Danville, Illinois, and then turned east, passing through Veedersburg, Indianapolis (with a connector here to the East Leg), and Bloomington in Indiana; Louisville, Elizabethtown, and Bowling Green in Kentucky; Nashville, Shelbyville, and Chattanooga in Tennessee; Rome, Atlanta, and Macon in Georgia; and entered Florida at Tallahassee. From there, the Dixie Highway continued south through Ocala, Orlando, and Fort Meyers, where it turned east to Miami and terminated at its junction with the East Leg.
DIXIE HIGHWAY: EAST LEG
Starting at Mackinaw, Michigan, this part of the highway passed through the cities of Bay City (with a loop serving Bad Axe and Port Huron), Flint, Saginaw, Detroit, and Monroe in Michigan; Toledo, Lima, Dayton, and Cincinnati in Ohio; Covington, Lexington, London, and Williamsburg in Kentucky; Jellico, Knoxville (with a connector to the West Leg at Chattanooga), and Newport in Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; Greenville, South Carolina; Augusta and Savannah in Georgia; and on into Florida through Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and West Palm Beach before terminating at Miami.
THE DIXIE HIGHWAY TODAY
The replacement of the older Federal highways, by the new Interstate system, meant replacement for most of the Dixie Highway as well. Interstate 75 closely duplicates much of its route along the east leg, though with little of the romance of with the old road. The proud old name lives on, however, in the street signs which can be seen along the many remaining fragments of the highway.
Society for Commercial Archeology, "What is the Dixie Highway?", SCA Home Page. 1998. <http://www.sca-roadside.org/dixie/dixiehistory.HTM> (April 2004)
Droz, Robert V., "Whatever Happened to the Dixie Highway?", US Highways Page. November 2001. <http://www.us-highways.com/dixiehwy.htm> (April 2004)
Map of the Dixie Highway, 1923. <http://www.us-highways.com/tzimm/dhmap23.htm>
Rand McNally, The Road Atlas, various editions. Skokie, Illinois: Rand McNally and Company.