BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
As we all know (and as the History Channel calendar reminds us, with “This Day in History” notes that we love to read), the American Revolution officially came to an end when representatives of the United States, Great Britain, Spain and France signed the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783.
This treaty marked our status as a free country, as Britain formally recognized the independence of its thirteen American colonies.
Poor old King George, he never thought a little tea party in Boston harbor, and his punishment of the colonies for their disloyalty to him and the British crown, would come to THIS.
The boundaries of the new United States of America now covered the lands from Florida north all the way to the Great Lakes, and from the Atlantic coast west to the Mississippi River.
That was a BIG chunk of territory. Our new country, on a map, stretched from sea to… well, not shining sea, but to the shining waters of the mighty Mississippi River.
Growth had happened, and more growth was definitely in the forecast.
We should keep in mind that no one asked the Native Americans what THEY thought about all this manipulation and designated control of their ancestral homelands.
But “growth” was inevitable and absolute. And, within a few decades, it included forcing Native Americans from those ancestral homelands.
There’s no going back. We can’t undo history; we can’t give the lands back. But we can make the lands BETTER.
And that’s what “good roads” and, eventually, an interstate highway system, was going to do.
The United States Congress first funded roadways through the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, and then began an effort to construct a national road grid with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921.
In 1926, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHO), which had been established in 1914 during the early waves of the “good roads” movement, asked the Secretary of Agriculture to work with the states to replace all the independently owned and maintained trails and “highways” – like the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway – with a unified highway numbering system.
The result was the United States “Numbered Highway System” being established on November 11, 1926.
It was our nation’s first national road numbering system for cross-country travel.
The spider web network of trails winding from sea to shining sea officially became part of the new system, and THAT gave us the road numbers that we rely on so strongly today.
Greenville was already on the main north-south highway that entered Alabama near Athens, at the Tennessee state line, and ran south to Mobile on the Gulf coast.
This border-to-border road that connected Alabama’s three largest cities: Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile, was designated as the new “Highway Number 31.”
Huntsville, destined to overtake all the other metropolitan areas in the state by the beginning of the 21st century, wasn’t considered important to the new highway system.
Huntsville had become the largest town in the Alabama Territory by 1819, and it was in Huntsville that the territorial leaders met to petition the U.S. Congress to grant Alabama statehood, so it can claim the nickname “the birth place of Alabama.”
But, in the 1920s, the city named for early settler John Hunt (who is said to have built a cabin on the site in 1805) was just a cotton farming and trading town of about 8,000 people. Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile had far outranked it as urban centers with large populations.
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 – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.