The Lee Highway was a national auto trail in the United States, connecting New York City and San Francisco, California via the South and Southwest. After receiving a letter on January 15, 1919 from Dr. S.M. Johnson of Roswell, New Mexico, David Carlisle Humphreys of Lexington, Virginia put out a call for a meeting in Roanoke, Virginia to form a new national highway association. On December 3, 1919 five hundred men from five states met in Roanoke to officially form the Lee Highway Association. The auto trail was named after Robert E. Lee.
The route of the Lee Highway is now roughly designated by the following routes:
- US 1, New York to Washington, D.C.
- US 29, Washington to Warrenton, Virginia
- US 211, Warrenton to New Market, Virginia
- US 11, New Market to Bristol, Virginia
- US 11W, Bristol to Knoxville, Tennessee
- US 11, Knoxville to Chattanooga, Tennessee
- US 72, Chattanooga to Corinth, Mississippi
- US 45, Corinth to Selmer, Tennessee
- US 64, Selmer to Memphis, Tennessee
- US 70, Memphis to Alamogordo, New Mexico
- US 54, Alamogordo to El Paso, Texas
- US 180, El Paso to Las Cruces, New Mexico
- US 70, Las Cruces to Globe, Arizona
- US 60, Globe to Phoenix, Arizona
- Arizona SR 85 (former US 80) and Old US 80, Phoenix to Gila Bend, Arizona
- Interstate 8 (former US 80), Gila Bend to San Diego, California
- Interstate 5 (former U.S. Route 101), San Diego to Los Angeles, California
- US 101, Los Angeles to San Francisco, California
Present day name usage
Much of the original route is still known by the name "Lee Highway". The following cities and areas of the U.S. (listed from East to West) still have roads that use the name:
- The Lee Highway was defined by the General Assembly on March 20, 1922 to run from the District of Columbia at the Francis Scott Key Bridge to Bristol at the border with Tennessee. This was defined as U.S. Route 211 and U.S. Route 11 in 1926; US 211 northeast of Warrenton is now U.S. Route 29. It now uses the following business routes:
- The portion of US 11 known as Apperson Drive in Salem, Virginia and Brandon Avenue SW in Roanoke, Virginia is also commonly called Lee Highway. Other sections of US 11 in the Roanoke Valley are not typically referred to as Lee Highway. In the county of Botetourt, US 11 transitions from Williamson Road to Lee Highway and is thus named at least until Buchanan, Virginia
- Huntsville, Alabama
- Florence, Alabama
- Corinth, Mississippi
The "Lee Highway Blues" is a standard of southern string band music, widely attributed to G. B. Grayson of the popular Grayson and Whitter string band of the late 1920s, who recorded it under the title "Going Down The Lee Highway" but almost certainly composed by fiddler James ("Uncle Jimmy" or "Fiddlin' Jim") McCarroll of the Roane County Ramblers. The tune has been used as a fiddler's showpiece especially in the Virginia area by well-known fiddlers, notably Scotty Stoneman, and by string band revivalists such as the Highwoods String Band.
For an outstanding rendition of Lee Highway Blues see CMH Records, Inc., CD9037, artist: Chubby Wise. This cut was also recorded on Pioneering Women of Bluegrass, Alice Gerrard & Hazel Dickens; this album is in the Smithsonian collection.
David Bromberg wrote and performs a whimsical bluegrass tune, “The New Lee Highway Blues”, describing the tribulations of traveling on an endless highway of one horse towns.
- Rand McNally Auto Road Atlas, 1926, accessed via the Broer Map Library: shows the route between Washington, D.C. and New Mexico, except in western Tennessee
- Virginia Hart, The Story of American Roads, 1950, p. 240: lists the cities on the route
- The Lee Highway - AmericanRoads.us
- United States Route 80 The Dixie Overland Highway - FHWA
- Dr. S. M. Johnson - A Dreamer of Dreams - FHWA
- Dr. S. M. Johnson Photo Gallery Along Lee Highway (Mid-1920s) - FHWA
- My Grandfather's Lee Highway - HFCI