At their most basic level, names are nothing but labels that human
    beings assign to objects and abstractions.

    But on a deeper level, names are symbols with history and meaning.
    "Jefferson Highway," in fact, at one time was a national symbol.

    In the early part of the 20th century, with the automobile still in its
    booming infancy, titans of commerce and local governments across
    the country clamored to improve the muddy tracks they inherited
    from their horse-and-buggy ancestors. The train had been the only
    viable means of long-distance travel, but the potential of the car was
    palpable.

    Consider: Fewer than 500,000 vehicles were registered in the U.S. in
    1910. A decade later, it was 10 million, a 20-fold increase.

    Highway associations were formed to build interstate routes
    connecting hundreds of towns. More than 250 such groups signed
    up directors, subscribers and members at fees ranging from $5 to
    $1,000 to build "rock roads" such as Lincoln Highway, Dixie Highway
    and Pikes Peak Ocean to
    Ocean Highway. The name of one, Old Spanish Trail between St.
    Augustine, Fla., and San Diego, lives on today in the Slidell area and
    on the west bank of St. Charles Parish.

    Another was Jefferson Highway, conceived as the grandest north-
    south route through the middle of the United States, connecting New
    Orleans with Winnipeg, Manitoba.

    The name, for the third U.S. President and the architect of the
    Louisiana Purchase, and the terminal points were decided early on.
    But the exact route was a matter of great debate. Every little village
    in 10 states wanted to be part of it. Thus the New Orleans
    Association of Commerce hosted the first Jefferson Highway
    Association convention in November 1915. It expected 50 delegates.

    Six times as many came. They included 62 of Kansas' "oratorical big
    guns," who set up headquarters at the DeSoto Hotel in New Orleans
    after arriving at Union Station in what The Times-Picayune described
    as "two Pullman sleepers representing the highest art of railroad
    building and insuring comfort and the opportunity for a good time on
    the route."

    Travel pioneers such as these were about to put the Pullman
    company out of business. Amid cheers, songs of hometown pride,
    hissing and cat-calling, delegates hammered out a route for
    Jefferson Highway. "Never had New Orleans known the enthusiasm
    and pandemonium which reigned at the meeting," The Picayune said.

    Over the next 11 years, well before the federal government took over
    the job, the Jefferson Highway Association built or connected almost
    2,200 miles of road. It adopted a nickname for the route, "From Palm
    to Pine," and blazed it with signs: a vertical rectangle divided into
    three bars, blue at the top and bottom and the letters JH in the white
    middle.

    On Feb. 4, 1926, a cavalcade of 132 people in 32 cars, most of them
    from Winnipeg, completed a 13-day trip to celebrate completion of
    the highway. The visitors saluted a granite obelisk that the Daughter
    of the American Revolution had erected in 1917 to mark the
    southern terminus of the route. A picture of New Orleans acting
    Mayor Arthur O'Keefe greeting Winnipeg Mayor Ralph Webb was
    published the next day on the front page of this newspaper.

    Already, however, the end was nearing for this extraordinary period
    of enthusiasm that built and named roads across the United States.
    Within a year of the Winnipeg caravan's arrival in New Orleans, the
    federal government decided to start numbering highways all across
    the country. That deprived the named highways of much of their
    symbolism.

    The obelisk still stands, at the intersection of St. Charles and
    Common streets in the Central Business District of New Orleans. But
    Jefferson Highway hereabouts became part of U.S. 90 and Louisiana
    48, and it took on equally unromantic names elsewhere. The original
    name lives on in only a few spots along the 2,194-mile route, notably
    in parts of the Midwest, Baton Rouge and a
    faded stretch of highway hugging the Mississippi River in East
    Jefferson.

    (Drew Broach of the Times Picayune newspaper of New Orleans)
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