Historical Highlights: Crossroads of the Nation
The title of “Crossroads of the Nation” is always interesting to discuss with local folks. We know the railroads secured the title for us in the late 1800s, but in the next century the cross country automobile highways passing through Cameron ensured we’d keep the title indefinitely.
You might think I’m talking about Interstate 35 and US Highway 36, but I’m really referring to a couple highways that predate them by decades. From 1915 until 1929, the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway connected New York to San Francisco and the Jefferson Highway connected Winnipeg Manitoba Canada to New Orleans Louisiana. These early cross country highways intersected in downtown Cameron.
They were built by local businesses, farmers and residents who provided the money and labor to improve existing dirt trails. They turned them into roads that could be used year around by the new automobiles. Community work days were organized with dozens of families working together to improve the old roads. Horse and Mule teams pulling road drags were used on the roads while bridges and culverts were built to get over creeks and rivers. This patchwork of improved roads connected with those of the surrounding communities to build a nationwide network. It was a common cause and the efforts were enormous.
The highways ran through the business districts of the towns they passed through. In Cameron the Ocean to Ocean highway came down 3rd street. The Jefferson Highway came south into town on what is now Walnut street then jogged over to Chestnut where it ran through downtown. It seems hard to believe today, but the main roads connecting the east and west coast, and the Canadian border to Louisiana were often just single lane dirt roads.
By 1930 the government had taken over road building. They started numbering roads and doing away with the “Named Highways”. Eventually the Ocean to Ocean would be replaced by US 36 and the Jefferson was replaced by US 69. The new numbered highways bypassed the business districts and eventually the 4 lane super slabs were built even further from local commercial centers.
When we look back and think of “Americana” we’re likely to think of the small towns like Cameron with the old highway leisurely passing through. Folks stopping at the local café, staying at the quaint roadside motels and buying full service gas from the stations that sold it for 15 cents a gallon. It’s a time that came and went along with the memory of the original highways that connected the country and intersected in Cameron, The “Crossroads of the Nation”
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