Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Muskogee and the Jefferson Highway

Muskogee, Oklahoma is proud to have played a founding role in the establishment of the Jefferson Highway across the state of Oklahoma. The many active boosters and promoters of the city included a large number who gave their total support to new road-and bridge-building programs.

When the first organizational meeting of the Jefferson Highway Association was held in New Orleans on November 15 and 16, 1915, organizers had expected to attract about fifty delegates, but over six times that number attended! In fact, more than fifty delegates showed up from Oklahoma, many of them from Muskogee.  All delegates wanted the new highway to run through their states and cities.  Route selection yielded the most contentious issue of all: would the new highway run through Arkansas or, less directly but on better roads, through Texas and Oklahoma?

David N. Fink, president of the Commercial Bank of Muskogee, quickly emerged as the leader of the Oklahoma delegation, which succeeded in getting the highway routed through Texas into Durant, Oklahoma, then north through McAlester, Muskogee and Vinita to the Missouri state line. At this
meeting Fink was also elected JHA vice-president. further reflecting the great enthusiasm for the new highway coursing through the state, several months later Fink and approximately two hundred other delegates from seven Oklahoma counties met in McAlester to organize the Oklahoma Jefferson Highway Association.

In late November, 1916, the JHA held a meeting of the board of directors at the Severs Hotel in Muskogee, on which occasion Fink was unanimously elected as JHA president for the following year.  At a concurrent meeting of the Oklahoma Jefferson Highway Association, Fink proposed a plan to build a new bridge of concrete and steel over the Canadian River near Eufaula, in order to prevent the JHA from altering the highway's route in Oklahoma.  A non-profit company was organized and authorized to issue bonds to finance the $125,000 cost of the bridge, which was completed in April 1920.

This is the original road where the Jefferson Highway
came into Muskogee from the south side.
It is now South 24th street and only used by local traffic.
Photo taken by Glenn Smith September 2012.
The highway through Muskogee County was completed and opened in the summer of 1918. the public's interest in automobile travel continued to grow by leaps and bounds as the Jefferson Highway and other improved roads were built.  Not only did car ownership increase rapidly in the Muskogee area, but as the largest city on the Jefferson Highway between Kansas City and Dallas, Muskogee benefited from lots of tourist traffic, an outcome that city fathers and business groups had eagerly anticipated from the start.  To foster and accommodate that ever-growing automobile traffic, the local Kiwanis Club in 1921 built in a Muskogee park a well-equipped state-of-the-art tourist camp able to accommodate 200 automobiles.

Muskogee had led the way to get the Jefferson Highway built in Oklahoma, and the leadership of David N. Fink (1868-1927) was an important part of the highway's successful completion.

This article by Glenn Smith was originally published in the Jefferson Highway Declaration Newsletter of the Jefferson Highway Association Vol 2, No. 1, Winter 2013