Magnolia Route - 1923-1927

Vol. XVII No. 1 - SPRING 2006

It’s a beautiful name for a road connecting the gulf coast of Mississippi to Chicago, Illinois. The importance of this road may be lost on many people of the 21st century. Mr. Joe Casey, of Gulfport, Mississippi has written a book called “The Magnolia Route” about it and he will be at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum to tell us the rest of the story.

Mr. Casey began his investigation by looking into a story told by his grandma about the day his great grandfather, his grandfather, Joseph and his father at the age of 13, went walking from their home in Gulfport to the post office in town to see the “City Car” leave for Chicago. Apparently, his grandmother stayed behind to watch the children and she frequently talked about being left behind on this important day. Mr. Casey wrote “I never understood what she was talking about.” Now, with his research complete, he has written a most enlightening story.

The Magnolia Route began with an idea. The beautiful Mississippi gulf coast should be connected to the rest of the state by a roadway. It was a great idea in 1916, but the first World War changed any plans that had been made. At that time the gulf coast was only connected to Jackson, Mississippi by an interurban train line. More planning was needed after the war to get the idea back on track.

According to the book by Mr. Casey, Colonel William Royster said this about transportation:

It has been proven that no form of advertising excels that of building good safe roads. Boats on water courses must follow the general trend of the stream, railroads cannot leave regular fixed lines to run to a farmer’s gate or a merchant’s store, but roads good roads, can go anywhere, do go everywhere and the result can scarcely be calculated.”

Later, he became the manager of the Magnolia Route. In the early 1920s, the idea expanded to be an interstate connection from Mississippi to Chicago. In a way, it signaled the end of dependence on inter urban and interstate railroad transportation and a new freedom brought to all through the automobile.

Even more remarkable was that this roadway had a logo which was used in all publicity about the road and in markings along the way. But, rather that being a number like Route 66, it was a beautiful flower.

Mr. Casey and his son will commemorate the 1925 non stop trip taken by Arthur W. Lang Sr. and Harold Metz as a way to advertise this brand new connection to Chicago.

There is a special connection to Edgewater since the owners of the Edgewater Beach Hotel invested in the gulf coast and built a sister hotel there, the Edgewater Gulf Hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was built in 1926 after the Magnolia Route had succeeded in getting national attention. The hotel was located along the water and had extensive grounds which included a golf links, a clubhouse and a small subdivision of houses. The homes were built without kitchens, since meals were taken at the clubhouse and those seeking a vacation would be relieved of all food preparation responsibilities.

The ground-breaking for this hotel took place on February 26, 1926, with then Chicago Mayor William Dever throwing the first shovel of earth. Mayor Dever was a one term mayor who lived in the Edgewater neighborhood on North Kenmore Avenue. Mr. William Dewey, manager of the Edgewater Beach in Chicago, was also in attendance for the ground-breaking. The book also includes some charming quotes from Mayor Dever.

The Edgewater Gulf Hotel was heavily advertised in the Chicago Edgewater Beach Hotel publications. The photo on our cover is one of those ads. The hotel also published a brochure with color photos and text describing the new resort on the gulf coast. Some of these will be on exhibit at our museum for a few weeks.

Mr. Casey reports, “The firm of Shaw and Woleben Engineers of Gulfport, Miss. engineered the world famous 26 mile long Mississippi Gulf Coast Seawall. Completed in 1926, it was considered at the time one of the engineering marvels of the century.” It protected the shoreline of the Edgewater Gulf Hotel.

On April 21st, Joe Casey and his son will arrive in Chicago at the museum, after driving along the original Magnolia Route from Gulfport to Chicago. They will leave Gulfport at the sound of a gunshot fired by the Gulfport Chief of police. They will bring along with them water from the Gulf of Mexico and an artifact from the Old Splendid Café in Gulfport, which was demolished during Hurricane Katrina last August. The café was the place where the original crew that drove non stop to Chicago in 1925 had their breakfast before the trip. They will take the gulf water to Lake Michigan and take some Lake Michigan water back to the gulf.

Recently, Mr. Casey reported to us that he was interviewed on the Gulfport/Biloxi area TV station, WLOX TV. He told of the 24 hour nonstop trip he was making to the Edgewater Historical Society Museum. He noted that the museum building was built in 1926 as a firehouse. At 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 22nd, Joe Casey will be the guest speaker at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum. He will tell us more about the Magnolia Route and what it took to make the connection to Chicago. He will autograph the books that he sells and has offered the museum a portion of the sales. We are delighted to have Mr. Casey for this special program and will have a exhibit of photos and ads about the Edgewater Gulf Hotel. It shows some of the similarities to the Chicago Edgewater Beach Hotel.