Monday, May 2, 2016

Follow the old, worn, brick road...

Go on. Sing it to the tune of follow the yellow-brick road. You know you want to.

Now that you’ve got the earworm going, you might be wondering what old, worn, brick road it is that you’re singing about. To answer that question, you’ve got to go back in time just a little over a century to around 1914, when residents of what is now Flagler County (at the time it was part of St. Johns County) voted for the creation of a quality highway to connect local communities. As cars had started to become an ever more popular mode of transportation, residents – and tourists – desired better quality roads upon which to travel; sandy and swampy tracks passable by horse simply weren’t going to cut it for the average Model-T.

The county took part in the Dixie Highway Association, a conglomeration of city, state, and private interests (and it was predominantly private) which oversaw the construction of a network of roads ranging from Miami to Montreal. Unlike the highway and interstate systems of today, in which one highway passes hundreds if not thousands of miles in one unbroken stretch, the Dixie Highway was truly more of a ‘network’ of roads, not all of which connected to each other, which were managed by the Association. (From what I have read, it would seem that the goal of the Association was to connect areas with modern roads where none at the time existed. As such, when the Dixie Highway reached a town or area with existing roadway infrastructure, the highway would connect to the existing infrastructure, but the Association would not manage or be involved with that infrastructure in any way. The Dixie Highway would then resume further along once locally maintained roads petered out, if that makes sense.)

Postcard featuring the Dixie Highway in Florida, mid 1920s (source)

Postcard featuring the Dixie Highway in Florida, mid 1920s (source)

Beginning with the Federal Road Act of 1916, the US Government began to become involved in the construction of long-distance highways. Funding and support for predominantly private highway associations such as the Dixie Highway Association began to dissipate as the federal government’s role in highway development and maintenance grew. In Florida, federal highway US 1, which runs from Key West northward through Jacksonville and on into Georgia (and which continues all the way to Maine), was constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Much of US 1 paralleled segments of the Dixie Highway (albeit with some areas being farther from the old route than others), and with the Dixie Highway no longer needed or funded, it fell into disuse and disrepair, and nearly disappeared altogether. I periodically see signs here and there for turnoffs to the Old Dixie Highway when traveling along US 1 in both Florida and Georgia, but no longer is there a ‘Dixie Highway’ linking the towns of the southeast.

Much of the original network of the Dixie Highway had been paved in brick; however, few stretches of the original brick roadways of the Dixie Highway remain. When US 1 was constructed in Florida, it was built out of asphalt. In areas where US 1 followed the same path as the existing brick highway, the bricks were torn out to make way for the pavement. In other areas the bricks of the road were reclaimed for local use, and in others the roads were abandoned or unmaintained, the bricks left to sink into the sand and swamp of Florida. However, small stretches of the Old Dixie Highway in its brick-paved glory remain. A couple of weeks ago, JOM of Gravel Cyclist took me to a particularly fantastic stretch of the Old Dixie Highway, running north from the small town of Espanola approximately 11 miles before ending at its intersection with CR 204 in southern St. Johns County. As always at this point, pictures speak louder than words. Additionally, if you’d like to see a video of the Old Dixie Highway from a cyclist’s perspective, check out this excellent video put together by JOM of Gravel Cyclist.
In some stretches, the bricks were barely visible under the dirt, gravel, and limerock.

In other areas, the brickwork was clearly visible
There was little more than planted pine-forest along this route, all in varying degrees of the plant-grow-harvest cycle. Here the pines to the right had recently been logged.





In this stretch of the Old Dixie Highway, we spotted bricks from two different companies, the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company of Robbins, TN and the Graves Brick Company of Birmingham, AL.

Southern Clay Manufacturing Company Bricks

Graves Bricks

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