Meridians reflect on how the interstate highway system has changed their way of life | Local News
Anne McKee’s family loved to visit Clarkco State Park as a child.
The Meridian family were driving US Highway 45 for a day trip to the park.
“It was a big deal when I was a kid to go there,” said McKee, born in 1945.
The family visit would include a picnic. Her mother, whom she called a “southern cook,” prepared the food.
“She would do like fried chicken and potato salad and desserts,” she said.
Prior to the creation of the interstate highway system, Mississippians like the McKee family traveled on American highways such as US Route 45 and US Route 80.
Although these highways are still in use, highways such as I-20 and I-59 are now a more common form of transportation.
The interstate highway system has changed the lives of Americans in several ways.
Residents of Meridian County and Lauderdale say it has allowed them to visit faraway destinations and made travel more efficient and safer.
At the same time, however, they fondly recall the shorter trips they made to Meridian and other destinations in eastern Mississippi before the highway was created.
Traveling before the highway
Norman Coleman, a Marion resident born in 1953, remembers going to downtown Meridian as a child.
“I loved it,” he says.
He would accompany his mother on trips to Winn-Dixie.
For Coleman, visiting Meridian was like going to a big city.
“It was like living in Meridian now and going to New York or DC or something,” he said. “It was so different.”
Maxey Baucum, who lives near Collinsville but grew up in Chunky, said people often traveled by bus when he was a child in the early 1950s. He and his mother took a bus on US Highway 80 from Chunky to Meridian to do Christmas shopping.
He and his friends also took the bus to Meridian to get to the Temple Theater.
“We would take a bus and go to the show,” he said, “then get on (the bus) and come home. “
US Highway 80 has become “more and more dangerous” over the years, Baucum said. He explained that the highway had become congested as people bought more cars and traveled more often.
Baucum said there had been fatal crashes on US Highway 80 bridges that spanned the Chunky River. He said the highway was safer than the old highway.
The construction of the highway
Construction of the interstate highway system began in 1956, the year Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that the interstate highway system would reduce congestion on the roads, reduce the number of people killed in traffic accidents, provide jobs for many people and would have to ‘other impacts.
The resulting system made it easier for Americans to drive from Meridian to New Orleans and from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Baucum, who worked on the freeway as a designer, said the section of the highway between what is now Bonita Lakes and Kewanee was opened in 1960. The section of the highway from Newton to 65th Avenue in Meridian – which is near the Queen City Stop truck – was completed around 1965, he said. The section of 65th Avenue at Bonita Lakes was constructed from approximately 1965 to 1970.
Jim Hobgood, who grew up in Marion but now lives in DeKalb, worked on highway construction in Lauderdale County during the summers of 1965 and 1966. He played a number of roles, including as a dirt inspector. and Rodman, who is a member of a survey team holding a pole.
Hobgood said it was hot while they were working on the freeway.
“Mosquitoes were where we were,” he said.
Life after the completion of the highway
Tammy Ingram, historian at the College of Charleston, said the creation of the interstate freeway system made long-distance travel faster and safer. Hobgood also considers the highway to have made travel more efficient.
“Overall it has improved the quality of life,” Hobgood said. “It took traffic away from the towns and put them in the countryside. “
Ingram said the highway also makes travel to the South safer for people of color, as these travelers can travel through areas without stopping.
“It was safer if you had to walk through a place where you might not necessarily feel welcome,” she said, “or you could be subjected to separate toilets, restaurants and hotels and that sort of thing.”
The highway has also made it easier for families to travel to remote places.
“The freeway has really allowed my family to travel everywhere,” said Greg Hatcher, who grew up in both Meridian County and Lauderdale. “I mean we traveled a lot in my teenage years.”
Hatcher, who was born in 1960, traveled with his family to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. And in the summer of 1976, they drove in a pickup truck to Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore.
McKee’s family took the freeway to Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.
“We stayed at a little motel for mom and pop – sure enough they all were back then,” she said.
Ingram said many cities in the south were opposed to the highway being built, but she is not sure if this was the case in Meridian. Residents, especially small business owners, in some southern cities were concerned about how interstate highways often bypassed city centers.
“They knew it was going to be detrimental to a lot of local businesses,” she said.
Coleman said some people in Meridian opposed the freeway, while others were happy to see it. He said that once the highway opened to Meridian, businesses began to expand along the route. He believes the highway is helping the city.
“Because we probably wouldn’t survive as well as we are,” he said, “if it hadn’t been for the highway. … I’m just glad it happened.