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Meridian Highway

A truly international highway, the Meridian Road sliced through North America’ s breadbasket, tracing the 97th meridian from Winnipeg, Canada to Laredo, Texas and eventually taking the knife’s tip to Mexico City.

The highway organized in 1911 in Salina, Kansas, as the International Meridian Road Association, with the modest goal of building a road which “a full wagon-box load or a car at high gear can pass, except in wet weather.”

Differing from other north-south trail associations, the Meridian promoters anticipated not only a winter retreat to the sunny south, but also a reverse trend, with southerners moving northward in the summer to seek out lakes and the cooler climate.

By 1920, the Meridian started to move south of the border. Future Mexican President Ortiz Rubio, in his role as Secretary of Communications, worked to extend the highway as part of the International Pacific Highway — future Pan American Highway — from Canada to Argentina. In 1928, the pre-NAFTA era highway became a reality, connecting Canada to Mexico City.

As the only primary north-south highway girding America’s heartland, the Meridian intersected with dozens of named trails, including the Old Spanish Trail at San Antonio; the Bankead Highway at Fort Worth; the Ozark Trails at Oklahoma City; the National Old Trails at Wichita; the Santa Fe Trail at Newton, Kansas; the Victory Highway at Salina, Kansas; the Lincoln Highway at Columbus, Nebraska; and the Yellowstone Trail, at Millbank, South Dakota.

In 1926 most of the 2,400-mile-long Meridian Road was converted into U.S. 81, an improved two-lane highway connecting Laredo to Joliette, North Dakota.

Relics of the Meridian Road still exist, including the National Register-listed Bunton Branch Bridge, Hays County Texas, a historic 4.5-mile section of road and historical marker, Pierce County, Nebraska, the breathtaking Meridian Bridge, Yankton, South Dakota, and parts of the old highway near Fargo, North Dakota..