Traveling West on The Old Spanish Trail Highway
Florida: Tallahassee to Pensacola and On to the Alabama Border
Leaving Tallahassee on Tennessee Avenue, the driver is quickly back into pine forests. The Florida Department of Transportation has made it evident that we are on the original highway by posting a sign:
A similar sign is posted just ourtside of Pensacola.
And, shortly after passing the sign, a not-old-enough-to-have-been-there-then church proclaims itself to be The Old Spanish Trail Baptist Church:
While it is too new to have been there at the time, this church building may well stand on the site of earlier buildings. The preacher says there has been a Baptist church at that spot for many years; so, perhaps it was an active Baptist church during the time period when the highway was pushing through. Or perhaps the congregation's older geneeration rememebred that the highway running by was once called "The Old Spanish Trail." The pine trees scattered around the church were certainly not there during the 1920s. They are young trees, most not even twenty years old. Except for protected areas like the Osceola National Forest and the St. Marks Game Preserve, Florida cut down its old growth trees decades ago to help build the houses for its rapid population growth.
Northwest of Tallahassee, OST and U.S. 90 partner for a long trip west to Quincy, Florida. Mostly, the highway abandons the railroad through here as the railroad travels farther south. After OST reaches Chatahoochee, it fords one of the rivers that was most difficult for the men of the OST Highway Association to build, the Appalachicola River. The director of the OST Association reported to the members late in the 1920s that the Appalachicola River had at last been crossed at a cost of $7,000,000. It was a huge accomplishment and, when you see it now, you get a feeling of the passage of time, of the loss of something, some impulse that made the men of the mid-19th century need to bridge the Mississippi and other rivers. The concrete of the Appalachicola bridge looks massive, troll-like in comparison with the more modern and delicate structure of the U.S. 90 bridge that runs alongside it. The old bridge has fallen down in the middle, but you can still drive down to the river bank and see where it crossed:
After returning to U.S. 90, the driver turns back west on what has, for several miles, been called the Blue Star Highway and U.S. 90 and a number of other names as the road passes through small town after small town.
As you approach Sneads, Florida, the OST once again diverges from U.S. 90 and Florida 10. When you drive past Pete's Way, you make a slight turn to the right off U.S. 90 onto a road called "Old Spanish Trail" and drive south of 90 for several miles. "Old Spanish Trail" becomes Florida Street and then Old Spanish Trail again before it jags to the north to get back across the railroad track and continues west to Florida State Road 71. Turn right on that road to get back to U.S. 90. U.S. 90 becomes Lafayette Street as it enters Marianna, Florida.
Through Cottondale and Bonifay and all the way into Careyville, Florida, the roads continue to travel together, sometimes with the name "The Old Spanish Trail," sometimes with street names given by the towns, and sometimes still called U.S. 90. There's a very confusing jag off the main U.S. 90 when you get out of Westville. Just past T.W. Miller Lane, perhaps a mile, Vallee Road crosses U.S. 90. OST turns right onto Vallee Road. Vallee Road continues north, but a second Vallee Road turns to the west. That's OST. That road is labeled "Old Highway 90." Continue on it and it runs back into U.S. 90. After rejoining U.S. 90, OST runs with it for less than a mile and then becomes E. Main Street going into the town of Ponce de Leon and comes to a shrieking stop next to the railroad tracks. The road once continued to rejoin Main about a mile across the way, but it is not possible to drive farther because of changes n the town. So, take a right on Ponce de Leon Springs Road and rejoin U.S. 90.
Just west of Ponce de Leon, OST makes a large break from U.S. 90 and meanders to the north. At this point the highway sign says "Old Spanish Trail," but the road is not large and is easy to miss. The intersection going south is called "Baker Manning Loop." Approximately five miles up this section of the road, the driver must be alert to turn south onto Old Highway 90 / Spanish Trail. The roadway appears to go farther north, on into Georgia, so some care needs to be taken. OST intersects U.S. 90 again at North Country Road 10A. You can turn here or continue on the road as it parallels U.S. 90 for a short distance. Then the merged roads go through De Funiak Springs, Florida, as Nelson Road.
There are a few buildings along OST named after the highway (and in some cases named erroneously because people believe this is the route the Conquistadors took), but these may be named after the contemporary trail and may not have existed back when the builders were forging the road through east Florida. There was a trail in early Florida history that was, in fact, traveled by the conquistadores from Pensacola to Jacksonville. was documented in 1920 by G.M. West of St. Andrews, Florida. West writes that "The euphonius title of the proposed highway from St. Augustine to the Old Missions on the Pacific coast, running east and west through the Lower South, is derived from a Florida antiquity, a road that was constructed by the Spaniards, hundreds of years ago, to connect up their various missions and settlements and which, in places, is being now used as a part of the cross continent highway, the 'Old Spanish Trail.'"
As you approach Pensacola from the West, take a good look and maybe even stop the car to witness an important piece of American highway history that is older even than either the Old Spanish Trail Highway or the Dixie Highway: Florida State Highway 1. That's a hand-laid brick road that once stretched all the way to Tallahassee. That was an incredible achievement even though, in those days, they relied on ferries to get both automobiles and wagons across the many streams and rivers in Florida:
As the OST /U.S. 90 goes by Eglin Air Force Base, it is rejoined by IH-10 and they run beside each other for a few miles as the approach is made to Pensacola. But U.S. 90 and what is still called The Old Spanish Trail on contemporarty maps turns north after leaving the Air Force Base and IH-10 takes the most direct path into Pensacola. Unlike IH-10, these roads continue to follow the railroad tracks. The road becomes E. James Lee Boulevard as it moves into Pensacola, then Caroline Street and eventually will become Cervantes Street. Just before reaching Campus Drive, OST / U.S. 90 divides into two branches. The larger road cuts west into the city; the smaller branch is called Scenic Drive and parallels the railroad and the coastal water. Because OST almost always parallels the railroad, Scenic Drive must be the correct branch to take. Just past E. Strong Street, Scenic Highway joins up with Cervantes Street to head west and out of town. Another strong indicator that this is the original OST is that Cervantes becomes Mobile Highway as it begins to reach the outskirts of town. The two U.S. 90s rejoin outside of Pensacola as Mobile Highway becomes Perdido Bay Road. A few miles farther west and the road is once again named "Old Spanish Trail." Some care needs to be taken though to avoid the path of least resistant through Pensacola. Given a choice, take the path nearest the railroad. In this case, that is also the most scenic route.
Shortly after leaving Pensacola on the OST, the bridge across the Escambia River takes the traveler into Alabama.