Traveling West on The Old Spanish Trail Highway
Florida: Starting from Saint Augustine
The Old Spanish Trail was an entrepreneur's dream: in an age when automobile ownership was expanding and had reached more than a million homes, people had no place to go in their shiny new black Fords, their Stutz Bearcats, their Oldsmobiles and other new cars. They joined with bicyclists to encourage the construction of new and better roads.
The federal government left road construction primarily to the states and the states left it to local counties. Those counties, justifiably their commisioners thought, did not see much need to levy taxes or pass bond issues to support highway construction to enable travel beyond their immediate jurisidictions. This required state and national coordination. So, a new entrepreneurial group of men came into existence to promote the building of highways that would connect community to community and, eventually, span a continent. One of the first of those, begun soon after The Lincoln Highway, was The Old Spanish Trail Highway Association with its director, Harrel Ayres, and its headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.
The various associations that promoted the construction of transcontinental highways had a friend in President Calvin Coolidge who, in 1924, in supporting the Federal highway Road Projects said that "No expenditure of public money contributes so much to the national wealth as building good roads" (New Mexico Highway Journal, January, 1924).
Organizations like the Old Spanish Trail Association did not actually raise money to build the highways but kept track of county, State and federal funds and lobbied for additional funding. When highway construction faltered because counties did not issue bonds or raise taxes to pay for roads or prisoners were not made available to work in chain gangs building the roads, the lobbyists went to work.
But those lobbyists were instrumental in securing necessary funding, county by county, state by state, all the way across the country. And, when they were successful, they celebrated. In 1929, Harral Ayres and OST members in Saint Augustine held one such celebration to lay the last of the dedication markers for the completion of the highway. The first was in San Diego, California; the second, in San Antonio, Texas; the third, in Saint Augustine.
The Association placed three mile markers to celebrate various stages of completion of the highway: at Saint Augustine, in San Antonio,and in San Diego. The east coast marker has been moved four times and now rests at the Visitor's Center in Saint Augustine.