Anyone who has had the pleasure of living in the state of Alabama for any length of time knows that the terrain is vast and varied. It is difficult to imagine a time when the paved streets and highways that we know today once existed as mere mud roads. In Getting out of the Mud: The Alabama Good Roads Movement and Highway Administration, 1898-1928, Martin T. Olliff sheds light on state’s turn of the century impetus to rethink the way Alabamians moved from place to place.


Check out these 5 Nuggets of Wisdom to learn more about the spirit of Dixie pride:

  1. The rise of the Model T inspired construction projects. Following the end of the Civil War, Alabama suffered a number of blows economically as the heavily relied on slave labor force was converted to a labor force requiring payment. A number of buildings and even whole towns had been burned by Union soldiers, and the Reconstruction policies that followed exacerbated an already desolate situation. Colloquially known as the “Tin Lizzie,” Ford’s vehicles helped to stimulate the stagnate Alabama economy.
  2. Good roads were built by good country people. Many of the first planned roads in Alabama were built by Alabamian men themselves. While many of these men were not skilled at road-building (most listed their primary occupation as “farmer” on the census), they saw a need for better roads in their state, and they filled that need the best way that they knew how: by picking up tools and getting the work done themselves. Some engineers and skilled craftsmen were brought in to assist with certain projects, by and large, this was a homespun movement.
  3. “Jackson” was quite popular. Though long since deceased, President Andrew Jackson’s legacy lived on in the hearts and minds of early 20th century white Southerners. In his lifetime, Jackson acted as a key military figure in various bloody conflicts including the War of 1812, the Creek War, and the First Seminole War. This led to a squabble between Mississippi and Alabama regarding who would have the privilege of naming their part of an interstate highway after Jackson. Although Mississippi technically won the battle, Alabama-Jackson Highway was born soon after.
  4. Alma Rittenberry is a name to remember. As women struggled to secure their right to the vote, Rittenberry played a key role in the campaign for what would become the Alabama-Jackson Highway. The daughter of a Confederate veteran and a member of the Daughters of 1812, Rittenberry was a voice that pushed the notion of highways acting as what Olliff calls “benefactors” of the cities they traversed.
  5. Seeing is believing. Olliff adds to the readers’ experience by adding a visual element. He presents a number of photographs of pivotal leaders in the movement that oversaw significant improvements to Alabama road construction. In addition, Olliffe provides a number of original sketches of highway plans dating back to the 1910s.

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Olliff’s Getting out of the Mud: The Alabama Good Roads Movement and Highway Administration, 1898-1928 offers a much-needed examination of not just a state-wide construction project but also the ingenuity and heart of the average Alabamian. Published by Alabama Press in 2017, this book is now available for purchase.

Martin Olliff will be at Ernest & Hadley Booksellers this evening, Monday, October 23, beginning at 5:30 p.m. to discuss and sign copies of his new book.