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The Florida Quest - Unlock the Legacy of the Walls

Old Dixie Highway opened in 1914

By Carl Laundrie
Staff Writer

BUNNELL -- The chortling of a four-cylinder engine, the rippling of paving brick beneath the new rubber tires and frequent stops for flats was all part of being a motoring tourist at the turn of the century in Florida.

Although it was hailed as a superhighway of its day, traveling to Florida in a Ford Model T in 1914 down the Old Dixie Highway must have been quite an adventure. The roadway was 9 feet wide and paved in brick -- if a southbound tourist met a northbound motorist, one of them had to get off the road to let the other go by. Without the benefit of modern tires, flats were a common occurrence. Still Northern tourists came to sunny Florida to escape the Northern winters much like they do today.

The portion of the Old Dixie Highway that was paved through Flagler County opened in 1914, according to Department of Transportation records. Most of what remains of the Old Dixie Highway in the state is either major thoroughfares or residential streets, with the bricks either paved over or removed. But tucked away in a seldom traveled corner of Flagler County is a piece of Florida history -- a brick road about 9 miles long that is part of what once was the Old Dixie Highway.

The roadway north of Espanola was built before Flagler County existed. The county was formed out of Volusia and St. Johns counties in 1917. The Old Brick Road, as it is called today, remains pretty much as it was in 1914, except for damage from logging trucks, which until recently used the roadway, and thieves who have removed bricks in places.

Before it disappears altogether from misuse and abuse, a group of Flagler County residents wants to preserve the historic roadway.

The Flagler County Historical Society gained approval this week from the Flagler County Tourist Development Council to receive $15,000 aimed at getting the Old Brick Road included on the National Register of Histor ic Places. Final approval of the funding is expected to come from the Flagler County Commission later this month.

Diane Marquis, president of the Flagler County Historical Society, said state officials have indicated that Flagler County has a good chance at getting the roadway listed on the National Register.

"We were pleased to come up with that amount of money," Marquis said. "Everyone wanted to know how we can save the Old Brick Road, but no one else came up with a plan."

The Historical Society plans to use the money to hire a consultant to research the history of the Old Brick Road and write the application request to apply for National Register status. The remaining portion of the money is to be used to hire a someone to come up with a plan to preserve the road.

The road is open now, but it's in rough condition in spots and might not treat cars and travelers to a pleasant ride. The goal is to fix and preserve the road so travelers can explore the area safely.

Gary Goodwin with the state's Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, says the process can take anywhere from six months to several years.

"Once the proposal is submitted it is reviewed by the Florida National Registry Panel to determine if it meets the criteria," Goodwin said. "If it meets the criteria, the staff prepares it for a formal request to Washington, D.C."

From there it is either approved or rejected.

In a 1991 interview, the late Otis Hunter, a former Flagler County commissioner who lived in Espanola along the Old Brick Road for his entire life, described its construction.

"It was made of brick that was brought here by rail from Alabama and then carried by mule and wagon to the construction site," Hunter said. "There must be a big hole up there somewhere in Alabama because there is a lot of brick.

"They didn't use a subbase at all, they just set them right in the sand," Hunter said. "It was 9 feet wide with a curb stone on either side. Convict labor was used to build the road, and they would build a labor camp and work on construction of the road, and then when they got a few miles they would move their camp closer to their work."

The Old Dixie Highway in Flagler County ran south from Hastings in St. Johns County, passed through Espanola and followed the railroad tracks into Bunnell. It then headed east toward what was Ocean City (now Flagler Beach), generally following the route of the current State Road 100. At John Anderson Highway, the roadway turned south to Volusia County. The brick portion of the roadway that remains is from Espanola north to the St. Johns County line.

Garry Balough, district scenic highway coordinator for the Department of Transportation, said DOT is also considering contributing some funds toward the effort.

"We think it will take $25,000 to complete the application and develop a management plan," Balough said. "The Old Dixie Highway played a major role in developing the state's tourism. The Old Brick Road represents the longest intact portion of brick road in the state. Since it meets the state criteria as a paved road it could also be considered for state scenic highway status."

Balough said the road also could be included in a three-state plan for heritage tourism development called "South Passages: The Atlantic Coast." South Carolina, Georgia and Florida have joined forces to set up a heritage corridor extending from Charleston, S.C., to New Smyrna Beach. The goal is to bring more tourists into rural areas that were bypassed with Interstate 95 was built.

The corridor roughly follows "The Kings Road" from Charleston to its terminus in New Smyrna Beach.

Published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Sunday, January 19, 2003.

Unlock the Legacy of the Walls