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The Jefferson Highway


6/2/2016 The Jefferson Highway; from Pine to Palm

The Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau welcomed filmmakers Josiah Laubenstein and Darrell Johnston of Highway Walkers Media to Natchitoches on May 31. They were in town documenting their journey along the 2260 mile Jefferson Highway from Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans for its centennial year. Natchitoches is one of the towns listed on the old map from 1916.

The Jefferson Highway was an automobile highway stretching from the north-south through the central United States and was known as the “Pine to Palm Highway” for the trees found at either end. It was built as part of the 1910’s National Auto Trail system and was named for President Thomas Jefferson and inspired by the east-west Lincoln Highway.

The Natchitoches Parish Tourist Commission is a Founding Member of the 2011 re-established Jefferson Highway Association. Executive Director Arlene Gould began with a visit to the Cammie G. Henry Research Center at NSU Watson Library to meet with Mary Lynn Wernet and Nolan Eller who was very helpful in locating several articles and files of interest about the Jefferson Highway project. The Robert DeBlieux and Melrose Collections offered a fascinating selection of newspaper clippings on the subject. One newspaper article stating a meeting held in Natchitoches about the Jefferson Highway Project was “Most Enthusiastic Meeting in the History of Natchitoches”. Another Shreveport Times Special Section from May 26, 1917 called it the “Great North and South Highway, The Tie That Binds”.

Other states included in the route were Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. Cities in Louisiana included Shreveport, Mansfield, Natchitoches, Montgomery, Colfax, Alexandria, Lecompte, Port Allen, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. At the end of the route in New Orleans stands a monument located at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Common Streets. Arlene Gould said she was very familiar with the Jefferson Highway and the monument from her hometown of New Orleans and that corner has been her family and friends “ Mardi Gras Corner Club” spot for over 20 years.

Josiah and Darrell were traveling in a 1954 Dodge Royale that once belonged to Darrell’s great grandmother and during the trip the mileage on the vehicle had just rolled over to 100,000 miles. The journey began on May 6 and they planned to reach New Orleans by Friday, June 3. They were very impressed with the beauty of Natchitoches and appreciated the efforts made over the years to keep the Historic District preserved. They toured the campus of NSU and learned that due to over 20 buildings on campus that have been named National Historic Landmarks, the college campus has its own National Historic Landmark District in addition to downtown having its own National Historic Landmark District.

Mayor Lee Posey offered a proclamation to the visitors declaring June 1, 2016 as “Drive Jefferson Highway Day” as they made their way along the route. In Natchitoches Parish from Hwy 6 in Robeline into Natchitoches and onto Jefferson Street and out Washington Street across the Red River and on to Hwy 71 the pair cruised on to the next stop: Alexandria and then to Baton Rouge to meet Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser and on Friday, a meeting with City of New Orleans officials.

Other stops while in Natchitoches included a meat pie breakfast at Lasyone’s and meeting Angela Lasyone, a visit to Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile and learning of the “car giveaways back in the 1920’s at the store from Luke Frederick, the Cane River National Heritage Area and Oakland Plantation and a final stop at Grayson’s BBQ that is on the original Jefferson Hwy (Hwy 71) Owners George and Merry Jo Grayson told the duo stories of traveling the Jefferson Hwy to Winnipeg not once but twice in a station wagon pulling a crank style camping trailer with 6 children in tow. Greg Grayson said he was “too young” to remember but he has seen the photo’s of those family adventures. “We really need more time in Natchitoches” stated Laubenstein, it is so pretty and the people are so nice here. Of course when we get to New Orleans, we’ll turn around and have to drive back so you all may see us again real soon.”