Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Opening of US Highway 78 in 1939

On November 11, 1926 the U.S. numbered highway system was adopted and it was then that the southeastern portion of Bankhead Highway became known as U.S. Highway 78. The new Highway 78 began in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and ended at Second Street in downtown Memphis. It was during the Great Depression, when the U.S. and state governments put men to work that a new Highway 78 was built through Itawamba County. It was not until 1939 that the last section of this road was completed with the last section being in Itawamba County (the section from Fulton, eastward to the Alabama State Line).

On Thursday, September 28, 1939 opening celebrations were held in Fulton in Itawamba County and in Hamilton, Alabama in neighboring Marion County. A front-page article in the September 28, 1939 edition of the Fulton News Beacon reads: “A large crowd came to Fulton this morning for the opening of the highway celebration, including a caravan of 75 cars from Tupelo, headed by mayor J.P. Nanney. The program of the day is crowning of queen and king at 9 a.m. at Fulton; ceremony at Hamilton, Ala., at 10 a.m., ribbon cutting ceremony at the Alabama-Mississippi state line at 12 noon; luncheon at Fulton at 1 p.m. ceremony on court square at 2 p.m., and an old time dance festival and street dance at 8 p.m. Pictured is the printed program for the event (click image for larger view).

An article appearing in the Commercial Appeal in Memphis reads in part: “Tribute to the vision of Senator John Bankhead, Sr., of Alabama, who 33 years ago advocated Federal aid for development of the Nation’s road system, was paid today (Thursday) by distinguished sons of Alabama and Mississippi at the formal opening of the all-paved Bankhead Highway (United States 78). Ceremonies were held at Hamilton, Ala., at the Alabama-Mississippi line and here (Fulton) celebrating completion of the final 15-mile gap in the 3,600-mile system from Washington through the Deep South via Memphis, thence to the Pacific Coast, said to be the longest paved roadway under one name in the world.”

The Commerical Appeal article goes on to tell of the visiting dignitaries to Fulton including Alabama senator, Speaker Will B. Bankhead and Senator John Bankhead, and also Governor White of Mississippi. According to the article, the day-long program opened in Fulton with the crowning by Governor White of the king and queen of “United States Highway 78” – Harold Stubblefield and Ann Kilpatrick, both of Fulton.


Anonymous said...

Bob, thank you for this post! Being of the curious sort without the abilities to find the places to answer my questions when I was "just a wisp of a young girl", one of those burning questions really was to know where "US Highway 78" came from to pass through Hamilton, Bexar, and cross a state line. For all I knew way back then, that road was created just to bring Greyhound near our doors and could take us from Birmingham to Memphis. I was almost an adult before I learned that I could board a bus in Hamilton and wind up in Atlanta. Now you tell me that I could have gone to Charleston, SC via the same road! Oh, my. . . . . I do have memories of this "old road" when it was called a ribbon road I believe and photographs of it shown by Terry Thornton at his Hillcountry address. I only remember riding to Tupelo with my grandparents a couple of times when that was the only road. I always credited Granddaddy Morman Stone with having good eyes and being alert so that he moved to his side of the road with only the drivers side tires resting on that concrete when he met another car going in the opposite direction.

One other thing that the younger generation might not realize: we didn't have all those 18 wheelers moving merchandise from one coast to the other. The "reefer" trucks were a long time coming to our way of life. If the parents or neighbors couldn't grow it, we did without.

My grandparents were all born in the late 1870's and to 1880 - they frequently referred to "the good old days" - now what do you think they would say about our current times?

No, "those were the good old days" isn't in my category. I anxiously await to see what will be our new forms of transportation, ways of communication etc. I live for the future, not the past. bettye

Bob Franks said...

