Why Do They Still Call It Dixie Highway?

Aug 24, 2017

Growing up in Middletown, I've known about the Robert E. Lee memorial in nearby Franklin for most of my life.

I've always found it curious that there would be a memorial to Lee, who led the Confederate Army into battle to destroy the United States of America, in the North.

And that the Robert E. Lee memorial also was there "to mark the route of the Dixie Highway."

What confused me was why so many different roads in our area are called "Dixie Highway". There’s Ohio 4 in Hamilton, Fairfield and Middletown. US 127/US 42/US 25 in Northern Kentucky. US 127 in Hamilton. US 42 in Hamilton County. And Cincinnati-Dayton Road (old US 25) between Middletown and Sharonville. 

Why? Because the Dixie Highway was the idea of Carl G. Fisher in 1914 to promote travel to Miami Beach, Fla. (Fisher also created the east-west coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway, and started the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. in 1909.) 

None of the media reports about the marker have explained the Dixie Highway part, so here goes: 

The Dixie Highway connected paved roads from Michigan and Chicago to Florida, before the U.S. had a numbered highway system. The Michigan-to-Miami route meandered through towns wanting to cash in on tourism from the relatively new phenomenon of American families traveling by automobile. 

It was built from 1915 to 1927, the year the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Friends erected the roadside memorial south of Franklin "in loving memory of Robert E. Lee and to  mark the route of the of the Dixie Highway" at the corner of the Dixie Highway (old US 25/Cincinnati-Dayton Road) and Hamilton-Middletown Road.

Two routes of the Dixie Highway from Franklin to Hamilton County.
Credit 1927 AUTOMOBILE ROUTE BOOK OF OHIO

The 1927 memorial date also is important because a few months earlier – on Nov. 11, 1926 – the federal government created our national numbered highway system.  

Cincinnati-Dayton Road became US 25. So in 1927, motorists could choose two different Dixie Highway routes through Butler County: coming straight down US 25/Cincinnati-Dayton Road past the "Dixie Motor Court" (across from the old Starglow Drivie-In) through Monroe to Sharonville, or taking the longer route through downtown Middletown and Hamilton via Ohio 4. 

Here's a turn-by-turn description for both Dixie Highway routes through Butler County.

After I-75 and most interstate highways were completed, the US 25 designation was eliminated in 1974 in Ohio and Michigan. Today US 25 starts at the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge in Covington, and goes to Brunswick, Ga.

Two more historical notes:

--My former Enquirer colleague Steven Rosen wrote a wonderful history of the Franklin Robert E. Lee/Dixie Highway memorial for CityBeat in a 2015 story called "Ohio's Strange Monument Honoring Robert E. Lee." 

Rosen found the Enquirer's 1927 story about the dedication. A male quartet sang "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny' (Lee's home state was Virginia), and an official from Virginia's Washington and Lee University spoke.

His CityBeat story also writes that few people knew "what the monument was about" in 1981, when a motorist knocked the Lee monument off its foundation. Rosen also notes that "the true irony and oddity about all this is that the monument is across the street from Woodhill Cemetery… (which) has a true Civil War memorial — and a state historical marker — dedicated to area soldiers who fought and died for the Union in the Civil War. Twenty-one of them are buried in the cemetery."

--Former Kentucky Post editor page editor Kerry Duke, in an August 22 Enquirer column, says the Lee roadside marker and Frankfort's Jefferson Davis statue in the Capitol Rotunda "are visible symbols of a racist past," and should be removed.

Duke says that most of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected Confederate memorials during the era of Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation, decades after the Civil War.

Duke says they "honor treason, sanctions slavery, solicits sympathy for a South that never was and seeks to perpetuate a myth of southern nobility, of a 'Lost Cause' in America's deadliest war. When the context of the times in which these statues were erected is considered, the history the statues tell continues to expose the black heart of racism, the white claim of racial superiority and a hatred we see today."