Western Trips

Western Trips

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Old Spanish Trail Highway / The Southern Trunkline

The five ton Texas granite boulder that proudly sits on the grounds in front of the San Antonio City Hall was dedicated on March 27, 1924. This marker is a high historic significance in as much as it was placed in recognition of the Old Spanish Trail highway begun in 1916 and completed and opened in 1929.

The idea of building the Old Spanish Trail was launched and led by good roads boosters and Chamber of Commerce officials. Support also came from a group of southern senators and congressmen who signed a declaration calling attention to the potential tourist and military importance of the highway. 

The roads were needed as the automobile industry produced more and more cars and people everywhere were replacing the horse and buggy with motorized vehicles. As you can imagine a good deal of politics were involved as to exactly what towns along the way this early road would pass through. 

old spanish trail highway map

A Transcontinental Southern Route

The trail started as a connector route between New Orleans and Florida but soon expanded into a transcontinental highway from Florida to California. The eastern terminus was St. Augustine Florida and the western terminus San Diego California. The Old Spanish Trail begins in St. Augustine and basically follows old U.S. 90 along 455 miles, cutting through the Florida Panhandle and into Pensacola. The trail passes through the states of  Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and, finally, California. The Old Spanish Trail follows what years later would be U.S. Highway 90 in the east and U.S. 80 in the west. When the road was opened in 1929 it was called the most expensive to build of all the transcontinental highways.

Three Zero Milestone markers exist. The one in San Antonio Texas plus Zero Milestone markers in St. Augustine and San Diego. Building this highway from St. Augustine to San Diego connects some of the sites of Spain's earliest missions and forts. In latter years just as with Old Route 66, some alignments were changed and routes through larger cities were altered somewhat. 

old spanish trail marker san antonio
Zero Milestone Marker, San Antonio, TX
The Old Spanish Trail in Texas

The section of the Old Spanish Trail in Texas began at the southwestern Louisiana border at Orange. The trail passed through Beaumont, Houston, San Antonio, and ended at El Paso. Pretty much the same route as today's Interstate 10. 

Texas is a big state and as such comprised about one-third of the entire Old Spanish Trail highway.

The Adventure of Driving the Highway

The early highways that crossed much of the U.S. were given names. For one reason, a name gave the highway publicity. A name worked as a marketing tool. It added romanticism to a highway. Old Route 66...The Lincoln Highway...the Dixie Highway, The Alaska Highway are examples. Rand McNally hit it on the head in their 1923 Road Book which stated ..."Along the Old Spanish Trail are the riches of history, legend, sentiment and natural beauty. And throughout the route there are members of the Old Spanish Trail Association who will find pleasure in making your aquaintance."

When completed, driving this road was a real adventure. We're talking about the time when automobiles made it possible for people to hit the open road and travel great distances. In many ways the automobile offered the type of freedom never before enjoyed. By the same token, driving this highway in 1929 was nothing like it is today. Early paving of roads usually involved stones packed down to form a hard surface.

See our Western Trips articles on the links below...

Why Did Route 66 Abandon Santa Fe?

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway 

Battle of Gonzales Texas / Annual Reenactment

On our Trips Into History website see our article on Driving the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway

old spanish trail marker plaque
Zero Milestone Marker plaque
Unlike Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway, the Old Spanish trail was not routed by patching together existing roads. 

The roads often had to be built directly through swamplands on the easternmost portion through the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Bridges needed to be built over major waterways. In 1928 a bridge spanning Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans was completed.

The Centennial Celebration

A good portion of the Old Spanish Trail exists today. Plans are being formulated for the centennial celebration to take place in 2019. The celebration is expected to last a full decade and is expected to conclude in 2029 with a motorcade grand finale that will travel from St. Augustine to San Diego. This will mirror the first celebration motorcade over the highway that occurred in 1929.

old spanish trail marker st. augustine
St. Augustine Zero Milestone
Some Special Notes 

The official archives of the Old Spanish Trail Association are held in Special Collections at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas.  

The Old Spanish Trail Association, with its director, Harral Ayres, was a group of community leaders from towns and cities across the entire southern stretch of the United States, from St. Augustine, Florida, through San Antonio, Texas, and west to San Diego, California. 

Detailed information regarding the planned Centennial Celebration can be found on the Old Spanish Trail website www.oldspanishtrailcentennial.com

A few good reads regarding the Old Spanish Auto Trail includes...Classic American Roads: Walking Tours of Towns along the Old Spanish Auto Trail (Kindle Edition) by author Doug Gelbert. Also, Roads of Destiny: The Trails That Shaped a Nation by author Douglas Waitley.

For a Story of the Old Spanish Trail written by Harral Ayres see website link http://www.oldspanishtrailcentennial.com/history

(Article copyright 2014 Western Trips. Photos copyright Western Trips. Map of the Old Spanish Trail highway courtesy of Old Spanish Trail Association Archives, Louis J. Blume Library, St. Mary's University, San Antonio, Texas.)

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