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Today is July 23, 2017

Mississippi Seen

Old roads paved the way to modern living

Old roads paved the way to modern living

There have been so many inventions that have made our lives drastically different from that of our great-grandparents, but paved roads and cars lie at the root of most of those innovations. This is a section of Mississippi's first paved road, preserved at Saltillo. Photo: Walt Grayson

The Daughters of the American Revolution placed a granite marker next to the little stretch of road in Saltillo in Lee County calling it “One of the first concrete roads south of the Mason-Dixon line.” It was actually the second, preceded only by a stretch of pavement in Pine Bluff, Ark.

It was Highway 45 back in 1915 when it was completed. Today it is County Highway 681. And although the road has been reworked and improved during the century since it was built, they’ve saved about a 300-yard section of the original roadway so we can still see it today.

It has asphalt lanes on either side to make it useable. But the slab of concrete there in the middle is a hunk of history, a section of the first paved road in Mississippi.

The day I got the photograph of the old road there in Saltillo I stopped by the Tupelo Automobile Museum on my way home. Frank Spain collected the cars on display there over many, many years. The cars and the museum are owned and maintained by a non-profit organization today. Frank’s widow, Jane Spain, is the executive director.

Jane and I had a great visit as she told me not only about a few of the cars (there’s over 150 in the collection so it’s hard to talk about all of them in one visit) but also about Frank’s love for them. He valued them as cars in and of themselves but also for what they represented: the mechanical engineering involved in their 100-year evolution from the earliest in the collection, from the 1890s, to the 1990s.

I commented to Jane that I had just been in Saltillo and seen the preserved section of the first paved road in the state there. That led to a conversation about how far Saltillo used to be from Tupelo in the horse-and-buggy days. But now, with paved roads, Saltillo is practically a part of Tupelo, if, in fact, it isn’t.

One of the fellows I was talking to in Saltillo was telling me why so many people are choosing to move to the smaller satellite communities. This not only goes for the towns around Tupelo, but around any city in America. He said in Saltillo, he’s five minutes away from the mall at Tupelo in one direction, and five minutes away from his deer stand in the other.

The automobile is what made stuff like that possible.

Jane told me she tries to get across to school groups touring the museum that the automobile has made the world smaller because of the short time it takes to get from one place to another.

She tells them the car has allowed us to dream bigger dreams and see places we would have only heard about, and to live farther away from where we grew up.

I would add only that paved roads went hand and hand with the automobile in allowing you and me to live where we live, work where we work, attend church where we do, shop where we want and see relatives living halfway across the country—and lots more stuff.

I remember a section of Highway 1 in the Delta long ago with the side slabs added. Daddy called the middle an old Model T road.

Our cars have advanced along with our roads. And between the two, we have dreamed bigger dreams and gone anywhere we’ve had the energy and wherewithal to go.

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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