Thanks for your comments Bettye. The old concrete highway brings back lots of memories. I remember as a kid, when my family would travel to Memphis during the summer, the seams of the concrete would swell from the hot Mississippi summer sun and all the way to Memphis you would have that "ka-plunk, ka-plunk" sound as the car's tires ran over the seams. Another thing I remember is the roadside parks consisting of picnic tables and garbage cans. It seems we don't see as many of these as we once did. I remember one being at the Alabama state line. Again, thanks for writing your memories. Interesting reading!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history of Us Hwy 78 through Alabama and Mississippi. I grew up along this route during the 70s and 80s. I remember the road through New Albany Mississippi called Bankhead Street. I assumed it was named after Tallulah Bankhead or possibly a govenor from Alabama. your posting has clarified my life long assumtion. You can drive through New Albany and rural areas of Union County Ms on the origional roadway-at select creeks the old one lane concrete bridges still exist. The road way was origionally concrete but much of the roadway went in decline when the new two lane 78 opened now known as 178 in Ms. The old origional highway at points was in such deterioration that the county covered it with red sand and reverted it back to a dirt road. This resurfacing was not a great idea as in the hot summers a cloud of dust would follow every vehicle that traveled the old route. Also every bump and pot hole always seemed to surface a day or two after each grading. The dust was so thick after a car passed it would turn the leaves on the trees red or dusty brown. The origional roadway was much less straight and certainly went over the hills and through the valleys-it is so much more a leisurely drive than two new hwy 78's that have replaced it. I note that most people call US Hwy 178 in Ms and Alabama "Old Hwy 78" but it is not the origional road. The origional road through most of Union County and most of north Mississippi runs north of Hwy 178. A few miles west of the Pontotoc Co line into Union County Mississippi the origional road angles off to the right until it runs into the present hwy 9 at Blue Springs. You go right at this intersection through Blue Springs and around a curve (Hwy 9 turns off to the right). Less than a mile or so the road has a bridge over the rail road. The road continues 3-4 miles and passes through a community called Wallerville (historic) then continues a few miles where it crosses the newer two lane 178 that most people today refer to as the old 78 hwy. Once it crosses 178 it bends around a flea market and back into 178 which it shares roadway with exactly for about quarter mile then angles off to the left. Once it angles to the left there is dirt road immeidately to the right, this is the origional roadway for old 78 it comes to a dead end. but if you hiked the roadway for about a mile you would come out at a creek that runs beside the New Albany Stock Yards. In front of the stockyards you can see to the east an abandon built up dirt roadway that runs to the creek where half of an one lane bridge has collapsed into the water. At this bridge you are officially in the town of New Albany. Follow US 178 west into the town until Main Street Angles off of Us 178 (Bankhead Street). Main Street is the origional US 78 it winds its way downtown and right at the Tallahatchie River it turns north and intersection with US 178 (Bankhead Street). If you did not turn north but continued straight across the river and slightly to NW you would cross Bankhead Street exactly at the intersection of Moss Hill Drive. The Main Street Bridge was torn down when when Bankhead Street Bridge opened. Moss Hill Drive is the Origional Hwy 78 route. Follow Moss Hill Drive out of New Albany through Pumpkin Center (Historic)and all the way through the town of Myrtle (7-8 miles)where the road crosses the railroad again and runs along side the railroad until it runs in to US 178 just NW of Myrtle. Old 78 follows 178 west (shared roadway) almost to the Benton County Line where it angles again to the right just over the railroad and meanders into the north side of the town of Hickory Flat Ms. All along the old hwy 78 in Union County Ms there are origional old concrete one lane bridges. Note that Hwy 178 which opened up as US Hwy 78 during the depression is not the old hwy 78 but mistakenly is referred to as such. US 178 the one completed in 1939 and during the early 30s is not the origional roadway. It was a two lane concrete road that even though has been covered over with asphalt still makes the Kaplunk Kaplunk as you cross over the asphalt that has cracked at the points where below the concrete seams have expanded due to heat or cold. During the 1970s a controlled access interestate Hwy 78 started being constructed the first section being built around New Albany Ms. It ran from the Mississipi Hwy 30 exit to the Ms Hwy 15 Exit in New Albany. Today This controlled access US 78 has been declared the new Interstate 22 from Birmingham to Memphis. In the mid 1970s a section was completed with concrete from New Albany to Belden (historic), Belden was annexed into the City of Tupelo. The West Tupelo Exit known as McCoullah Blvd Exit is known to locals as the Belden Exit this road is now known as US 178 but it origonally was the second Hwy 78 completed in the thirties. I dont know the exact route of origional hwy 78 through Tupelo but it followed most of McCullugh Blvd until just before Country Club Road exit where you can look to the south and see an older residential area that angles SE along the origional Hwy 78 that eventually ended after some crooks and bends on Mississippi Hwy 6 (Main Street) at Main you turned Left and followed that road to East Tupelo where Mississippi 6 turned at an angle SE near Elvis Presleys Birthplace-78 did not turn it continued directly east to Fulton Mississippi and onto Alabama. From Tupelo to Memphis the origional highway ran close the to railroad and chris crossed it often. From Tupelo east the railroad did not follow the highway. The road way was very curvy and went over the hills or followed along the bottoms of the hills. I really wish someone one would document the old origional Highway 78 route before it is lost or confused with the second US 78 Route.