Constructed between 1915 and 1927, the Dixie Highway was part of the new road system built in response to the growing number of motorists in the early decades of the twentieth century. When completed, the highway extended from Ontario, Canada, south 5,706 miles to Miami, Florida. The Dixie Highway Association provided the driving force behind the development of the highway. Motor enthusiasts and/or entrepreneurs formed the Dixie Highway Association and similar groups to promote the construction of roads that would connect cities to each other.
The idea for the Dixie Highway came from Carl G. Fisher, an Indiana entrepreneur and land speculator. By 1914 Fisher and Michigan businessman W. S. Gilbreath had gained enough support for this north-south highway to bring the idea to the annual meeting of the American Road Congress in Atlanta.
Governors Rye of Tennessee and Ralston of Indiana called an organizational meeting of the Dixie Highway Association for April 3, 1915, in Chattanooga. Over five thousand people attended this first meeting, including governors from Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida.
The Chattanooga Automobile Club, newly formed in 1914, was an enthusiastic supporter of the project and remained closely allied with the Dixie Highway Association throughout its history. Five local members of the Chattanooga Automobile Club and eight other men pledged one thousand dollars each for the formation of the Dixie Highway Association.
The purpose of the Dixie Highway Association was to build a permanent highway from a point on the Lincoln Highway near Chicago through Chattanooga to Miami, with an eventual extension north to Ontario. Both the eastern and western divisions of the highway passed through Tennessee. The western route headed south from Springfield through Nashville, Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, Tullahoma, Winchester, Cowan, and Monteagle to Chattanooga. The eastern division went south from the Cumberland Gap through Knoxville, Rockwood, and Dayton to Chattanooga.
The Dixie Highway Association headquarters were located in the Patten Hotel in Chattanooga, roughly the halfway point of the highway, and the incorporators who were delegated to create a charter for the association all came from Chattanooga. These prominent businessmen emerged as the biggest proponents of the highway in Tennessee. Chattanooga judge Michael M. Allison was elected to serve as president of the Dixie Highway Association, after C. E. James, a Chattanooga builder, declined to serve. Allison remained an extremely active president throughout the life of the Dixie Highway Association until it disbanded in 1927. The Dixie Highway magazine was published in Chattanooga and prominently featured the city and region in articles and advertisements. Monteagle Mountain in Marion County was the last highway link to be completed, creating national concern because of its crucial location on the road.
Howard L. Preston, Dirt Roads to Dixie: Accessibility and Modernization in the South, 1885-1935 (1991); Leslie N. Sharp, “Down South to Dixie: The Development of the Dixie Highway from Nashville to Chattanooga, 1915-1940,” (M.A. thesis, MTSU, 1993)