The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway was a planned transcontinental highway in the United States in the 1910s and 1920s that began in Washington, D.C. and extended west to San Diego, California; it was named for Jefferson Davis, who, in addition to being the first and only President of the Confederate States of America was also a U.S. Congressman and Secretary of War. Because of unintended conflict between the National Auto Trail movement and the federal government, it is unclear whether the Jefferson Davis highway ever really existed in the complete form that its founders originally intended.[1]


Old marker for Jefferson Davis Highway in Gretna, Louisiana.

Background[edit | edit source]

In the first quarter of the 20th century, as the automobile gained in popularity, a system of roads began to develop informally through the actions of private interests, these were known as auto trails. They existed without the support or coordination of the federal government, although in some states, the state governments participated in their planning and development. The first of these National Auto Trails was the Lincoln Highway, which was first announced as a project in 1912.

With the need for new roads being so significant, dozens of new auto trails were begun in the decade following. One such roadway was the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, which was sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC planned the formation of the Jefferson Davis as a road that would start in Washington, D.C. and travel through the southern states until its terminus at San Diego. More than ten years after the construction of the Jefferson Davis was begun, it was announced that it would be extended north out of San Diego and go the Canadian border.

End of the auto trails[edit | edit source]

In the mid-1920s, the disparate system of national auto trails had grown cumbersome, and the federal government imposed a numbering system on the nations's highways. Using a system of even numbers for east–west routes and odd numbers for north–south routes, the numbers were imposed on the auto trails. And rather than designate one number for each auto trail, different sections of each trail were given different numerical designations. However the UDC petitioned the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads to designate the Jefferson Davis as a national highway with a single number. The Bureau's reply casts doubt on whether or not the JDMH ever really existed as a transcontinental highway:

A careful search has been made in our extensive map file in the Bureau of Public Roads and three maps showing the Jefferson Davis highways have been located, but the routes on these maps are themselves different and neither route is approximately that described by you, so that I am somewhat at a loss as to just what route your constituents are interested in. For instance, there is the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway which extends from Miami, Florida to Los Angeles (but not to San Francisco); and there is another Jefferson Davis Highway shown on the Rand-McNally maps which extends from Fairview, Kentucky the site of the Jefferson Davis monument, by a very circuitous route to New Orleans, but I find no route whatever bearing the name Jefferson Davis extending from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. (emphasis added)[2]

This problem may well have been the fault of the UDC themselves. In addition to the planned transcontinental route, they also designated an auxiliary route running from Kentucky to Mississippi, as well as another that ran through Georgia. These ancillary routes were intended to commemorate important venues in Davis' life, but they also contributed to the confusion of the federal government in trying to locate exactly where the Jefferson Davis highway traveled. What is known is that when numbered highways came into existence, the Jefferson Davis National Highway was split among U.S. 1, U.S. 15, U.S. 29, U.S. 61, U.S. 80, U.S. 90, U.S. 99, U.S. 190 and others. But today many of these numbered routes themselves are no longer extant, having been supplanted by the Interstate Highway System.

Remaining portions of the Jeff Davis[edit | edit source]

Although it may not be possible to view the entire length of the JDMH on a map today, many parts of it still exist, scattered across the country. Here is an incomplete listing of some of the places today where one can see pieces of the Jefferson Davis highway.

Virginia[edit | edit source]

File:Jefferson Davis Highway Marker, Crawfordville, GA .jpg

Marker along U.S. Highway 278 in Crawfordville, GA.

Georgia[edit | edit source]

Highway markers can still be seen in certain spots along the old main transcontinental route through the state of Georgia.

An auxiliary route through Georgia went south of the main route through Irwin County and Irwinville, where Davis was ultimately captured at the end of the Civil War. This route followed Georgia State Route 32 to the west of Irwinville, into neighboring Turner County, where today S.R. 32 retains the official name of "Jefferson Davis Highway".

Alabama[edit | edit source]

Louisiana[edit | edit source]

Washington[edit | edit source]

  • Highway 99 all through the State of Washington was Jefferson Davis Highway. The section near the western terminus is now Interstate 5. There is a peace arch near the Canadian border, and next to it, was a marker erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy noting that this was a portion of the Jefferson Davis National Highway. The name Jefferson Davis Highway was removed as well as the remaining marker at the northern terminus at Blaine, by action of the Washington State legislature, thereby removing any linkage of Highway 99 to Jefferson Davis. The marker formerly at the Peace Arch Park in Blaine and the marker formerly in Vancouver at the state-line of Washington and Oregon, are now both installed with an interpretive plaque in the Jefferson Davis Park alongside Interstate-5, just south of Ridgefield, Washington.

Controversy[edit | edit source]

In 1998 a marker of the "Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway" in Vancouver, Washington was removed by city officials.[8] It was subsequently moved twice, and eventually was placed alongside Interstate 5 on private land purchased for the purpose of giving the marker a permanent home.[9][10]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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