A new film about the long-forgotten Jefferson Highway will premier at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Roxy Theater in downtown Muskogee. This will be the only showing of the documentary in Oklahoma this year. The event is free and open to the public, according to a media release.
The film coincides with the 100th anniversary of the beginnings of America’s first north-south interstate, which is named for Thomas Jefferson. The road passes through the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson’s great real estate deal. In Oklahoma, this highway is now part of Route 66 and all of U.S. 69 from Miami to Durant.
Two friends and filmmakers, Darrell Johnston and Josiah Laubenstsein, spent the summer driving the old two-lane route of the Jefferson Highway from Winnipeg to New Orleans in a classic 1953 Dodge. Their film is titled “Less Traveled: A Journey from Pine to Palm.” They spent several hours filming in Muskogee and made stops in most of the towns along Oklahoma’s stretch of the road.
E.T. Meredith of Des Moines, the founder of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, came up with the concept of a national north-south highway patterned after the east-west road called the Lincoln Highway. When the Jefferson Highway Association organized in New Orleans in 1915, Meredith was elected president.
Vice president of the association was Muskogee banker David Fink. Both men worked successfully to assure the highway would run through their towns. Work began in 1916, and hard-surfacing the road was finished by 1929 about a decade before Route 66 was completed.
In Oklahoma, the route of the Jefferson Highway followed a much older, well-traveled road first called the Osage Trace. Muskogee author Jonita Mullins has written a book titled "The Jefferson Highway in Oklahoma: The Historic Osage Trace," which will be released in early December by The History Press. Mullins will be at the Roxy Theater on Sunday with more information on her book.