1998 – Chattanooga, Drivin’ the Dixie: Automobile Tourism in the South

1998 – Chattanooga, Drivin’ the Dixie: Automobile Tourism in the South

SCA’s 1998 annual conference explored automobile tourism and its impact on the commercial-built environment in the South, emphasizing the Dixie Highway, an important early 20th century automobile route between Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Miami, Florida. Conference highlights included a day-long papers symposium, and two days of tours, which focused on the roadside resources found along or near the routes of the Dixie Highway in North Georgia and Tennessee.

An epic 284-page tome was created to supplement this tour, complete with an in-depth history and driving guide. Download this incredible resource here!

Conference Program

Historic Highways Workshop
This workshop, designed for preservation professionals and those interested in preserving historic highways, focused on the identification and evaluation of historic highways and related resources. Staff from the National Park Service, State Historic Preservation Offices, and Georgia and Tennessee Departments of Transportation discussed the upcoming National Register Bulletin on historic road corridors.

DIXIE HIGHWAY BUS TOUR: “Bedspreads and Bypasses” A circuit of both the Western and Eastern Divisions of the route between Chattanooga and Cartersville, Georgia. In addition to viewing a wide variety of roadside architectural types, participants saw bypassed segments of the Dixie Highway and the junction of the highway’s two Divisions. In addition to several brief tour stops at significant roadside resources, there will be two extended stops including a visit to Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in Summerville. A world famous visionary artist, Finster’s work has been featured in several exhibits, an R.E.M. music video, and appeared on the covers of record albums by R.E.M. and Talking Heads.

DIXIE HIGHWAY BUS TOUR: Moonpies, Monuments, and Motels
A day-long bus tour of Southeast Tennessee and its roadside environs. In addition to several brief tour stops at significant roadside resources, the tour included an extended visit at Rock City atop Lookout Mountain.

PAPERS presented in five sessions:

“Seeing the Scenic Upland South: Mother Nature and the Morphology of Tourist Landscapes”
Kevin J. Patrick, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

“Developing a Tourism Landscape: Roadside Architecture in the Foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains”
Blythe Semmer, Middle Tennessee State University

“Saving Our Rural Landscapes by Preserving Historic Roads”
Peter Dedek, Middle Tennessee State University

“Park ‘N Pray: An Examination of Drive-In Religion in South Florida”
Carrie Scupholm, Archaeological Consultants, Inc.

“Decorative Drive-In Screen Tower Design”
Thom Thompson, Mt. Sinai, New York

“Chenille, Gas and Snowbirds: The Totem Pole, A Dixie Highway Icon”
Cherry Condra, Tennessee’s Backroads Heritage, Inc.

“FIREWORKS”
Karl Puljak, Louisiana Tech University

“The Best Road South: Early Auto Touring and the Dixie Highway in Indiana”
Suzanne Fischer, Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana

“Straight Through the Grid: The Meridian Highway in Nebraska”
Carol Ahlgren, Nebraska State Historical Society

“Pleasing to the Eye”: Brick Paving and the Dixie Highway in the Sunshine State”
Walter S. Marder, Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation

“The DAR, Roane Fleming Byrnes and the Birth of the Natchez Trace Parkway”
Sara Amy Leach, National Park Service

“Resurrection of Sam’s Diner”
Marc Wagner, Virginia Department of Historic Resources

“Roadside Luxury: Urban Hotels for Tourists Motoring Along the Dixie Highway”
R. Stephen Sennott, Lake Forest College

“Born-Again Along Southern Roads: Dixie Diner Deco and the Neo-Moderne”
Robert M. Craig, Georgia Tech

“Caving and Clogging: Keepin’ Cool in Tennessee Caves, 1920-1950”
Ruth D. Nichols and Robbie D. Jones, Tennessee Department of Transportation

“Arkansas’s Highway History and Architecture”
Christie McLaren, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

“Signs of Tourism Along U.S. Highway 11-W (the Lee Highway) in East Tennessee”
Charles R. Gunter, Jr., East Tennessee State University

What is the Dixie Highway?

The following will appear in the forthcoming Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Carroll Van West, et. al., eds. (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998). $50.00, hardcover. Used with permission.

Constructed between 1915 and 1927, the Dixie Highway was part of the new road system built in response to the growing number of motorists during the early decades of the twentieth century. The highway extended from Ontario, Canada south 5,706 miles to Miami, Florida. The Dixie Highway Association was the driving force behind the development of the Dixie Highway. Highway associations, like the Dixie Highway Association and the well-known Lincoln Highway Association which connected San Francisco to New York, were formed by motor enthusiasts and/or entrepreneurs to launch the construction of roads that would connect cities to each other.

The idea for the Dixie Highway came from Carl Graham Fisher, a native Indianan, entrepreneur, and land speculator. Involved in the early stages of the Lincoln Highway, Fisher was experienced in promoting roads. By 1914, he and Michigan businessman W.S. Gilbreath had gained enough support for this north-south highway that they brought the idea to the American Road Congress annual meeting in Atlanta.

Governor Tom C. Rye of Tennessee and Indiana Governor Ralston called an organizational meeting of the Dixie Highway Association for April 3, 1915 in Chattanooga. Over 5,000 people attended this first meeting including governors from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.

Chattanooga citizens and especially the Chattanooga Automobile Club provided immense support for the highway and the association from the beginning. The Chattanooga Automobile Club, newly formed in 1914, was an enthusiastic supporter of the project and remained closely associated with the Dixie Highway Association throughout its history. Five local members of the Chattanooga Automobile Club and eight other men pledged $1000 each for the formation of the Dixie Highway Association.

The purpose of the Dixie Highway Association was to construct a permanent highway from a point on the Lincoln Highway near Chicago through Chattanooga to Miami which was eventually extended north to Ontario, Canada. Both the eastern and western divisions of the highway went through Tennessee with the western route heading south from Springfield through Nashville, Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, Tullahoma, Winchester, Cowan, and Monteagle to Chattanooga. The eastern division went south from Cumberland Gap through Knoxville, Rockwood, and Dayton to Chattanooga.

The Dixie Highway Association headquarters were located in the Patten Hotel in Chattanooga, roughly the halfway point of the highway, and the incorporators, who were delegated to create a charter for the Association, were all from Chattanooga. These prominent businessmen became the biggest proponents of the highway in Tennessee.

Judge Michael M. Allison from Chattanooga was elected to serve as president of the Dixie Highway Association, after C.E. James, a Chattanooga builder declined to serve. Allison remained an extremely active president throughout the life of the Dixie Highway.

Tennessee played an important role in the Dixie Highway Association until it disbanded in 1927 after the road was completed. The Dixie Highway Magazine was published out of Chattanooga and featured prominently the city and region in its articles and advertisements. Ironically, however, Monteagle Mountain in Marion County, just outside of Chattanooga, was the last link in the highway to be finished and was considered a nationwide concern because it was a crucial part in linking the North with the South.

Leslie N. Sharp
October 1996

Suggested Readings

Carver, Martha, “Driving the Dixie: The Development of the Dixie Highway Corridor,” SCA Journal 13:1.

Preston, Howard L. Dirt Roads to Dixie: Accessibility and Modernization in the South, 1885-1935. Knoxville: University Press, 1991.

Sharp, Leslie N. “Down South to Dixie: The Development of the Dixie Highway from Nashville to Chattanooga, 1915-1940.” M.A. Thesis, Middle Tennessee State University, 1993.

Conference co-sponsored by:
Georgia Department of Transportation
Historic Preservation Division, Georgia DNR
Southeast Tennessee Development District
Tennessee Department of Transportation
Tennessee Historical Commission