LONG BEFORE I-75, DIXIE HIGHWAY WAS MAIN ROUTE THROUGH LAFOLLETTE AS FIRST NORTH-SOUTH INTERSTATE
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Many small towns before the construction of Interstate 75 were busy, busy, busy. The local townspeople spent their days on the streets of these villages visiting, gossiping and making new acquaintances. I guess one might say this is a life forgotten. I can well remember in the fifties and sixties the streets of Lafollette being filled with farmers, shoppers and just plain folk. It was a time of friendliness and companionship.
Before Interstate 75 a road by the name of The Dixie Highway, or later named U.S. Highway 25, was the main route through Lafollette. Our neighbor to the south, Lake City, used this highway in late 1968 because of the delay in the building of the I-75 bridge over the Clinch River. It seems that, unfortunately, the expressway ended in Lake City and all the I-75 traffic wound up on U.S Highway 25, or The Dixie Highway. Hundreds of thousands of southbound traveler were re-routed through Lake City. The townspeople were totally unaware and unprepared for the calamity that was happening. The unfortunate motorists spent hours along this road just reaching the four-lane in South Clinton. With tempers flaring, radiators overheating, and traffic backed up for miles, quick solutions were zilch.
Lake City did all it could to relieve the problem. It ended parking on Main Street and removed the last of its downtown parking meters. The town folks also installed automatic signal lights and ultimately sidetracked motorists around the town, or onto the Norris Freeway.
(Rev. James (Jim) Leach of LaFollette says that in the '50's and '60's, the Tennesseeans and Kentuckians followed this route north and overtook Ohio, Indiana and Michigan without firing a shot.)
A short history of this route says that The Dixie Highway was the brainchild of Carl Fisher. It was considered the first interstate highway that linked the far South with the industrious North.Fisher was an entrepreneur and land speculator, he being a former resident of Indiana. The highway system was nothing new to him, as he had been associated with the early building of the Lincoln Highway, which was constructed from San Francisco to New York.
After purchasing land in Miami, he became interested in a north/south highway simply to attract recreational travelers to his place in the sun. His goal was to connect Miami with a route to Indiana.
Fisher's labors resulted in the formation, in 1915, of The Dixie Highway As-association, which was conceived as a private proposal to promote good roads. From 1916 to 1927, the Association met in Chattanooga, Tennessee. These gatherings decided routing, road conditions, and to publish a monthly magazine, namely, The Dixie Highway. Much lobbying by the local communities to get the highway run through their town along the proposed route was the order of business.
The early building era of The Dixie Highway was constructed with local government and business funding. Its first surface consisted of gravel or poor quality, asphalt, and later improved to paved brick or concrete.
The highway extended from Miami to Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, near the Canadian border, a total of 5,706 miles. It was purposely routed to connect with existing national sites and Civil War battlefields, some of these being Chickamauga and Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.
Indian history was also an attraction along the highway. Some of these sites included the Etowah Indian Mounds, and New Ochota, the last capital of the Cherokee Nation. Another attraction was Rock City in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it being of no particular use except for a tourist site.
Original markings along the route consisted of a painted design on telegraph and telephones poles with a white band on the top and bottom, and a red band in the middle with a white "DH."
The federal government, in the 1920's, began to invest heavily in road con-struction, and by 1925 had established an interstate highway numbering system, with odd numbers for north-south roads and even numbers for east and west.
Use of distinguishable black and white, shield shaped signs replaced the named interstate highways such as the Lincoln and Dixie. Ignored by the named road system, The Dixie Highway was sectioned off into several U.S. route designations. Much of The Dixie Highway in Georgia and Florida became U.S. Route 41, while the system name was changed to U.S. 25 north of the Georgia line.
Disbandment of The Dixie Highway Association in 1927 found nearly 4,000 miles of roads had been improved and upgraded along the chosen route. The Highway from the Great Lakes to Florida was finalized in the fall of 1929. On November 4th, a grand celebration was held along The Dixie Highway. A motorcade of some 200 cars, stretching for eight miles, dedicated the final section from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
Local roads along the Highway soon changed from ones of havoc to those of a new highway system. Commercial businesses along the route soon began to prosper. Free tourist tent camps, along with roadside parks and picnic tables, were created which accommodated overnight guests. It seems that everyone with a business sense built tourist courts, cabins, inns and motels accompanied by restaurants, diners, hot dog stands, and filling stations, along with roadside markets, all to serve The Dixie Highway travelers.
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