Interstate 75

The Interstate Highway System dramatically changed transportation and travel for Americans across the country.  For Lowndes County, the arrival of Interstate 75 greatly transformed local commerce and industry.  The new highway resulted in a tourism boom that brought new businesses, visitors, residents, and opportunities.  Just as the railroad served as a catalyst for Valdosta’s creation so would automotive thoroughfares, like Highway 41 and Interstate 75, be just as critical in redefining the community economically and socially.

Development and Construction

A joint City-County-Chamber of Commerce Highway Committee was formed by Valdosta Mayor Emory Bass in September 1956 to study Federal and State highway programs and to make recommendations for projects to the state Highway Board. The joint committee would analyze local road needs and determine how the new Federal highway program would affect Valdosta and Lowndes County.

John Langdale served as chairman of this committee, which also included: J.L. Spivey, Country Johnston, Perry Fields, George Shelton Sr., J.C. Green, Emory Bass, Leonard Mederer, Lamar Murdough, Guy Connell, Roger Budd, and Fred Walker.

Surveying land for Interstate 75 through Lowndes County in 1957

Surveying land for Interstate 75 through Lowndes County in 1957

Contracting for the first of three segments of Interstate 75 through Lowndes County began in March of 1959. The direction of Interstate 75 was to travel from the Cook County line south to and just west of Mineola; an interchange at Mineola would permit access into Valdosta. The highway was to continue to Florida from Mineola via the River Street-Baytree Road intersection, across the western portion of Hill Avenue at Boone’s Dairy Road, west of the airport, and just west of Lake Park.

It was described that “This section of the four-lane, limited access road was the only one of this type from the Mid-West to Florida.”

By summer of 1959 construction had begun on the north Lowndes Interstate project, purchasing of right-of-way on the middle interstate was underway west of Valdosta and by the beginning of 1960 appraisal work was being completed on the third and final contract to the Florida line. By February, Highway officials estimated that “at the present rate of construction, Valdosta traffic would be riding to Macon on the super highway by 1963.”

That same year, a traffic study and analysis of Lowndes by the Georgia Highway Department predicted that there would be over 1000 cars per hour on U.S. 75.

Opening of the Interstate

Interstate Route 75 into Florida was officially opened Monday, July 15, 1963. Georgia Governors Farris Bryant and Carl Sanders headed a long list of dignitaries which included statesmen from both Georgia and Florida. The opening was sponsored by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton County (Fla.) Chamber of Commerce, the County of Hamilton and the County of Lowndes. President John Langdale of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber served as Master of Ceremonies.

Business leaders in the community were careful to ensure that Interstate 75 would be an asset to Valdosta and not a liability. They knew the new highway could channel trade into the city or help it rush it on by. With that in mind the Chamber of Commerce’s Tourist Promotion Committee formed plans to bring more motorists off the interstate highway and attract them to stay longer.

The county’s fast-growing tourist industry produced much of the new building activity in the community at the time. In 1965, on Interstate Highway 75, construction was in progress on the Briarwood Motel, Davis Brothers Cafeteria, and the Lawler Motel south of Valdosta. A 100 unit Ramada Inn motel and restaurant and Quickly Restaurant were preparing to open for business. At the same time four new service stations were going up on the Valdosta interchanges of this super highway.

The new attention the interstate brought to Valdosta also increased the need for beautification projects in the community. In July 1965 the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce noted that “since the opening of Interstate Highway 75, W. Hill Avenue has become one of the major ‘front doors’ to Valdosta. It is also considered by many as one of the major ‘eyesores’ in the city.” A widening and resurfacing project proposed at the time was considered by Chamber officials as a means to boost retail trade and tourism.

An article in the October 15, 1965 issue of Time Magazine took notice of the booming tourism industry in Valdosta. The article, which discussed the impact of the Interstate Highway system throughout the country, pointed out that since the section of I-75 opened, Valdosta had “enjoyed a tourist boom that has created new jobs in motel restaurants and gas stations.” Valdosta was one of only two cities of smaller size featured in the article.

Data compiled by the highway planning section of the State Highway Department, in 1971, compiled information about traffic volume on I-75 in Lowndes County.
One day estimates for the first seven months of the year were:
January 15,002 (6,863 northbound and 8,201 southbound)
February 16,404 (8,203 northbound and 8,201 southbound)
March 16,996 (8,439 northbound and 8,557 southbound)
April 26,703 (13,917 northbound and 12,786 southbound)
May 14,343 (7,939 northbound and 6,404 southbound)
June 20,216 (10,385 northbound and 9,831 southbound)
July 23,195 (12,277 northbound and 10,918 southbound)

A New Welcome Center in Lowndes County

Bill Hardman, Director of the Tourist Division of the Georgia Department of Industry and Trade, was in Valdosta in October 1963 to look at proposed sites for Georgia’s newest Tourist Welcome Station. Governor Sanders has made available some $50,000.00 to build the station on 1-75. The proposed plans were to locate it on a 4-acre site south of Valdosta. The building was designed to house an information center and refreshment stand.

Groundbreaking tourism center - PROGRESS May 1965

Georgia Governor Carl E. Sanders at the groundbreaking of the welcome center in Lowndes County, 1965.

Governor Carl E. Sanders was in Valdosta April 16, 1965, to break ground for Lowndes County’s new $75,000 welcome station. The groundbreaking ceremony was at the site near the LakePark – Clyattville Interchange. Sanders called the new station “a fine addition to our state’s continuing effort to reap the benefits of the growing tourist trade.” Bill Hardman said the station in Lowndes would be the “biggest and finest that the state has constructed yet” and that he expected the facility to exceed 15,000 visitor s a month.

Construction began in May 1965 and LowndesCounty’s welcome center opened in late 1966. Governor Carl Sanders visited Valdosta again on December 14 to dedicate and officially open the state’s seventh welcome station.

Mayor with Pony Express

Mayor Gil Harbin and Ford for I-75

Mayor Gil Harbin presenting a letter and Valdosta brochures to the driver of Ford Motor Company’s version of the “Pony Express” in January 1978.

Heralding completion of 1-75, the nation’s first border to border interstate highway, Ford decided to send a car from Tampa, Florida and a truck from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and have the two vehicles meet at Marietta for ribbon cutting ceremonies completing the 1,564-mile interstate. The Valdosta Holiday Inn provided a stopover for the car en route to the ceremonies.

Much of the information here was collected from the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce Progress Magazine.  The Lowndes County Historical Museum maintains an archive of Progress issues.  Particular historic issues of the publication were loaned to the museum by the Chamber of Commerce to digitally archive as well.