The scene is 1950, and the family is packed into the brand-new cherry Mercury for a two-week trip to the sunny Florida beaches.
But it’s not the beach the kids are excited about. It’s the stops along the way: balls of twine, alligator petting zoos, spooky caves and historic battlefields.
The journey, not the destination, in other words.
Composed of four separate slideshows, the exhibit seeks to capture the entire Dixie Highway experience from its inception in 1914 to the many roadside attractions found along the way.
Click hereto view the exhibit.
The Dixie Highway, 5,786 miles long, connected Chicago to Miami. Locally, U.S. 27 and U.S. 41 were routes associated with the highway.
Suzette Raney, archivist and librarian, has always been fascinated with tourism and spent months working on the digital exhibit.
The majority of the material features photos and postcards culled from two collections: the Ridley Wills Collection and the Chattanooga Automobile Club/Dixie Highway Association papers.
“The Dixie Highway is something people are interested in,” Raney said. “It’s a nostalgic trip. These things are what you might have seen going down the highway in the 1930s and ’40s, even into the ’60s.”
The first slideshow focuses on the formation of the Dixie Highway Association (1915 to 1927) and, locally, the efforts of the Chattanooga Automobile Club (1907 to 1967). Members of the CAC worked closely with the DHA to scout the best routes for what would become the Dixie Highway.
“There were a few paved roads around Chattanooga,” Raney said. “But most of the roads 5 miles outside of the city weren’t paved. And what’s the point of having automobiles if you can’t drive them easily?”
Click here to learn more about the library’s extensive postcard collection.
Raney said the postcards indicate a time when traveling was less about getting to a location and more about the journey.
“The trip is what was important, not the destination,” she said. “You ultimately want to go to Florida and get to the beach, but along the way, you didn’t think twice about stopping at the alligator farm, Lookout Mountain, historic battlefields along the way. I love the things you see on the road.”
Her goal with the project is not only to inform, but to help preserve the often-overlooked history of the Dixie Highway and its importance in both the infrastructure and cultural landscape of America.
“It’s our history, and it needs to be appreciated,” she said. “I’m not one to preserve every flower . but there needs to be some aspect of history that is kept. It’s a social background that we’re missing. Today, kids in cars are looking at phones and screens. Do they even remember the trip, remember what they’ve seen? I miss that.”
In the future, librarians are researching other projects to add to their digital library. Currently, they’re working on presentations about The Chattanooga Cotton Ball and Prohibition.