Local Experiences

The Old Spanish Trail

2/6/2018 | Chris Dearman

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Stretching from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida, the Old Spanish Trail once spanned the United States with almost 2,750 miles of roadway, crossing eight states along the southern border from ocean to ocean. Sticking close to the coastline along its 96 mile trip across Mississippi, much of the original Old Span- ish Trail has been lost or altered, but one can still take a scenic drive on its successor US 90 to get a sense of what once was.

The Old Spanish Trail was conceived in 1915 at a meeting of "good road” enthusiasts held at the Battle House Hotel in Mobile, Alabama. With the growing age of automobiles, the Coast was in desperate need of roads. Vehicle travel at the time was primarily accomplished by railroad connections and water routes, as coastal roads were poorly built and sporadic. These enthusiasts formulated a plan to build a highway from New Orleans to Mobile, connecting all the Mississippi Coast towns between the two.

Calling themselves the "Old Spanish Trail Highway Association,” their vision grew to a transcontinental highway spanning the United States and becoming the shortest route between the Pa-cific and Atlantic oceans. The project took nearly fifteen years toconstruct, and was billed as the most expensive and most highly engineered highway due to much of it was forged over formerly impassable swamplands in the Southeast.

The association’s "Spanish Trail” name was more of a promotional tool than reality. While the Spanish did fly their flag overthe Coast for a short time in the 1700s, there was no trail along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Spanish conquer- ors sailed. That didn’t stop the good road enthusiasts from using the clever name for promotional purposes.

"The Old Spanish Trail officially opened in 1929 withcross-country celebration motorcades,” said local histo- rian Dan Ellis. "Many of the travelers were enticed by the chance to view the Gulf Coast scenery.”

Thankfully, much of the trail still does exist in some form. There is a current effort by the www.oldspanishtrailcentennial.com to "revitalize and preserve the road- way, businesses, and historic sites of the original” Old Spanish Trail, and has plans for a Centennial Celebration to begin in 2019. The decade long celebration will endwith a 2029 motorcade grand finale from St. Augustineto San Diego. Locally, there is a group of enthusiasts thatare placing flags and historic markers to commemoratethe trail along the Coast. For more information please visit: www.oldspanishtrailgulfcoast.com 

Chris Dearman