Historic Dixie Highway designed to lure northerners to the southern states

Moonville Mae – Working from Home

Anne Peden, Phd.
Greenville County Historic Preservation Commission
Fork Shoals
Historical Society

Historian Jim Scott and I have been working for nearly a year and a half on learning about the road we both have grown up traveling, US Highway 25. Our research has lead us to go stomping, as Jim calls it, along the road looking for old dirt road cuts now in the woods along the current paved road and looking for abandoned concrete with the expansion joints growing up in weeds, trees, and grasses. Many folks have ridden with us and many have met us along the way. Many have stopped to see what we were doing and have been pulled into the excitement. Oh, the stories we have learned from strangers and the fun we have had. From this work we are excited to share that a book is forth coming. It is to be published by the History Press of Charleston. Don’t know any dates as to when it will roll off the presses yet, but probably the first half of 2021. Here is a bit of info that will hopefully lead you to want more. Proceeds will go to the Fork Shoals Historical Society to aid in the restoration of the 1812 McCullough House on our road, the Augusta Road, near Princeton.

United States Highway 25, traverses the western part of both Carolina states along a north to south path approximately along the 82nd longitude line from north of Hot Springs, North Carolina, to the Savannah River at North Augusta, South Carolina.

This road was an ancient path used by animals and Natives to negotiate the Kentucky grasslands through Tennessee, the mountains of North Carolina and South Carolina to the navigable parts of the Savannah River at Augusta, Georgia, in order to reach the Atlantic Ocean between South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. The old, dirt path became a trading path with the Cherokee, a wagon road in the 1800s, and a concrete paved road just after the turn of the twentieth century. As automobile numbers grew, weather resistant roads became more important and the road trip became popular in the 1910s. The Dixie Highway was designed to lure northerners from as far as Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on the Canadian border, through the sunny southland to the paradise of Miami, Florida.

Abandoned Concrete Section of US 25 and the Dixie Highway.

The Carolina portion of the Eastern Division was designated in 1918, and the Dixie Highway became an important byway for tourists through the Carolinas. The federal government set up the numbered interstate highway system in 1926 changing the name to US Highway 25. Actual paving of some sections of the new concrete road was not completed until 1931. The name Dixie Highway was relatively short lived, but the impact of the road and US 25 has lasted, and the centennial of the creation of US 25 is soon coming and the Dixie Highway’s centennial is ongoing through 2031, the date of the completion of paving in the Carolinas.

Six key components of our roads – initially water and geography and, later commerce and military, travel and industry –were regulated by the government in some manner. Early in the history of the Carolinas, Low Country wealthy plantation owners and merchants around Charleston, South Carolina, influenced backcountry and mountain life, and, therefore, roads, from the very beginning of the colonies. The several cultures along the road often clashed but the ability to make a living from the new resources available moved up from the coast to the mountains. The Low Country cultures included wealthy plantation owners and their families, merchants, enslaved peoples, and traders, craftsmen, store owners, educators, and clergy. Native Americans present worked to form alliances for trade with all the colonists.

The South Carolina backcountry culture was comprised of mostly subsistence farming initially and later larger plantations with smaller numbers of Africans as enslaved workers. Some educated clergy developed small congregations and traveled to brush arbors or parlors staying in preacher rooms of homes along the way and led in the establishment of schools. Also, a small number of accomplished men were searching for various resources that had been identified in the backcountry, such as the clays found along the fall line marking the ancient sea level. Others searched for gold. Businesses developed in pottery, lumber, and livestock. The Appalachian mountain culture was almost totally subsistence farming in the valleys plus moonshine making along the creeks well into the twentieth century. War and military groups affected the roads time and again as well. And as always, funding the creation and upkeep of roads was a challenge pulling small and large government oversight into the mix.
Over time necessities for human and animal travel began to be met bringing along the lodging and food establishments. Various types of support were provided for the different classes all aimed at being profitable. Commerce was the main reason for building roads, and money was needed for ongoing upkeep as well as for support of those traveling the backcountry. Money drove the use, construction, and maintenance of roads then as it does now.

For hundreds of years historians have depended on travel writers to provide insights into the lives and places of those who went before us. One clergyman of note who repeatedly moved along the early path was Bishop Francis Asbury of The Methodist Episcopal Church. Asbury dedicated his life to spreading the words of Jesus in the colonies and journaling as he went. Around the turn of the 1800s, he ministered along the byway that became the United States Highway 25. His wisdom from over two hundred years ago still applies to the road today. “I cannot record great things of religion in this quarter; but cotton sells high. I fear there is more gold than grace….” ■

Leave a Comment