As snowbirds are speeding down modern Interstates consider that in 1923 the Dixie Highway had just reached Tampa. It would be three more backbreaking years before the Tamiami Trail would cross the Everglades and finally reach Miami. The speed on the Dixie Highway in 1923 averaged 12.9 mph. A trip from Chicago to Miami would take two weeks in those early years.
As late as 1910 good highways eluded most Americans and nearly all southeners. People rode trains if any distance was involved. Locally, they traveled by wagon, buggy or city streetcar. Dirt roads were all local – from the farthest farm to nearest railhead. “Improved roads” were graded dirt, clay or gravel. And when it rained, mayhem.
Beginning in 1914, Carl G Fisher proposed a route that would connect or merge hundreds of short roads into interstate roads that looped from the Mackinac MI ferry to Miami and back. The story of struggle to create the Highway, and later a Federal highway system, ignited debates about federal power and local control between many stakeholders – automobile brands, farmers, the Goodroads movement, and in the south prison commissions (chain gang labor) and with increasing post WW I automobility, racial control.
By 1880 railroad mileage (250,000 miles) exceeded travelable roads. Railroads had a monopoly! Express trains were the fastest way to travel averaging 58 mph.
By 1900, under pressure from Progressive reformers and lobbying by Sears, Roebuck and Co, Mongomery Ward the push for Rural Free Delivery (RFD) pitted over 77,000 small town postmasters against Home Delivery and the Railroads were deeply admired.
At the same time the number of auto manufacturers soared. Between 1900 and 1908 some 485 automobile companies had formed. Barely half survived by 1909. Henry Ford’s Model N in 1906 sold for $600. His Model T was selling for $345 in 1916. By 1918 HALF of the cars sold in the U S were Model T’s. Ford offered an affordable means of travel, but Fisher knew the missing ingredient- roads that could withstand heavy rain.
Fisher had begun developing Miami Beach and wanted an easy way for people with a car to travel. Initially this proposed road was called the Cotton Belt route. By 1915 when construction began it was changed to the Old Dixie Highway, all part of an effort to promote a romantic image of the old south as warm, inviting southern hospitality.
If you are driving on I-75 and want to track the Dixie Hwy