Today we continue a series based on the Mississippi entries from the 1976 document A Nation in Motion: Historic American Transportation Sites. The informal compilation sprang from a 1973 suggestion by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to the United States Department of Transportation. Its purpose was not to be a definitive listing of nationally significant transportation sites, but rather a collection of information on transportation-related sights that might be considered for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. There were a total of five separate entries for Mississippi. We’re looking at each item to see what their status is today. This may give us some insight as to how effective this type of document is.
When Mississippi Governor Winthrop Sargent signed a bill creating the First Road Act in 1799, I doubt he had this in mind…
Mississippi 1913: The first concrete highway completed south of the Ohio River was built in Mississippi, a 13- mile stretch in Lee County between Tupelo and Pontotoc. The road bed was 9 feet wide. Grading and other preparations for the road began in 1910 and paving with concrete was completed in 1913.
The earliest MDOT state highway map available online dates to 1928. In the above detail from this 1928 map is the area surrounding Tupelo (you can view the whole map and many others here). The City of Tupelo had quite a few hard surface roads prior to 1913 but none of concrete.
Outcome: I am somewhat confused by this Nation in Motion (NIM) entry. The MDAH HRI database as well as several other sources (1, 2, and a March, 1915 edition of Concrete Roads magazine ) list the first concrete road as old Highway 45 – current day SR 681, north of Tupelo rather than the east/west route mentioned in the NIM report. Roughly 11 mile portion of a route north of Tupelo was to be paved with concrete. A stretch of current day SR 681 between Birmingham Ridge Road and County Road 521 was designated as a Mississippi Landmark on April 30, 1993. But this might have had more to do with the 1991 passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act (with the ever so fun acronym ISTEA pronounced Ice-Tea).
Current status: SR681 is still a road. From the August 2008 Google Street View most of the original concrete has been removed and replaced or paved over with asphalt. If you are heading to Tupelo for the Mississippi Heritage Trust Historic Preservation Conference next week, it would be worth driving this route to see what of this nationally significant roadway has been preserved. If you do, report back and let us know what you see!
This is the second of the series reviewing the Mississippi entries in the Department of Transportation’s A Nation in Motion: Historic American Transportation Sites. To see all the posts in the series click here.