by Leah Jackson
A new sign will be installed in front of Northwestern State University’s Eugene P. Watson Memorial Library, where a tourist camp on the Jefferson Highway was established 101 years ago. The University partnered with the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Jefferson Highway Association, an organization that identifies, preserves, interprets and improves access to the Jefferson Highway and its associated sites, to install the marker.
The installation will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 18 in the circle in front of Watson Library. The public is invited to attend.
The Jefferson Highway was a north-south highway that stretched from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, before the numbered U.S. highway system was introduced in the 1920s. Portions of the route are still named Jefferson Highway, such as Old Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge and Jefferson Street in Natchitoches. The road was named for President Thomas Jefferson, inspired by the east-west Lincoln Highway, and was nicknamed the “Palm to Pine Highway” for the types of trees found at either end. Markers along the way still exist in towns along the route, including a marker on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans that marks the end of the route.
The Jefferson Highway was created as motor vehicles were rolling off assembly lines and there were few hard roads in the United States. According to newspaper clippings from the era, the opening of the Jefferson Highway was greeted with great local enthusiasm as the first intercontinental highway that was developed from 1915-1925. The Natchitoches Tourist Camp opened in July 1922 and was one of several along the Jefferson Highway route that provided campsites for up to seven nights with running water and free fuel. An open area at the camp often featured music shows, evangelists, gypsies and other performers.
Claire Guin of Shreveport, a graduating senior in NSU’s Hospitality Management and Tourism program at NSU, is concluding an internship at the Natchitoches CVB and has completed extensive research on the Jefferson Highway, the brainchild of E.T. Meredith, publisher of “Better Homes and Gardens Magazine,” as part of the good Roads Movement, targeted first to bicycling, then to automobiles. The idea was to promote traveling without using the train and exploring communities along the route. Filling stations in the towns provided places to service cars as they toured the countryside and the JH logos on highway poles was essential for travelers in the early days of the highway.
Today, communities along the route promote the Jefferson Highway, along with attractions, historic sites and accommodations located along the way. Students from NSU’s Hospitality Management and Tourism will participate in the sign installation as precursor to National Travel and Tourism Week that kicks off May 1.
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/.