BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
In 1926, the Bureau of Public Roads of the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated “national” highways as part of a new 80,000-mile transportation system for our country.
The Public Roads Bureau received approval and agreement from the state highway departments of all 48 states.
Remember, we hadn’t yet brought Alaska and Hawaii to the statehood table.
Federal funds weren’t to be provided for highway construction, but each state and county agreed to give priority to work on the national roads passing through their geographic areas.
Alabama’s main cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile were designated to be on the new national road system.
Huntsville, in the far north of our state, wasn’t even considered as part of the highway network. It was an insignificant little town, a cotton market hub, but not an important place in the overall view of Alabama.
In the 1920s, who knew? We weren’t able to look into a crystal ball and see the future!
Today Huntsville is a hugely high-tech city with nearly two hundred thousand residents. More than 100 languages and dialects are spoken there.
It’s the home of Redstone Arsenal, the U.S. Army installation that put the first American in space and transported the first astronauts to the moon.
Now, THAT was a new-fangled transportation route!
Generally, in the new highway system (leaving out Huntsville), most north-to-south highways were to be odd-numbered, with the lowest numbers in the east and highest in the west. Most east-to-west highways were to be even-numbered, with the lowest numbers in the north and highest in the south.
Initially, ten main transcontinental routes were designated by even numbers ending in zero (10, 20, 30, and so on). Understandably, exceptions to these basic numbering rules had to be made and still exist today.
Interestingly, the “numbers” system was criticized for taking away road NAMES.
In the 1920s, people knew where they were going when they set out on the “Brandon Highway” in central Alabama.
This highway, as we know, ran from Montgomery to Greenville, then headed west through Pine Flat, Pineapple and Camden into Mississippi. It was named for Governor Brandon, that early champion of “good roads” and better transportation.
Travelers knew the road they were on when they took the “Old Spanish Trail” in south Alabama, a road that ran from St. Augustine, Florida, across the southern United States to San Diego, California.
Folks knew where they were going when they got on the “Dixie Overland Highway” that crossed our state from Georgia to Mississippi.
Here in our local area, we knew where we were going on the Luverne Road, Sandcut Road, Manningham Road, or Mobile Highway.
Who on earth wanted to try to remember a lot of NUMBERS when they were driving across America the beautiful?
Little did American citizens know how strongly numbers would rule our lives one day! From Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and telephone numbers to drug prescription numbers, credit card numbers and automobile tag numbers (not to mention highway numbers), our lives and lifestyles are really and truly controlled by NUMBERS.
We’ve come a long way from “early days in Greenville” when a local merchant was reputed to have “kept his accounts with grains of corn on a shelf under the counter,” as my mother, the late Myra Ware Williams Crenshaw, wrote in the March 1974 issue of The Butler County Historical Society Quarterly.
Those were the good old days!
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.