My family connection to the Jefferson Highway project 

If you have never heard of or read any of the articles about the Jefferson Highway you have missed a very important part of the roadway history of our country. As with any start to something great it probably began with, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea.” The Jefferson Highway was no different.  As you get to know this huge endeavor you will begin to understand the people who initially made this country great.  You can start with the Internet or your local library and start the journey from Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada to New Orleans, Louisiana.  There are a great many maps to show exactly where the proposed highway went.

When you read some of the accounts of the Jefferson Highway project you can’t help but admire the people that were involved.  All of the meetings and arguments about where it was going to go, through who’s farm or property, and not to mention who was going to pay for it.  Associations were formed, and clearer minds ultimately prevailed in the end so the right decisions were made.  It turned out to be a large portion of the little people who made this a success. Oh sure, there were the mayors and council people who were also involved and probably added to the hype and promotion, but the average Joe was the worker who was getting the job done.  

For those who worked it, the Jefferson Highway was a big, and lonesome, project from Winnipeg to New Orleans. Contributed photo

My name is Thomas Francis Olejnicak (Ola-knee-check).  My name is really not that important to this story, but I wanted you to know who I am.  Later you will see where I fit in.  I am 77 years old but grew up knowing the Jefferson Highway in mid-central and northern Minnesota through my parents, Mable and Frank.  Around 1955 they bought a piece of property on Lake Shamineau in the North Country off Highway 10 near Motley, Minnesota.  We would drive up every weekend to see if the property was ready to build on. Our many trips to the lake cabin took us through many towns and communities that were originally marked as the old Jefferson Highway.  (Highway 169 — or old County Road 18 — and Highway 10).  From where we lived in South Minneapolis we would pass through Robinsdale, Osseo, Elk River, Big Lake, Clear Lake, St. Cloud, Rice, Royalton, Little Falls, Randall, Cushing, Lincoln, Motley and then to the cabin. There were many weekends traveling to the lake and many trips continued after I got married and my wife and I had children.

Now it wasn’t the original dusty, dirty Jefferson Highway, and it was marked with different highway signs, but the northern route that it took was still the same. The Jefferson Highway then continued south from Minneapolis through Rosemount, Farmington, Northfield, Dundas, Faribault, Medford and Owatonna.  It kept going and went further south across the Red River, through Denison, Texas, and on to New Orleans, Louisiana.  I understand that a plaque was erected in Denison, Texas, to acknowledge the highways route.  But, this story starts way back in 1925 in Owatonna, Minnesota.

Some years after my daughter started a search of family ancestry my interest in the Jefferson Highway grew.  Our family has a photo of my grandfather, which for many years hung on the walls of the 11 homes my wife and I had through our travels.  It’s not just a picture of my grandfather but of what he was involved in at the time, and after, the Jefferson Highway was formed. It’s a picture of his company car and points out that Gus Cedardahl, along with his brother Oscar, hand painted thousands of sign markers and telephone poles along the Jefferson Highway route. Gus Cedardahl and his brother Oscar painted and marked the JH logo on every other telephone pole and bridge, like the one in the photo, and every other opportune location.  The box on the side of his auto reads “official marker” and “Cedardahl sign company Owatonna, Minnesota.”

My grandfather, Gus Cedardahl, and his brother Oscar were born in Lerum, Sweden, near Gothenburg and immigrated to the United States around 1887. They moved to Faribault for a few years and then to Owatonna. Gus became an outstanding leader in Owatonna civic affairs and a brother-partner in a nationally known woodworking and custom furniture establishment.  They built furniture for George Hormel in Austin, Minnesota, and the Mayo family in Rochester, Minnesota, along with fixtures for some of the churches in Owatonna. As a businessman, Gus was particularly prominent in community leadership.  He served as 5th ward alderman for four years, 1910 to 1914, and as the ward’s representative on the school board from 1918 to 1926.  He gave much effort to and saw the erection of the (then) junior/senior high school.

Postcard sent home from Gus Cedardahl to Tom’s mother Mabel from Cushing, Minnesota, July 1925. Contributed photo

In addition to the elective offices, he served as a member of the Owatonna city hospital board for several years.  He was one of the pioneers in the formation of the Steele County Agricultural Society, and devoted much time and energy to its activities as director.  Gus and his wife, Mary, and the nine girls they raised had owned and operated a food stand at the Steele County Fair for many years.  They not only ran the food stand for 16 years, Gus and his brother built the food stand at the Steele County Fair.

National prominence was achieved, personally for his work and leadership he assumed in Minnesota’s early efforts to obtain good roads.  Mostly any roads built at that time were the responsibility of each state, county or local town. Those efforts were pushed by the business people and farmers who needed the roads for the success of their livelihood.  Each town and community would form associations, raise the money and begin building what they needed.  It went from small town to small town and eventually to the state borders.  There the next state would take over.  It soon became a national effort and finally became the first north-south road. It was named for President Thomas Jefferson, the Jefferson Highway.

