Jerry Summers: Chattanooga’s Connections To The Dixie Highway (U.S. 41)

Thursday, July 22, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Proponents of the latest efforts to remove the word “Dixie” from Dixie Highway evidently are unaware of the tremendous economic contribution that the thoroughfare has made to many communities along its route.

The road around Lookout Mountain that now functions as an escape route from the congested traffic on I-24 towards Nashville was once part of the national highway system started in 1915 and completed in 1927 known as the “Dixie Highway.”  Circuit Judge Michael Allison and Hamilton County Judge Will Cummings were two of several Chattanoogans who played important roles in establishing a route of travel covering 5,706 miles from Ontario, Canada, south to Miami, Florida.

            With the advent of the automobile in the early twentieth century there rapidly developed a need for paved roads to traverse the country.

            The original idea for the Dixie Highway came from Carl Graham Fisher, a native of Indiana and a land speculator who acquired large tracts of land near Miami which unfortunately were heavily damaged by a hurricane and made unusable as a part of the proposed highway system.

            Fisher was experienced in promoting the building of roads which he had gained by being involved in the planning and building of the Lincoln Highway which connected San Francisco to New York City.

            By 1914 Fisher and his colleague from Michigan, W.S. Gilbreath, had created enough support for the idea of the north to south highway system to present their plans to a meeting of the American Road Congress in Atlanta, Georgia.

            Receiving a favorable response from that body, the two speculators were able to convince Tennessee Governor Tom C. Rye and Indiana Governor Samuel M. Ralston to schedule an organizational meeting in Chattanooga on April 3, 1915.  Over 5,000 persons attended the meeting with governors from seven states that supported the project.

            The Chattanooga Automobile Club had formed in 1914 and Chattanooga heavily supported the idea of the creation of the Dixie Highway Association and the erection of the proposed route.

            In reality there were two routes of travel designated as Eastern and Western.  Both went through Tennessee and Chattanooga.

            On October 9, 1915 the Dixie Highway Tour left Chicago in a caravan of 500 automobiles.  Eventually approximately 50 cars were able to complete the full trip to Miami.

            A headquarters was set up in the modern Patten Hotel in Chattanooga which happened to be near the half way point of the Chicago-Miami route.

            When the Dixie Highway Association was created five members of the Chattanooga Automobile Club pledged $1,000 along with eight other non-Chattanoogans to form the Dixie Highway Association.

            The original incorporators, who were delegated to create a charter for the association were Chattanoogans T.R. Preston, president of the Dixie Portland Cement Company; C.E. James, president of the Signal Mountain Land Company; Morris E. Temple, secretary of the Chattanooga Furniture Company; John A. Patten, president of the Chattanooga Medicine Company; C.H. Huston, vice president of the Chattanooga Trust Company; and W.R. Long, president of the Model Laundry Company.

            In heated discussions, primarily over the proposed routes of travel, a newspaper account described the meetings as sometimes being the “Second Battle of Chattanooga.”

            In addition each of the seven states involved in the Dixie Highway had two directors.  Most importantly was that Judge M.M. Allison of Chattanooga was selected as one of the Tennessee delegates.

            Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Allison would serve as president of the association and was instrumental in the successful completion of the highway after C.E. James refused to serve because of the route dispute.  At the highest point of the Dixie Highway on Walden Ridge is a stone monument memorializing Judge Allison for his extraordinary leadership and support.

           Judge Cummings was also an important leader in the construction of the Dixie Highway.

            In 1906 he became the first Chattanoogan to own an automobile that he purchased in St. Louis, Missouri, which was a Dorris sedan.

            Cummings recognized the need for a good highway system and, through his friendship with Tennessee Governor Thomas C. Rye and other public officials, was able to obtain the first two federal aid grants in the South for road highway projects in the Wauhatchie Pike and Suck Creek areas.

            As the Wauhatchie Pike project was in the area of the extensive real estate holdings owned by Judge Cummings, he was subsequently attacked by his political enemies of improving his own property with the grant funds.

            Other businesses that benefited from the creation of the Dixie Highway were Rock City and Ruby Falls, who developed tourist attractions that are still in existence and known throughout the country.

            Although now a primarily secondary road, the Dixie Highway often provides an escape route from the congestion of I-24 as automobile traffic in Tennessee continues to increase.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

Market Street along the Dixie Highway
Market Street along the Dixie Highway

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