Jefferson Highway

November 7, 2018

Written by Emily Baumann | Photos by Emily Baumann and submitted by Max Guenther, Artcrafts Engraving


DEFINITION: A strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.

Long before the interstate system that we know today crisscrossed the United States, getting from point A to point B posed a challenge for early adopters of the automobile. Starting in the 1910s organizations, communities, and even private individuals began developing the first paved highways to connect metropolitan areas which would collectively become known as the National Auto Trail system. With the introduction of numbered state and national highways in the 1920s, the National Auto Trail system would be short lived…but long remembered as an important part of early American automobile travel.

During the heyday of the auto trails St. Joseph was the national headquarters for two of the beloved routes, the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway (New York to San Francisco) and the Jefferson Highway (New Orleans to Winnipeg). The headquarters, located in the heart of downtown at Fifth and Jules Streets, was where the two cross-country highways met.

The Jefferson Highway, named for President Thomas Jefferson, was an important thoroughfare for travelers heading north or south throughout the central United States and Canada. It was marketed as the “Palm to Pine Highway” referring to the differing trees one would find at either end of the route. Highways like the Jefferson Highway were groundbreaking, because travelers by car could chart their own courses across the country, enjoying a freedom that modern travelers now take for granted. From St. Joseph a traveler could choose to continue north or south on the Jefferson Highway or head toward either coast via Pikes Peak Highway.

The Jefferson Highway was recognizable by the “JH” logo which was painted onto poles and signs along the route. This logo can be seen in the photo provided by Artcrafts below on the right most telephone pole at the Eighth and Sylvanie. It was also heavily advertised in many flyers for events across the nation like those presented below submitted by their creators, local advertising and engraving company Artcrafts.

Want to explore this historical highway today? We recommend a trip through St. Joseph exploring the route that the Jefferson Highway took through town. Starting in the Southside on route 371 explore the country scenery before entering the city limits. Continue north on 22nd Street and turn west on Garfield, passing under the Parkway bridge. Follow Garfield until Eighth Street then head north into downtown. On the drive through downtown you will pass near (or directly by) the Pony Express National Museum, Patee Park, historic Moss House (also known as Barbosas Castillo), Twin Spires and many other interesting sights and small businesses in this historic area.

The Jefferson Highway turns east at the Pony Express Statue and past City Hall (stop at Tenth and Francis and check out the newly erected Jefferson Highway sign). The drive continues on Frederick Avenue and where you can explore many locally owned businesses and restaurants. Turn north on 18th street which leads to the lovely drive along Lovers Lane (made famous by Eugene Field’s poem) eventually transitioning into Highway 169. If you want to drive a bit farther than St. Joseph, head toward Albany where there is a small roadside park at 40°15’19.5″N 94°17’38.2″W. Here you can spot a decommissioned bridge bearing the markings of the official highway logo. This is the perfect spot for Jefferson Highway explorers to stop and have a picnic.

For a map of the highway visit this link: Jefferson Highway Association Maps

The Jefferson Highway is enjoying a resurgence in attention and preservation because of the work of organizations like the Jefferson Highway Association. In the spring of 2018 members of the Jefferson Highway Association from across the country visited St. Joseph for their national conference. Locally the Cameron Historical Society and Depot Museum houses an exhibit and conducts research on the Jefferson Highway.

No matter where your daily commutes or road trips may take you…you could be traveling on a piece of American highway history!


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