State News

March 11, 2013

Project aims to preserve history of Dixie Highway

SAVANNAH — The Georgia Historical Society is in the front seat of a multi-organization effort to study the old Dixie Highway, a circa-1915 route from Michigan to Miami that was usually unpaved, often unmarked and is now largely forgotten.

The decade-long development of the highway, which coincided with the mass production of the affordable Ford Model T, helped ignite the birth of automobile tourism in Georgia, said W. Todd Groce, president and chief executive officer of the GHS.

Before the advent of such cross-state avenues as the Dixie Highway, said Groce, tourists usually took trains to Savannah and other popular destinations.

The historical society, in its downtown Savannah location, has a number of Coastal Georgia-centric artifacts from the early-automotive era now on display. They include a 1921 Road Guide of Georgia, six early 1900s postcards illustrating the Dixie Highway route through Midway and Darien, and a 32-page, circa 1900-1912 Savannah Automobile Club Guidebook.

The Dixie Highway was one of the first road systems in Georgia to connect cities with rural areas, said Groce.

The GHS will be the repository for new information and additional artifacts gathered by the Dixie Highway project, a multi-laned effort that also includes the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and New South Associates, an Atlanta-based firm that hosted a state-wide series of public meetings on the old route, and set up a Facebook page to continue and expand the discussion.

The public meetings, which included one in Savannah, brought together the general public, state and local planners, and economic development officials, said researchers of New South Associates in an email interview.

“We have learned that the public often has differing recollections of what routes actually constituted the Dixie Highway,” said the researchers.

The circa-1915 Dixie Highway was not a single, specific route, but rather an “assemblage of the best roads” then available through each respective state. The Dixie Highway Association’s goal was to put together a connection that would take travelers from the Midwest through the South, and eventually Miami.

Georgia’s “best roads” at that time were paved with bricks within city limits, but were largely otherwise made of gravel, clay and dirt.

A 1916 auto guide described the Ogeechee Road as “11 miles of good shell road,” added the researchers. Other familiar routes that were in use back then included the Augusta Road (Ga. 21).

The auto guide also listed the old DeSoto Hotel on Liberty Street as a destination. Most large town such as Savannah already had established hotels and restaurants, said the researchers. The first gas stations were built in the first decades of the 20th century.

The public outreach portion of the Dixie Highway study is still ongoing, said Madeline White, of the GDOT. Additional outreach opportunities are expected to evolve as it progresses.

———

Information from: Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com

 

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