Friday, February 25, 2011

Lee Highway was Transcontinental Route

Column sent to Frederick Leader and Frederick Press
May 19, 2009
Frederick publication from 1920s celebrated position on Lee National Highway.
Lee Highway Passed Through Frederick in the ‘20s
Before there was a Route 66 or I-40, there was the Lee National Highway. It was established in the early 1920s as one of only a few cross-continental highways, and it passed directly through Frederick and Tillman County.
Prior to the 1920s, almost all long-range transportation and hauling of freight was by train. As motor vehicles became common, though, there was a growing desire to travel by car and to haul merchandise by truck. At that time there was no organized, systematic highway system to travel from state to state. All roads were dirt or gravel and there were no standards for building or maintaining them.
The Lee National Highway was organized in the early 1920s as a primary cross-country route that extended from Washington, D.C., through the South, South Central states (including Oklahoma), and the American Southwest, finally arriving at the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, California, before moving up the California coast to end in San Francisco.
The Highway was named as a memorial for General Robert E. Lee.
The other most important cross-country route from New York City to San Francisco was the Lincoln National Highway which crossed through northern states. It had been established just a few years previous to the Lee Highway.
Official maps of the Lee Highway show two versions as it crossed through Tillman County.
The direct highway route passed through Walters then into Frederick from the east along the route of the current Highway 5. The Lee Highway turned southward at Frederick, passing through Davidson before moving into Texas over a brand new Red River Bridge, then on to Vernon. A map of the national highway was printed in a Frederick publication in November 1924 with the headlines “Frederick, Oklahoma, ‘On the Main Street of the Nation’, “Lee Highway Bridge at Davidson is only Free Bridge Across Red River.”
Lee Highway and wooden Red River Bridge, 1920s.
An auxiliary version of the national highway contained a loop that curved northward from the Walters area, through Lawton, then southwest to join the direct highway route through Frederick.
Why was there a sudden need for national cross-country highways in the 1920s?
A few visionary men of the time realized that automobiles would grow in importance and would replace trains as the principle means of long-distance transportation and freight hauling. At that time, the federal government was not involved in road building at all, and some states did not even have highway departments.
During World War I, established roads in Europe helped with transport of military vehicles, and after the war, many American leaders began to realize the importance of being able to quickly move military vehicles and produce across the country on roadways in times of emergency.
The Lee National Highway was established in the early 1920s as one of the main cross-country thoroughfares.
Its start was in Washington, D.C. at the Potomac River, directly in front of the Robert E. Lee family mansion that is located on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. In 1926, work began on the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac to officially mark the beginning of America’s Highway.
During coming decades, other national cross-country highways would be established, such as Route 66 from Chicago to California, and development of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
During the 1920s, though, one the primary routes across America passed directly though Frederick and Tillman County.
Card Commemorated Lee National Highway.
Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society’s board of directors. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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