Historic Auto Trails


Monuments mark northern and southern terminus

Obelesk A granite obelisk at St. Charles and Common streets in New Orleans’ Central Business District marks the southern terminus of the Jefferson Highway. The monument was erected in 1917 by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

A monument that marks the northern terminus of the Pine to Palm Highway was erected Nov. 12, 1974, by the Royal Trust Company commemorating its 75th anniversary and the city of Winnipeg centennial.

It was at the first meeting that E. T. Meredith was named president of the Jefferson Highway Association and the bylaws of the association were laid out. The next order of business was to decide on the highway’s path, which would prove to be an ever-changing and ever-heated battle for the duration of the Jefferson Highway’s existence.

Meredith’s first thought was to have the Jefferson Highway routed directly through the land acquired during the Louisiana Purchase. He later dismissed that notion as simply “sentimental,” not practical or efficient, since the route would have wandered as far west as Texas before returning north.

At the Jefferson Highway Association’s first national meeting, there was overwhelming disagreement about the future path of the highway. Without a doubt, the first north to south trans-continental highway would have brought much prosperity to any towns and states through which it passed. Because of this, many states, cities and organizations attended the meeting to plead their case for the route to come to their area.

After two days of debate over the route, the Jefferson Highway Association settled on the "cardinal point" plan proposed by the board of directors. With this plan, the board was able to decide on the cardinal points or major cities, through which the Jefferson Highway must pass. All other decisions about the exact path of the route were to be made at a later date. The cardinal points were established - Winnipeg, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Des Moines, St. Joseph, Kansas City, Joplin, Muskogee, Denison, Shreveport, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.

Ultimately, debates over the location of the Jefferson Highway would lead to "branch highways" and "scenic loops." These offshoots would spur from the main Jefferson Highway artery and extend to other nearby communities, businesses and states that pleaded for access to highway. On the downside, the branch highways made the Jefferson Highway more confusing for tourists and made matters more difficult for the Jefferson Highway Association. On the upside, however, the branch highways broadened the domain of the Jefferson Highway and appeased the road association supporters in the outlying branch areas.

Iowans were well represented at the Jefferson Highway Association’s organizational meeting. Delegates from the Interstate Trail Association were in attendance. They were there specifically for the purpose of furnishing the backbone for the new Jefferson Highway route with the more than 500 miles that group had already organized and marked between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Kansas City, Missouri.

Early Iowa-based organizers of the Interstate Trail Association later became international presidents of the Jefferson Highway Association, including W. A. Hopkins of Lamoni and Hugh H. Shepard of Mason City.

Following its organizational meeting, the delegates where charged with going back to their respective states to undertake the tasks of helping insure that the highway was constructed, marked and advertised.

Thomas H. MacDonaldThe first meeting of the Iowa branch of Jefferson Highway Association was held at the Des Moines courthouse Jan. 5, 1915. It was attended by former Senator Young, T.R. Agg and Thomas H. MacDonald. It was reportedly a cold, stormy night and there were 115 people in attendance, including the Good Roads boosters.

One of the attendees, Hugh H. Shepard of Mason City, who later became the international vice president of the association, reported he was “quite discouraged over the apparent failure of the meeting.” Senator Young told him to cheer up, because “sometimes the very meritorious projects grow from small beginnings.” Young stated that he had been fighting for good roads for 20 years and that he hoped to live long enough to see the State of Iowa covered with a network of roads that could be traveled year round.

The Jefferson Highway On December 10, 1915, Harry Herndon Polk, director of Harry H. Polk & Company of Des Moines and vice president for the Jefferson Highway Association, filed a letter with the Iowa Highway Commission requesting application materials to register the new name of the Interstate Trail, to be known as the Jefferson Highway, extending from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Winnipeg, Canada.

In the letter of application, E.T. Meredith of Des Moines was named as the president of the Jefferson Highway Association and Walter Park of New Orleans secretary.

On Dec. 13, 1915, the Iowa Highway Commission responded to Mr. Polk. The letter referenced the previously established route as the Interstate Trail, and explained that the Jefferson Highway could be registered as the Interstate division of the Jefferson Highway.

On May 23, 1916, E.T. Meredith filed the official Registration of Highway Routes application with the required $5 fee.

(Note: This was the first occurrence of recorded use of the Jefferson Highway Association’s letterhead with the palms logo design amongst the official Iowa Highway Commission documents.)

In the application, the route was defined as about 2,000 miles in length, with its starting point of Winnipeg and terminal point New Orleans. The principal place of business listed for the Jefferson Highway Association was Des Moines, Iowa.

It was also noted on the application that the Jefferson Highway was also to be known as the “From Pine to Palm” and “The Vacation Route of America” route.

On September 26, 1916, the Iowa Highway Commission forwarded to E.T. Meredith the certificate of registration for the Iowa division of the Jefferson Highway.

Jefferson Highway route markers

Route Marker Iowa’s route registration application also defined the color combination and design for the route markers, which consisted of a six-inch band of blue above and below a 12-inch band of white, and the letters “J” and “H” in monogram (combined J and H) on the band of white.

The Jefferson Highway Association published the "System of Pole Marking for Guiding the Traveler," which was used by members of the organization to properly mark the route in accordance with the international rules. At one point during the route’s history, the Jefferson Highway Association claimed there were 2,000 metal signs and over 20,000 pole markers and monograms blazing the route.

