One of the things I love about St. Augustine is the endless array of historical sites and places of interest. There are hundreds if not thousands of fascinating pieces of history that tourists go through every day. Only some make an effort to learn about the things they see. Others simply create a series of facts that sound like they know what they are talking about. I get a kick out of talking to tourists about some of these historical monuments and listening to their theories about the things they are seeing.
The zero point marker is one of the most misunderstood points in St. Augustine. The sign is a six foot diameter head stone ball with a bronze plate attached to it. Only the year "1928" which is inscribed on the slab does not allow the visitor to include the stone with st. Augustine & historical lore of XIX or XVIII century. The plaque simply says that the monument marks the beginning of the old Spanish trail between st. Augustine and San Diego, California.
Many tourists create a vision of Spanish missionaries and soldiers sliding their way from this marker across the United States to San Diego. The fact that the marker is dated 1928 does little to change their speculation. However, the facts are that the Old Spanish Trail does not originate in the Spanish St. Augustine but in Mobile, Alabama. The city of Mobile developed as a French, non-Spanish colony at Fort Louise de la Mobile.
In 1915, the two north-south highways – Dixie and Jackson – were planned. Both highways would draw traffic from northern tourists to Florida and New Orleans. Jackson Road was planned to cross the Mississippi rather than Alabama on its way to New Orleans. As a result, the Rotary Club of Mobile Alabama made an effort to lobby for the road to pass through Alabama instead of Mississippi based on some statistics that demonstrated that although the road through Alabama was longer, more people would benefit. They were unsuccessful with their lobbying efforts, the urgency of building an east-west route through Mobile became more important than ever. As a result, a plan was devised to create an east-west highway that would connect Mobile to New Orleans and Jacksonville and remove the connection to both north-south highways.
The effort on the part of the Mobile Rotarians gained momentum and their target was announced in 1915. The Palmer Pillans, President of the Rotary Club promoted it as a highway that would connect Florida's cities to Mobile and the California coast.
To improve and romanticize the road called the Old Spanish Trail. Although it is true that the road will connect many settlements started by Spain, the intention was what we would today call marketing hype.
However, the effort gained momentum only to stagnate since World War I and some serious logistical problems created by natural barriers. By 1918 the project was literally dead in the water. In 1919 the Old Spanish Trial gained new life when product leadership moved to Texas. New leadership was elected. Harral B. Ayers became the Managing Director of the Old Spanish Trail Association. Starting on the streets of Texas, he worked hard and provided the leadership and political influence needed to bring the project to its 1929 fruits.
To celebrate the completion, the Old Spanish Trail Association woke up to a grand celebration at St. Louis. Augustine where the zero mile marker was dedicated. At the conclusion of the event – a motor vehicle set off for a trip to San Diego. There were those who did it all the time and some not. However, the road continued to be promoted with all the tweaks that its casual Spanish connection could well gather in the 1960s & 39s; s.