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BUTLER COUNTY BEGINNINGS Dwight D. Eisenhower Hits the Road



By the way, “Fisher Island” is named for our optimistic highway entrepreneur, Carl Fisher.

Just south of Miami Beach, Fisher Island is one of the wealthiest and most exclusive residential areas in the United States. It’s built on a site that was part of “the old Vanderbilt estate” (another one of Fisher’s investments), and a municipal trash dump.

By the time he died in 1939, Carl Fisher had made and lost several multi-million dollar fortunes. And, he had given us HIGHWAYS.

Would Greenville and Butler County be the same without the Indian path that became Bartram’s trail, that then became the Federal Road, and now (in general) is the route of Interstate 65? It’s an interesting historical question!

Fisher and his partners had drawn public support by patriotically naming their first transcontinental highway – stretching over 3,300 miles from New York to San Francisco – for Abraham Lincoln.

A convoy trip along the Lincoln Highway in 1919 had a major effect on the future of transportation systems in the United States, and it involved another presidential figure.

As World War I was ending, the U.S. Army undertook its first transcontinental motor convoy across the country, traveling part of the journey along the new Lincoln Highway.

One of the young Army officers with that convoy was Dwight David Eisenhower, then a lieutenant colonel.

After he became President of the United States in 1953, Eisenhower credited the 1919 convoy experience when he supported construction of the nation’s Interstate Highway System.

He recalled years later: “The old convoy had started me thinking about good two-lane highways… the wisdom of broader ribbons across our land.”

The man who had been supreme commander of the Allied forces in western Europe during World War II ought to know a little about terrain, roads and vehicles.

During his military service, Eisenhower had also seen and appreciated Germany’s Reichsautobahn system, the first national version of modern Germany’s Autobahn network.

Not only was a nation-spanning highway a necessary component of a national defense system, it was just plain good sense.

Of course, what we call an “interstate” is just a short form of the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.” But you knew that!

This network of controlled-access highways is so familiar to us that we tend to forget when and how it all began.

When Eisenhower appointed General Lucius D. Clay as head of a committee to draw up an interstate highway system plan in 1954, Clay summed up reasons for creating such a system:

“It was evident we needed better highways. We needed them for safety, to accommodate more automobiles. We needed them for defense purposes, if that should ever be necessary. And we needed them for the economy. Not just as a public works measure, but for future growth.”

Future GROWTH. Like the land that would become Butler County being carved from the Alabama Territory in 1817, which had in turn been cut out from the Mississippi Territory, which had come to be part of the United States with the 1783 Treaty of Paris at the end of the American Revolution.

When the young United States acquired the British claims to all lands east of the Mississippi River with that treaty in 1783 – including present-day Alabama, and what we know as Butler County today – growth was definitely in the forecast.

Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here –, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.

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