Jefferson Highway Pole Marker In addition to metal signs and poles, monogrammed concrete markers were also constructed, like the one in the photo taken by Iowa Department of Transportation employee Hank Zaletel of a fence row route marker located one mile north of Colo on U.S. 65.

Route location in Iowa

The Jefferson Highway crossed these counties in Iowa: Decatur, Clark, Warren, Polk, Story, Hardin, Franklin, Cerro Gordo, and Worth.

The official index of cities along the route included: Northwood, Kensett and Manly in Worth County; Freeman, Mason City and Rockwell in Cerro Gordo County; Sheffield, Chapin and Hampton in Franklin County; Iowa Falls and Hubbard in Hardin County; Zearing, Colo, Nevada and Cambridge in Story County; Ankeny and Des Moines in Polk County; Somerset, Indianola, Cool, and Medora in Warren County; Liberty, Osceola, Weldon, and Van Wert in Clarke County; and Leon, Davis City and Lamoni in Decatur County.

A portion of a 1917 map published by the Kenyon Company map shows the route as it traversed Iowa.

Jefferson Highway route name and mark is contested

On December 6, 1916, W.A. Hopkins, vice president of the Jefferson Highway Association and president of the State Savings Bank of Lamoni, sent a letter to Thomas H.

MacDonald, chief highway engineer for the Iowa Highway Commission. In the letter Hopkins asked MacDonald to check on the status of the registration of the Jefferson Highway in Iowa in light of what had allegedly become a contest over road naming rights.

Hopkins said there was a road called the Blue J Route of the Jefferson Highway that went from Kansas City, by Chillicothe, Chariton, Iowa to Indianola to Des Moines. Col. Harry W. Graham of Chillicothe, Missouri, was identified as the president of that road association. Hopkins stated that the Blue J Route Association had attended the Jefferson Highway Association’s organizational meeting in New Orleans and had made an unsuccessful attempt to get the Jefferson Highway located on their route. Following the New Orleans meeting, the Blue J Route Association had allegedly been advertising themselves as part of the Jefferson Highway, despite their failed attempt.

The Blue J Route Association had also stated in their promotional materials that they were organized in New Orleans on November 16, 1915, registered Jan. 12, 1916, and tied to the Jefferson Highway Association under the leadership of President E. T. Meredith.

Their promotional materials carried the slogan, “Follow the blue “J” marker, Direct as the Blue Jay flies, the Short Way, Jefferson Highway.”

On December 20, 1916, in response to Hopkins letter, MacDonald reassured Hopkins that the Jefferson Highway was registered to the Jefferson Highway Association. In addition, the highway's mark and name were protected under the authority of the Iowa Act.

Marker of Jefferson Highway On December 29, 1916, H.W. Raymond, secretary of the Chariton Commercial Club, a group organized to promote the welfare of Chariton and Lucas County, filed a highway registration application for the “Jefferson Highway in Contest Association, Iowa Division.” In a subsequent letter, the Jefferson Highway in Contest route was described as running from Kansas City to Des Moines, and the route’s marker a blue “J” on a white background with a red band at the bottom.

The complete route description of the Jefferson Highway in Contest (Blue J Highway) and a route marker sample was included in the March 1, 1916, registration of trademark with the State of Missouri. An original copy of the application and sample mark is housed in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s library.

Blue J Jefferson Highway In a letter dated January 18, 1917, the Jefferson Highway Association filed a protest with the Iowa State Highway Commission against the registration of the Jefferson Highway in Contest as a decided infringement upon their rights, and as tending to confuse the traveling public. Obviously angered by the move, the letter also stated, “if it becomes necessary we could have a storm of protest against the registration of the Jefferson Highway in Contest from the south to the north boundary of the state, of if necessary, from New Orleans to Winnipeg as there are thousands of people who are taking a vital interest in the Jefferson Highway…”

A number of prominent individuals were among officers of the Jefferson Highway Association in 1917, including: E. T. Meredith of Des Moines, past president and life member of the board of directors; W. A. Hopkins of Lamoni, vice-president; F.J. Wright of Des Moines, treasurer; J. D. Clarkson of Des Moines, general manager; and the following state officials H. H. Polk of Des Moines, vice president; and directors James F. Harvey of Leon, H. H. Shepard of Mason City, and E. C. Harlan of Indianola.

On February 14, 1917, the Iowa Highway Commission issued a letter to Raymond with the Chariton Commercial Club informing him that the registration of the Jefferson Highway in Contest application was denied based on a decision that it would infringe on the right of the Jefferson Highway Association. The group was offered the opportunity to submit another application using a name that would not conflict with that of another association, proposing that the Blue J Trail would be a “very good name under which to register.”

Adding to the controversy over naming rights, in April 1917 the Blue J Highway Association erected a sign at its junction with the Jefferson Highway in Warren County that read “Jefferson Highway.” Angered, the Jefferson Highway Association quickly fired off another letter to the Iowa Highway Commission.

Following an investigation by the Iowa Highway Commission into the sign’s placement, Raymond wrote a letter to the commission dated April 7, 1917, stating that the sign was not erected by the Iowa-based club of the Blue J Highway Association.

It “was placed there by the Missouri men, while marking the route to Des Moines and boosting Excelsior Springs.” Raymond said that as soon as the weather permitted, they would send out a marking crew to remark the sign so that it conformed to the authorized marking of their association.


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