This roadway, nicknamed “From Pine to Palm” stretched from Winnipeg, Canada, to New Orleans, Louisiana.  A 2,200-mile stretch of road that was conceived in 1915, dedicated in 1919 and completed in 1926.  It was the culmination of many dreams, much sweat and tears, hard work and probably a fair amount of frustration. Through the development of the many local associations and a national Jefferson Highway Association and years of construction, the roadway was being improved with road gravel, asphalt and finally concrete to take it to a brand-new level.   

A national Jefferson Highway Association was formed, and a trial trip was in the making to show the possibilities of the highway for auto travel. This trial run started in Winnipeg, Canada, and ended in New Orleans.  Over the years of construction local communities would offer road tours from one point to another, and some people would simply take off on their own.  Along the way, some problems with the roadway were discovered.  The local community, city or small town would quickly raise funds to correct the problems.  

The highway was to be designated and marked by a JH logo. The marking of the Jefferson Highway was contracted to my grandfather and his brother Oscar.  At that time they owned a paint and wallpaper shop and sign painting company in Owatonna. The highway marking started in Winnipeg early in 1925 and was expected to be completed by the time the “Pine to Palm” winter motor tour started its trip over the highway from Winnipeg, which set out in January 1926.

Throughout the Internet there are various sites and blogs relating to the highway progression, the towns and cities it went through and the interesting sites along the way.  It has maps outlining the route.  The point is that the project was the beginning of the highway as we know it today.  The marking of posts and bridge abutments with the JH logo was an undertaking that took approximately one year, the end of 1925 through the spring of 1926.  The photograph on page 10A locates them at the Red River near Dennison, Texas.  I have also included a postcard on page 9A written by Gus in July 1925 from Lincoln, Minnesota, on his way south.  Lincoln is on the current Highway 10 (or the old Jefferson Highway) midway through Minnesota.  He sent this postcard to his daughter, Mabel Olejnicak (my mother) in Owatonna.  This postcard puts the marking team in the middle of their trip and on the way to New Orleans. 

I have no idea how fast the marking party drove or how much time it took to stop and set up for marking and painting the posts for each JH logo.  I read somewhere that some locations throughout the trip had speed limits of 20 miles per hour.  So, from Lincoln, Minnesota, to Dennison, Texas, I assume, could possibly have taken around three months or more.  At any rate, they reached the Red River around January 1926, about the same time a group of 31 automobiles loaded with about 100 highway enthusiasts headed south from Winnipeg to New Orleans.

Gus Cedardahl and his brother crossed the Red River, near Denison, Texas, in late January 1926, while working on the Jefferson Highway. Photo contributed

Their trip was to see exactly what this new Jefferson Highway was about.  They more than likely stopped at various major cities and towns along the way and were met with all the other party goers who were excited about the new north-south highway.  It must have opened up a new set of travel plans for many of the people along the way.

Not long after the Jefferson highway was completed, early 1927, the government was moving toward designing a road and Highway numbering system.  But the completion of the Jefferson Highway project showed the rest of the civic-minded people that working together for the betterment of the communities is the only way to go. 

I and my family are very proud of my grandfather Gus and his brother Oscar that they had the business sense and fortitude to take on that gigantic project.  My children are also very proud of their great-grandfather and great-uncle Oscar as well.

Cedardahl Travel Log Notes

My grandfather, Gus Cedardahl, was the one who marked the Jefferson Highway.  Along with Gus on this trip was his brother Oscar, who was also part of the Cedardahl Brother Partnership in Owatonna, Minnesota.

Before I began the story I knew that there might be a travel log that Gus kept along his way through the country, north to south.  My niece found a portion of his trip log among the old family photographs, and we are still waiting for her to find the remaining parts.  These notes start out on Jan. 1, 1926, and go to Feb. 18, 1926.  

This portion of the log reads:

Jan 1, 1926 –Muskogee Oklahoma-Hotel Muskogee.  Had mail from home. And cigars and candy from Alice.

Jan 2,1926 – Rain today, could not mark…another lonesome day.

Jan 3, 1926 –Sun out a fine day. Spent most of the day seeing Muskogee.

Jan 4, 1926 – Worked all day marking the city.

Jan 5, 1926 –Marked all day in Muskogee.  Had large boxes from home. Mabel sent cigars and candy, letters and a paper.  Enjoyed the evening reading news from home.

Jan 6, 1926 – Left Muskogee paid hotel bill ($18.89).  Marked road to Oktaka and Checotah.  Fine weather.

Jan 7, 1926 – Checotah a.m.  County Hotel ex.  Marked through Onapo, Eufaula, Candian, Crowder to McAlester, around the Canadian river.  Fine weather.

Jan 8, 1926 –McAlester Okla. Arrived around 5 p.m.  Has lots of mail from home and papers.  Put up at Dors Hotel.  Rain and cold tonight.

Jan 9, 1926 – McAlester Okla.  Met Pine D. Hale, J.D. Jones of Ford Motor Company.  Received box of eats from home, Had some angel cake…Oh boy!  Mail letter and card home and had some lunch in our room.

Jan 10, 1926 – McAlester Okla.  Long day.  Marked all over town, 4 hours. Took pictures of church and school.

