Historic Auto Trails


Interstate Trail: Precursor to the Jefferson Highway

Lamoni, Iowa Before the Jefferson Highway Association’s dream of connecting the nation from north to south was realized, an Iowa road association, known as the Interstate Trail Association, organized a route that connected Des Moines and Kansas City. Four years after the Interstate Trail Association had begun work on their route, the Jefferson Highway Association flooded the Missouri Valley with publicity and support for the Jefferson Highway. Many of the founding members of the Interstate Trail later became integral figures in the development of the Jefferson Highway, while the path of Interstate Trail itself became part of the Jefferson Highway.

On March 14, 1911, the Des Moines-Kansas City-St. Joseph Interstate Trail Association was organized in Lamoni, Iowa, and the route officially located, and ordered marked by the association who received assistance from automobile clubs, commercial organizations, farmers, and other citizens in the cities, towns and countryside traversed by the trail.

The organizational meeting was called by W.A. Hopkins, banker and citizen of Lamoni. The bylaws of the Interstate Trail Association, which were subsequently established on March 11, 1913, indicated the highway route was a direct route between Fort Des Moines and Fort Leavenworth, making it a practical military road for the transportation of troops and “. . . a valuable aid in developing the resources of the counties traversed, a better means of social and business communication, and a lasting benefit to the communities through which it passes. . .”

Hugh H. Shepard On Jan. 5, 1915, a meeting of the association was held at Mason City, at which time the original Interstate Trail was extended north from Des Moines through Nevada, Iowa Falls, Mason City, and Northwood, Iowa, and Albert Lea, Owatonna, Faribault, and Northfield to St. Paul, Minn., and the name of the route was changed to the St. Paul-Des Moines-St. Joseph-Kansas City Interstate Trail.

Hugh H. Shepard of Mason City called and organized the January 1915 meeting, and was selected as general manager of the northern division of the Interstate Trail from Des Moines to St. Paul. He was responsible for organizing the marking of the 271-mile trail section during the summer of 1915.

Jefferson Highway Association is organized

The Jefferson Highway and formation of the Jefferson Highway Association was the brainchild of businessman and political activist Edwin Thomas (E.T.) Meredith of Des Moines. Largely inspired by the Lincoln Highway, Meredith and his colleagues sought to create a sister route to the Lincoln Highway with the Jefferson Highway. Meredith was an instrumental good roads promoter for both Iowa and the nation, and he was pivotal in the establishment of the Jefferson Highway as president of the Jefferson Highway Association and later as vice president of the Iowa Good Roads Association.

Edwin Thomas Meredith

Edwin Thomas Edwin Thomas Meredith was born at Avoca, Iowa, Dec. 23, 1876, the eldest of seven children of Thomas Oliver and Minerva J. (Marsh) Meredith. For several years, his father was a farm implement dealer at Avoca.

In 1892 “Ed” was sent to Des Moines to live with his grandfather while attending Highland Park College (later Drake University). His grandfather, a prosperous buyer and seller of land, was the chief financial sponsor of a weekly reform newspaper, the Farmers’ Tribune, considered to be a major organ of the People’s or Populist Party in Iowa. It was in the offices of this small paper that Edwin T. Meredith began his great publishing career.

In the spring of 1894, Meredith became the general manager of his grandfather's paper. In 1896, at age 18, he became the owner and editor of what had become an ailing Farmers' Tribune. That year he was also elected secretary of the State Central Committee of the People's Party.

Highland Park College Meredith gradually transformed the Farmers' Tribune into a statewide farm paper and increased the circulation to about 30,000.

In October 1902, Meredith began publication of a new monthly magazine designed expressly for the farmers of the agriculturally rich Midwest - Successful Farming. By 1908, over 100,000 farm families subscribed to the publication.

Meredith gave force to a publishing concept now called “service journalism.” Meredith was aware of publishing trends, but he never strayed from the success formula that he discovered and was later was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

With the rapid growth of Successful Farming came nationwide recognition for its publisher, progressive Democrat concerned about political reforms affecting the lives of farmers and rural society.

Successful Farming Meredith was immersed in the political structures of Iowa from the mid-1880s through the late 1920s. He made two unsuccessful political bids as a Democratic candidate in Iowa, in 1914 for U.S. Senate and 1916 for governor.

