Celebrating the Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway
By Charlotte Kahl, Chair, OST100
In 1912 the one millionth Ford automobile rolled out of their assembly plant. Owners could drive on paved streets to the office, church, shopping or to friend’s homes in their own town and perhaps out a dirt wagon road to visit a nearby farm. Travelers took railroads to the nearest big city or farther. Manufactured goods and agricultural products were shipped by railroad. Smaller producers, without a whole train-car load could only sell locally. As trucks continued to become bogged down in the mud, Good Roads Clubs were formed all across the United States to encourage better roads. Businessmen themselves began paying to pave roads between cities and lobby their county and state representatives to begin planning and funding highways. More ambitious businessmen formed transcontinental highway groups.
The Old Spanish Trail Association (OSTA) was one of these groups at first planning an interstate highway from St. Augustine to New Orleans. Annual planning meetings were held in Mobile in 1915, Pensacola 1916 and Tallahassee 1917. There was a pause for the Great World War during 1918. By the end of the war, western states wanted to become involved siting the numbers of Spanish conquistadores and padres who had traveled across their lands. The 1919 conventions were held in Texas and San Antonio was chosen as the center point Headquarters Section as paving of the roads between various cities began.
Paving went well in the west over the trails of the 20-mule teams of miners and the well-established stage routes. Connections in the east were delayed by expensive bridges needed to replace the time-consuming ferry schedules. By 1929 the Old Spanish Trail all-weather highway was declared finished and grand motorcades were held from San Diego to St. Augustine in April and St. Augustine to San Diego in October.
In 2004 elected officials in the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas proposed a decade-long national centennial celebration of the highway planning and construction. An Old Spanish Trail Centennial Celebration Association (OST100) was formed to locate, revitalize and preserve the scenic OST by-way. Now into the centennial years, the first 2015 and 2016 reenactments of the planning conventions in Mobile and Pensacola were successful.
The Tallahassee reenactment promises to be even better as OST100 partners with the Dixie Highway and Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network to hold the conference on the site of the 1917 OST convention. There will be a Conexion Media Group Welcome Reception; historic walk, bike ride and motorcade; highway lectures; and exhibits of the successful OST projects of cities, counties, parishes and organizations May 18 -20, 2017. This reenactment is free and open to the public. Registration forms are available on www.oldspanishtrailcentennial.com.
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