Western Avenue Series, Part 1:
Dixie Highway Celebrates 100th Anniversary
Carol Flynn, RHS Newsletter Editor
Linda Lamberty, RHS Historian
The Good Roads Movement was founded in 1880, initially by bicycle enthusiasts, but other groups took the lead once automobiles became more popular. Good Road advocates pushed for new road construction and improved roadways throughout the country. They often involved themselves in local politics and these issues often became crucial factors in elections. As a result of this movement, major cross-country projects directly affecting Illinois came about. The first was the east-west Lincoln Highway in 1913.
Then in 1915, Carl G. Fisher, an Indiana entrepreneur who had business interests in both cars and real estate in Florida, envisioned a highway that would run from Chicago to Miami. Thus, the north-south Dixie Highway was born. In fact, where these two roads, the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway, cross, just south of Chicago in Chicago Heights, is known as the “Crossroads of the Nation” to show their historical significance.
The Dixie was actually a system of interconnecting roads that wound its way through the middle of the country. In Illinois, the Dixie started in downtown Chicago at Michigan and Adams, ran south to 55th Street, turned west to Western Ave. and ran south on Western through Beverly Hills and Morgan Park. The Dixie continued south through a numberof towns in Illinois, crossing over into Indiana around Danville.
It should come as no surprise that local politics played a big part in the route of the Dixie Highway. Competition for a place on the highway was fierce, as that promised income from the many travelers who would pass through. The original plan was to have the highway start in Chicago, then immediately swing east into Indiana, Fisher’s home state. But the Illinois delegates to the planning meeting lobbied the other states for a greater role for “the Land of Lincoln.” As a result, the route selected ran from Chicago south for about 136 miles before turning east to Indiana. Eventually, throughout the country, over 5,000 miles of roadway became part of the Dixie Highway.
The Dixie Highway was marked with distinctive red and white “DH” signs. They were painted on poles and fence posts. In the late 1920s, numbers began to replace names in the growing highway system. As the federal interstate highway system began to be developed in earnest in the 1950s many of the old local routes throughout the country fell into disuse or were reconfigured. With the completion of Interstate 57 in Illinois, the Dixie Highway lost its stature. However, it still remains a backbone for many of the communities it passes through. Today, in Illinois, much of the old Dixie Highway is now Illinois Route 1.
In Illinois, every year on the third Saturday in June, hundreds of vintage and modern automobiles take part in “Driving the Dixie,” a road trip that begins in Blue Island and ends in Momence. Along the way, drivers stop to tour historic points of interest, grab a snack, and have their “passports” stamped, to be eligible for prizes at the grand finish. For more information on this event, which is open to the public, visit the website, www.drivingthedixie.com.
Available from RHS is the Arcadia Publishing book, The Dixie Highway in Illinois, authored by James R. Wright of the Homewood Historical Society. Part of the Arcadia “Images of America” series, the book tells the story of the Dixie Highway in Illinois mainly through historic photos and captions. RHS supplied photos of Western Ave. through Beverly/Morgan Park.
To purchase a copy, contact the RHS office at 773/881-1675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.