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Dixie Overland Highway

“Dixie Overland Highway” — sounds like an opening act for Brooks and Dunn.

But what started in 1914 as a Sunday drive across Georgia soon evolved into a transcontinental highway linking the Atlantic to the Pacific, and setting the course for future U.S. 80.

The Dixie Overland Highway or DOH — or in German, Die Dixie Uberlandstrasse — was kicked off in July 1914 by a group of esteemed gentlemen making up the Savannah Automobile Club.

Their idea — like that for named highways of the day— was to build an “all-year-round and shortest automobile route” to the Pacific. They first settled on Los Angeless as the Pacific terminus, but moved south to San Diego once a certain Colonel got involved.

In the beginning the DOH was strictly a Southern affair. For the first four years, F.G. Lumpkin of Savannah made all the decisions. But in 1917, the highway began inching westward.

At a 1917 conference in Meridian, Mississippi, then-DOH president J.S. Blecker told a crowd of 300 delegates: “This is the most important project that the people of the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts have ever cooperated inÉ It will mean more to these states than crops for five years to come."

Soon the Dixie fever spread to California and infected Col. Ed Fletcher, San Diego’s Moses of good roads. By 1918, Fletcher had taken control of the highway organization, making a definite must-end-in-San-Diego deal.

Fletcher did his best promotion for the highway in 1926 when he broke an existing transcontinental speed record by 11 hours and 56 minutes. To make the run Fletcher looked no farther than his garage, selecting the old "family car," a Cadillac sedan with over 17,000 miles.

The car carrying Fletcher, his son, Milton Jackson, LaVerne Kingsbury, and mechanic G.E. Graves left San Diego on October 20, just a few hours before dawn. Wire reports of an approaching hurricane off the coast of Puerto Rico rushed them to early departure, and rain shadowed their trail all the way to the Atlantic.

Fletcher's "race against time" ended when the speed demon, escorted by a column of motor cops, roared into Savannah at 3:15 am on October 23. Always willing to outsize his role in history, Fletcher claimed his run brought federal attention to the DOH and led to its federal recognition as U.S. 80.

The DOH in short: 2,600 miles, eight states, 75 counties, and not a trace of it left today.

For more information, check out Richard F. Weingroff’s piece on the DOH and U.S. 80.