Brought To You By NSU; Written by Leah Jackson
A new sign marks the spot that was once the site of a Jefferson Highway Tourist Camp that opened in Natchitoches in 1922. The location, where Northwestern State University’s Eugene P. Watson Library is today, was once a popular spot for motorists traveling the intracontinental Jefferson Highway that stretched “From Pine to Palm,” Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans.
The marker was unveiled April 18 to acknowledge a stop frequented by travelers who were welcome to stay at the tourist camp up to seven days at no charge, in addition to receiving free fuel. Just as today, visitors were encouraged to explore the area and enjoy Cane River and other attractions before heading on to their next stop. NSU HMT students participated in the unveiling as a precursor to National Travel and Tourism Week, which kicks off May 1.
Claire Guin of Shreveport, a graduating senior in NSU’s Hospitality Management and Tourism program, spearheaded the marker installation initiative as her capstone project while interning at the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau. Guin worked with the CVB, Northwestern State and the Jefferson Highway Association, a group that seeks to bring awareness to the route, which preceded numbered state and federal roadways. The Jefferson Highway Association identifies, preserves, interprets and improves access to the Jefferson Highway and its associated sites in an effort to promote tourism.
Guin said the spirit of hospitality continues in Natchitoches and she was pleased to play a role in bringing awareness to a unique piece of Natchitoches and American history.
The Jefferson Highway was created between 1915 and 1925 as motor vehicles were rolling off assembly lines and there were few hard roads in the United States. Portions of the route are still named Jefferson Highway, such as Old Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge and Jefferson Street in Natchitoches. Camp sites along the highway were marked with blue and white JH logos painted on telephone poles.
In addition to motorists, the Natchitoches Tourist Camp was also a popular spot that featured music shows, evangelists and caravans of gypsies. In Louisiana, the Jefferson Highway passed through 17 parishes and many communities that were left isolated after the state highway and interstate system was developed.
More information on the history of the Jefferson Highway and how the communities along the route celebrate its history is available at https://www.jeffersonhighway.org/.