Despite his defeats, Meredith's service on behalf of agriculture and the Democratic Party did not go unnoticed during President Wilson's second term. The president appointed Meredith to the American Labor Mission, which visited England and France in 1918, and the Treasury Department's Advisory Committee on Excess Profits. Meredith received his greatest honor when, in the closing months of his administration, President Wilson named him Secretary of Agriculture (1920-21).

Following his term as Secretary, Meredith once again devoted his energies to publishing. He purchased another farm journal, the Dairy Farmer, which he incorporated into Successful Farming.

Edwin Thomas Meredith In October 1922 the first copies of yet another publication, Fruit, Garden and Home was published in Des Moines. Renamed Better Homes and Gardens in 1924, this magazine soon became, and remains, one of the nation's major publications in terms of circulation and advertising revenue.

Even with the increased demands on his time created by the new publications, Meredith never lost touch with the Iowa and national political and business scenes. Meredith served as the director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 1915-19 and once again 1923-28.

Meredith was hospitalized in 1928 at the Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore with complications resulting from high blood pressure. In April he entered a period of convalescence at his home in Des Moines, but after several weeks of improvement his condition suddenly worsened and he died June 17, 1928.

Since the Meredith Corporation was founded, it has grown to employ more than 3,300 people throughout the country, with its corporate headquarters still located in Des Moines, Iowa.

Jefferson Highway

U.S. Senator Lafayette Young The Jefferson Highway was envisioned by Meredith as the “great north and south highway,” and named in honor of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, for his role in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.

The first organizational meeting of the national Jefferson Highway Association was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, Nov. 15 and 16, 1915. This city was intentionally selected because of its link to the Louisiana Purchase and President Jefferson.

The meeting was called by Walter Parker, general manager of the New Orleans Association of Commerce, and presided over by former U.S. Senator Lafayette Young of Des Moines (editor and proprietor of The Des Moines Capital, a rival newspaper that later merged with the Des Moines Register). The convention was expected to attract 50 delegates, but six times that number attended.

Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition by the United States of approximately 530 million acres of French territory in 1803. The land purchased contained all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota south of Mississippi River, much of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, northern Texas, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, and Louisiana on both sides of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. In addition, the Purchase contained small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The land included in the purchase comprises approximately 23 percent of the territory of the United States.

Louisiana Purchase New Orleans was an important port for shipping agricultural goods to and from the parts of the United States. Through Pinckney's Treaty signed with Spain on Oct. 27, 1795, American merchants had "right of deposit" in New Orleans, meaning they could use the port to store goods for export. Americans also used this right to transport products such as flour, tobacco, pork, bacon, lard, feathers, cider, butter, and cheese.

In 1798 Spain revoked Pinckney’s treaty, which greatly upset Americans. Louisiana remained under Spanish control until a transfer of power to France.

As long as New Orleans was under French control, Americans feared that they could lose their rights of use to New Orleans. So President Thomas Jefferson decided that the best way to assure the U.S. had long-term access to the Mississippi River would be to purchase the city of New Orleans and nearby portions of Louisiana, located east of the river.

Jefferson sent negotiators to France to make the purchase of New Orleans on behalf of the United States. The negotiations with Napoleon did not go well. Originally, he expressed no interest in giving up France’s possession of city.

However, Napoleon soon realized that he lacked sufficient military forces in America to protect the land should the United States or Britain decide to take it by force. At the same time, Napoleon’s regime and his empire-building efforts were suffering on several international fronts.

Taking these matters into consideration, Napoleon gave notice to his minister of the treasury, Francois de Barbe-Marbois, on April 10, 1803, that he was considering surrendering the Louisiana Territory to the United States.

To the surprise of the United States, on April 11, 1803, Barbe-Marbois offered U.S. negotiator Robert R. Livingston all of the Louisiana Territory, rather than just the city of New Orleans it was seeking. Certain the United States would not accept such a large land offer, Livingston was prepared to spend $10 million for New Orleans, but was stunned when the entire region was offered for $15 million. The treaty finalizing the purchase was dated April 30, 1803, and signed May 2, 1803.

France officially turned New Orleans over to the United States Dec. 20, 1803. On March 10, 1804, a formal ceremony was conducted in St. Louis to transfer ownership of the territory from France to the United States.

During this early road-building period, highways or trails were generally organized and marked on a local or statewide basis. Rarely were they interstate or international, making the Jefferson Highway, with its terminal points in two countries and across many states, an anomaly.

At its first national meeting, the Jefferson Highway Association was formally organized and the Jefferson Highway’s terminal points fixed at Winnipeg, Canada, to the north, and New Orleans, Louisiana, to the south.


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