U.S. Highway 69 mostly follows what was once known as Texas Road, and was used to drive cattle herds to the north from Texas. The trail followed a military road that from 1836 to 1855 connected Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott in Kansas, south to Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, then on to Fort Smith, Arkansas.
The number of travelers along this old road and new railways led to the opening of several hotels throughout Southeast Kansas, including the historical landmark, Hotel Stilwell in Pittsburg.
Before the famed Route 66, before the federal highway system itself, from 1915 to 1925 automobiles were still rare and dirt roads were the norm. As a result, towns collaborated to guide auto travelers along the best roads from Canada to New Orleans, which became the Jefferson Highway.
Built in 1915, the Jefferson Highway Garage in Pittsburg once served automobiles traveling. Located at 406 N Locust, the structure is believed to be the last on the route to still have it’s original signage.
Jefferson Highway travelers also stayed at the Lincoln Park Tourist Camp. Established in 1920, this camp provided a more affordable place for families to stay. Plus, the park had electric lighting, comfort stations, a refueling area, permanent tables with benches, and summer travelers were treated to concerts in a nearby auditorium.
For those wanting to “Get your kicks Route 66,” a portion of both highways overlap in the extreme southeast corner of Kansas south into Oklahoma. Many of the popular Route 66 roadside attractions are just a short jaunt south of Crawford County, including the original tow truck that inspired the design of the character “Tow Mater” in Disney Pixar’s “Cars” series.
As one of the few north-south scenic routes in the nation, the Jefferson Highway Association is working to keep the spirit of this old highway alive. Despite not being as long as other routes, such as Route 66, it crosses through numerous communities with a wide variety of cultures, providing travelers a true glimpse of the nation’s diversity.
The Jefferson Highway Association aims to mark the old route, while also providing heritage markers to keep stories along the route alive. Several of these heritage markers are in the Crawford County, Kansas area. The annual Jefferson Highway Association conference is held in June each year. The 2022 conference was held in Pittsburg.