American Auto Trails > Old Spanish Trail

Is this really a historical named trail?


Is this really a historical named trail? I raise the question on the basis that prior to 1915, or maybe more accurately 1926, there had been no previously known contiguous trail across this route, which was created for the most part from a patchwork of existing roads across eight states and being called "The Old Spanish Trail" by an association most specifically interested in creating commercial and tourism interests into their states.  Unlike other "named trails" the route in general was never used as a route of pioneers expanding civilization across the continent.  Yes, there are areas along this route which were indeed used by very early Spanish Explorers, and even for limited commercial purposes regionally, but never as a contiguous coast to coast route followed by early Spanish occupiers of the area,  pioneers, or merchants.  In other words, there were few, if any, wagon trains filled with settlers ever headed Westward across America on any part of this route.  No wagons Ho!  Barely Model A's Ho!

Well, from my research they were all for commercial purposes. Good Roads promotion may have started with bicylists, but it really didn't get going until citizens of towns decided to promote a road through their area to increase business. It was hard to convince farmers that it would actually help them. It was mostly industrialists and auto enthusiasts (who were usually the industrialists who could afford a car). The Lincoln Highway was really Prest-o-Lite, Packard, and Firestone tires. I'm looking at the Lee Highway now and the first president of the association was a representative (and then president) of Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke Company (in other words, iron, steal and the fuel to make it).

Yes, you're right, the Old Spanish Trail was not a trail of the Spanish, but look at the towns it linked: St. Augustine, the first city of America was a Spanish town (as was all of Florida and part of Alabama), San Antonio and El Paso and the Spanish missions in those areas, Tucson and its mission, the Juan Bautista de Anza trail through Imperial County, and finally San Diego with its first California mission and El Camino Real to Monterey. The OST formed at about the same time as the other Associations. Really only the National Old Trails Road linked old emigrant trails in a transcontinental manner. Many of the auto trails, and there were over 200, had to be built. There were literally no roads in many areas. Huge numbers of first macadam stone roads, then brick and Portland cement roads, were laid down between 1915 and 1935. The Old Spanish Trail was a pre-1926 auto trail. It did not start out as a transcontinental route, but by 1923 it definitely was one. Unlike many of the auto trails, it lasted well into the US Highway era. In fact it was one of the longest lasting associations in the U.S.


Of course you are correct that most named trails had some sort of commercial motivation involved and the nature of the motivation did indeed vary.  Of course all of those "named trails" were ultimately doomed to becoming non-existent simply because they did not necessarily follow what was the most direct route between points and depended more on the winds of local politics in their definition than having been previously a trail carrying pioneers Westward or from North to South.  With the 1926 passage of the bill creating a national highway system all named trails, with exception of what became U.S. 80 and U.S. 1, were hacked up into a system of numbered highways lacking uniformity from the definition of the original trails.  Of course the greatest indignity came from the requiring of all the old trail signs to be taken down in order to eliminate confusion with the new numbering system.  Fortunately from a historical perspective not all were.

Of all the industrialist approached to contribute to named trails efforts I think Henry Ford said it best:  "The public will never learn to fund good roads if private industry does it for them."  The refusal of Ford to be a contributor, along with many of his automotive industry cronies who followed his lead, probably did more to promote a true Federal Highway System than all the named trails efforts combined.

As near as I can tell none of the "named trails" associations formed between 1912 and 1925 survived beyond 1929.  The Old Spanish Trail Association being likely the last to dissolve.  There were indeed later merchant type association formed along many of the two lane highways to primarily promote tourism, but none had diddly to do with the original trails associations.  I've not seen a listing of all the known such associations anywhere, but we do know there was an Old Spanish Trail, Inc. organization of that type formed in the 1940s following World War II and it died sometime in the early 1960s.  I personally recall there was also a U.S. 287 association (Port Arthur, Texas to Yellowstone National Park) which existed into the 1960's.  Were there others?  I have often mused as to whether such associations could be revived again today among restaurants and motels along the remaining of prominent two lane highways of the 1930-1965 period.


I know the post is old but I am compelled to point out that the old Yellowstone Trail Association "hung on" until into 1930 when the lack of money forced the Minneapolis office to be closed and most of the records were lost.  J. Ridge Yellowstone Trail Association.

Yes, John. Thanks for that. I actually recently added the info box on the Yellowstone Trail article in Wikipedia. I actually included this information in the small history section of the box. By the way, if you know any folks interested in auto trails who edit Wikipedia articles, I'm looking for people to join the Auto Trails task force, part of WikiProject U.S. Roads on Wikipedia. So far, I'm really the only person on the task for, but I'd like people from different regions to help me out.



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