When I was about 12 years old my brother-in-law gave me a Rand McNally Road Atlas. I had already been collecting maps for some time, so having an atlas with a map of every state in the US was a dream come true. I pored over every state, plotting out extended road trips.
One road that especially caught my attention was US 1. First, there was its primacy in the numerical highway system. It must be important if it’s number 1. Then, there was the route. It runs all the way from Key West, Florida, to the northernmost point in Fort Kent, Maine. And finally, there were all of the interesting cities that it connected – places I’d never been, such as Washington, D. C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. It seemed like the perfect highway to me.
Recently I’ve had the occasion to drive different segments of US 1 – in Columbia last week, in Florida two weeks ago, and in Maine over this past summer. The recent jaunts on this highway rekindled my interest, so I started exploring the route in Google Earth, and trying to find out what I could about its history.
The route for US 1 was first laid out in 1926, and incorporated many existing highways. Some of these were historic thoroughfares, and many of these segment retain the original names – the Boston Post Road, Dixie Highway, the Federal Highway, and the King’s Highway. The original route only went as far south as Miami, but was extended in 1937 to include the Florida Keys. The total route now covers 2377 miles.
In my virtual tour of the route, I noticed one bit of irony. Through much of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and even into Virginia the highway bears the name Jefferson Davis Highway when it enters rural areas. However, in many of the cities through which it passes it bears the name Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
US 1 has largely been replaced by the Interstate Highway System as the main north-south thoroughfare. Much of it’s route parallels I-95. While it does tend to follow the coast through Florida and in the New England states, it’s not a coastal highway. This confuses some of my western friends (including my wife, who is from L. A.) who are familiar with the Pacific Coast Highway. Through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina the highway follows the Fall Line and runs much more inland.
One fantasy road trip would be to follow US 1 through it’s entire route. I’m sure there are parts that would be mind-numbingly dull, but I think you would get a better local flavor than if you just stuck to the interstates. There would, of course, but multiple logistical problems.
- What vehicle? – Do you pick something fuel efficient, or something roomy for travel?
- What direction and when? – One could start at the southern end and follow springtime northward, or start at the northern and and follow the autumn colors south. Snowy road conditions up north and stifling heat down south would probably rule out a purely winter or summer trek.
- How do you get there? – If money were no option, it would be cool to fly to one end, buy (or rent) a car, drive it to the other end and sell (or return) it, then fly home. Since that’s probably NOT an option, you would effectively have to drive that distance twice, although, the beginning and end bits could be on faster interstates.
- What route do you actually take? – In the 83 years since the original route was laid out there have been quite a few changes – bypasses added, lanes added, and alternate routes created. Do you try to be a stickler for history and stay as close to the original route as possible, or do you just take the quickest route?
- How long would it take? – One could probably make the trip in less than a week going one way, maybe allowing for a couple of days on either end for going and the return. However, to learn about the road, photograph it, and experience it would take longer. I would allow a minimum of two weeks for the one-way trip, with three days on either side for getting there and getting home. That brings it to a three-week trip, more if you want to stop and see ALL the sights along the way.
So, nearly three weeks on the road. Maybe it’s not as feasible as I had thought. As interesting as the trip might be, I can think of lots of things I’d rather do in three weeks than follow one road just because it’s there. Unless I win the lottery and can shorten the trip, I think I’m going to have to stick with my virtual tours.
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