Jan 11, 1926 – At McAlester, Marked all day and finished McAlester.  Got letter from Myrtle and mailed cards to Alice, Marie and  Marion and to Elouise in Chicago.  Sent card to Myrtle.

Jan 12, 1926 – Left McAlester and paid Hotel bill.  Going south to Savana,       Kiowa, Stringtown to Atoka.

Jan 13, 1926 – Atoka…Jefferson Hotel.  Marked to Caney, Cado to Durant.  Drove back to McAlester for mail.  Learned about the mine explosion at Willburton from local paper the report was bad.  Oklahoma City, Ok.  January 13 1926 (AP) Governor M.E.T rapp today ordered a company of national guards form McAlester to report to Willburton, Ok., where more than 100 men were entombed in a mine explosion.  Several were rescued while others were assumed dead.

Jan 14, 1926 – Drove over to Willburton and saw the big mine disaster and terrible sights as they related to the lamentation as the bodies came up from the mine.

Jan 15, 1926 –At Durant, Ok. – Atwood Hotel.  Painted standard markings for Durant and moved to Calera and Colbert.

Jan 16, 1926 – Durant, Ok.  Went down of train to Denison for mail.  Got letter from Alice – Mable and Marie.  Finished steel markers and finished marking to Red River.  Raining tonight.

Jan 17, 1926 – Durant, Ok. Another long Sunday away from home.  Made out report to Hugh Shepard.  We are now all finished marking in Oklahoma.  Start in Texas tomorrow at Denison.  Rainy all day and colder.

Jan 18, 1926 – Durant, Ok. Sent box of nuts home and a basket.  Sent letter and paper to Geo. Danby.

Jan 19, 1926 – Hotel Simpson, Denison, Texas.  Had letter from Eloise and Marie had box of eats from home and letter from Shepard with order to mark JH from Denison through Dallas, Waco and Houston to Galveston.

Jan 20,1926 – Put on 38 steel markers in Denison.  Marked all day.  Started to rain 5 p.m.

Jan 21, 1926 – Denison – Snow and rain, no marking

Jan 22, 1926 – Denison, Texas – Snow and rain, no marking.  Had letter from Alice and Eloise. Lines to Myrtle and notes to home and Marie.

Jan 23, 1926 –Snow, cold and rain, no marking – Denison

Jan 24, 1926 – Denison, Tx. – Met a Mr. Brown from Mpls.  A long lonesome day.

Jan 25, 1926 – At Denison, Tx.

Jan 26, 1926 – At Denison, Tx.

Jan 27, 1926 – At Denison, Tx. Finished marking and Denison.  Met a Mr. Matson from Mankato, Mn.

Jan 28, 1926 – Left Denison and marked through Ambrose, Bells, Savoy, Ector, Bonham, Cabor, Wolf City to Greenville, Tx.  Had letter from Myrtle and Marie.

Jan 29, 1926 – At Greenville, Tx. marked out 20 miles and took a call from Joseph F Nichols, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in Greenville, and left with him a collection list.  Had letter from Marie, St. Paul and paper from home.  Mailed in report from Red River to Greenville, about 80 miles.

Jan 30, 1926 – Left Greenville for Mt. Pleasant to Sulphur Springs, Tx.  Called on Louis Gauth, banker and W.W. Evans, secretary for the Chamber of Commerce.  Marked to Mt. Pleasant.  Fine day and warm.

Jan 31, 1926 – Marked to Mt. Pleasant, ate some on the road.

Feb 1, 1926 – Mt. Pleasant, called on H.G. Huckba, secretary of Chamber of Commerce and G.L. Duncan.  Marked all day.

Feb 2, 1926 – Pittsburg, Texas.  Went to Longview (40 miles) to meet with Hugh Shepard and the Canadians.  Had lunch with them. Introduced to them all. Drove back to Pittsburg.

Feb 3, 1926 – At Pittsburg. Called on J. Raynolds, druggist, H.G. Clayton, Mayor and I.G. Jenks, secretary of Chamber of Commerce.

Feb 4, 1926 – Marked Gilmer to Gladwater.  Called on L.J. Buratt – Banker on way to Longview.  Called on Geo. E. Adams secretary of chamber of Commerce and J.F. Stucks, President.

Feb 5, 1926 – On the way to Marshall marked to Shreveport, La. And Baton Rouge, La.  85 to 90 in the shade…too hot for marking.

Feb 6, 1926 – In Shreveport, La.  8 a.m. back to Marshall, Texas.  Population 15,000 – Hot today, 87 in the shade.

Feb 7, 1926 – Marshall all day.  Glad to get away from the heat.

Feb 8, 1926 – Started back way of Dallas, Texas.  Roads good.

Feb 9, 1926 – Terrel Texas over night.  One night in Dallas, to Waco, Sherman and to Dennison.

(Skipping a week to get to final two days)

Feb 17, 1926 – At Mason City, Casa Gorda Hotel.  Called on Hugh Shepard’s office and turned in our last report $78.00. Note to St. Joseph in regards to pay in full.

Feb 18, 1926 – At home from our trip through the southern states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.  80 days this section. In all traveled 6,824 miles. Glad to be home.