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Dixie Highway

Dixie Highway: Road Building and the Making of the Modern South, 1900-1930

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Dixie Highway
    Book Description:

    At the turn of the twentieth century, good highways eluded most Americans and nearly all southerners. In their place, a jumble of dirt roads covered the region like a bed of briars. Introduced in 1915, the Dixie Highway changed all that by merging hundreds of short roads into dual interstate routes that looped from Michigan to Miami and back. In connecting the North and the South, the Dixie Highway helped end regional isolation and served as a model for future interstates. In this book, Tammy Ingram offers the first comprehensive study of the nation's earliest attempt to build a highway network, revealing how the modern U.S. transportation system evolved out of the hard-fought political, economic, and cultural contests that surrounded the Dixie's creation.The most visible success of the Progressive Era Good Roads Movement, the Dixie Highway also became its biggest casualty. It sparked a national dialogue about the power of federal and state agencies, the role of local government, and the influence of ordinary citizens. In the South, it caused a backlash against highway bureaucracy that stymied road building for decades. Yet Ingram shows that after the Dixie Highway, the region was never the same.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1552-3
    Subjects: History, Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This is a history of the Dixie Highway, a hugely ambitious route built between 1915 and 1926 that proved the promise of the automobile age and helped inspire a federal highway program. Made up of hundreds of short, rough, local roads stitched together into a continuous route, the Dixie Highway looped nearly 6,000 miles from Lake Michigan all the way to Miami Beach and back again. It was originally conceived as a single tourist road to steer wealthy motorists from cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis through the South on their way to fancy vacation resorts in south Florida. Yet...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Building a Good Roads Movement, 1900–1913
    (pp. 13-42)

    At the turn of the twentieth century, a host of humorous songs, poems, and anecdotes poked fun at the nation’s abysmal roads. A poem called “Bad Roads Did It” played with the common theme of farmers getting stuck in the mud:

    A farmer old, so we’ve been told,

    With a team of horses strong

    Drove down the road with a heavy load,

    While singing his merry song.

    But his mirth in song was not so long

    For his horse gave a leap

    As he ran amuck in the mud he stuck,

    Clear up to his axles deep.

    Bad roads did...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Road to Dixie, 1914–1916
    (pp. 43-90)

    In November 1914 Carl Fisher’s proposal to build the first modern automobile highway linking the North and the South provoked a jubilant response. Southern newspapers rushed to endorse the so-called Cotton Belt Route, declaring it “a splendid investment” that would encourage the construction of more roads. Northerners rejoiced at the news as well. Northern tourists, said one Indianapolis man, “have longings in their hearts to tour the great south . . . to motor into its lands of tradition and history.”¹ The new highway would be “of great and mutual benefit to the people north and south,” according to Governor...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Roads at War, 1917–1919
    (pp. 91-128)

    On October 30, 1917, nearly seven months after the United States entered the war against Germany, the Dixie Highway Association staged a test run of military supplies along its eastern and western divisions between Fort McPherson, outside of Atlanta, and Fort Oglethorpe, near Chattanooga, where three camps of U.S. Army recruits learned trench-warfare tactics under a young officer named Dwight D. Eisenhower. The dirt roads they utilized bore little resemblance to the interstate highways that Eisenhower, as president, would oversee some forty years later, but after two years of repairs and improvements by local road authorities, they were substantially better...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Modern Highways and Chain Gang Labor, 1919–1924
    (pp. 129-162)

    After World War I, Lillian Smith found herself worrying about money for the first time in her life. Her father had lost his profitable turpentine mills during the wartime economic upheaval and moved his family from their large, comfortable house in north Florida to the family’s small vacation cottage in the north Georgia mountain town of Clayton, where they ran a camp for girls. There, Smith and her nine brothers and sisters learned what it was like to scrape by on homegrown eggs, milk, butter, meat, apples, and the few provisions their father bartered for at the local store. Like...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Paved with Politics: Business and Bureaucracy in Georgia, 1924–1927
    (pp. 163-192)

    When Carl Fisher complained in 1912 that highways were “built chiefly of politics,” he was referring to the problems that dictated the slow pace of roadwork under decades of county control. Nearly fifteen years later, Fisher’s tongue-in-cheek protest could have described the new challenges facing state and federal highway agencies in the modern automobile era. Good-roads advocates had achieved many of their goals in the intervening years, including the passage of federal highway legislation in 1916 and 1921, the implementation of new taxes to raise highway revenue, and continued progress along the Dixie Highway. But as debates over both chain...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-200)

    The Georgia scenario would soon play out across the South. Despite the desperate need for better roads and a consensus in favor of building them, voters recoiled at the power and the cost of the state and federal institutions necessary to implement actual road construction. By the final years of the 1920s, southern politicians created careers out of stoking populist outrage against taxes and government. In this new turn of the political tide, state highway departments became favored targets for angry screeds against bloated government and state corruption.

    Such popular outrage flared up throughout the rural South, but nowhere was...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 201-234)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-246)
  13. Index
    (pp. 247-255)