In September 1915 representatives from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama met in Mobile, Alabama, and created the Alabama–Gulf Coast Highway Association, seeking to spur the creation of a new highway along the Gulf Coast. The association sprung from the Good Roads Movement, which beginning in the 1910s sought to create better transportation routes for the increasingly popular automobile. In the days before the 1926 creation of the US federal highway system, such associations played an important role in road building. Supporters initially hoped for a road that would link Mobile to New Orleans via cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Just one month later, however, the Alabama–Gulf Coast Highway Association floated a more ambitious proposal—a highway from Miami, Florida, up the Florida Gulf Coast, through Mobile, and across coastal Mississippi to New Orleans. This future road was dubbed the Old Spanish Trail.
Harrison County, Mississippi, began issuing bonds to construct a twenty-five-mile beachfront road as a result of advocacy from the Alabama–Gulf Coast Highway Association, but the effort soon lost momentum. Good Roads advocates from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arizona met again in Mobile on 10–11 December, and this time they created the Old Spanish Trail Highway Association, which took as its mission the creation of a highway that would connect the East to the West. Any efforts previously initiated by towns along the proposed route would be incorporated into this thoroughfare. The 419 delegates in attendance at the meeting expanded their vision even further, planning a southern national highway from St. Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, California. Travelers crossing the country would experience the wonders of the nation and bring tourist dollars into the areas through which the route passed.
In Mississippi, those areas would include the municipalities of Pascagoula, Gautier, Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Mississippi City, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Bay St. Louis. Even though it would be identified as part of the Old Spanish Trail, this portion had no historical connection to the Spanish. It would be simply a coastal highway. Mississippi cities already had graded many miles of road on the front beach, but with the coming of World War I, efforts halted.
By 1919 the Old Spanish Trail Highway Association resumed work under the direction of Harral B. Ayers. The biggest challenge was waterways. Efforts varied from city to city and county to county, with each one passing road bonds. Some areas still had dirt tracks, while others had improved bridges and roads. Mississippi’s three coastal counties—Jackson, Harrison, and Hancock—moved forward with construction.
On 17 November 1925 the road known as the Old Spanish Trail became US Highway 90, and by 1928 the last ferry on the highway route was replaced by the East Pascagoula Bridge in Jackson County. Over the next decades, projects such as the Biloxi–Ocean Springs Bridge and the Bay St. Louis Bridge continued to improve the route from Mobile to New Orleans, and Highway 90 remained the main road for travelers. During the 1980s, the completion of Interstate 10 about six miles further inland provided a second route across the Mississippi coast, linking states to the east to those to the west.
Highway 90 in Mississippi suffered significant damage when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. The bridges between Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian and between Biloxi and Ocean Springs were destroyed, as were significant sections of the roadbed, especially in Harrison County. By 2008, however, all repairs had been completed.
- “Minutes of the Convention of ‘The Old Spanish Trail,’” Mobile, Alabama, 10–11 December 1915, Old Spanish Trail Association Archives, Louis J. Blume Library, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas
- Old Spanish Trail Magazine (August 1920)
- Charles Sullivan, in The Story of a Modern American Highway (2003)