A Brief History of US 29 and the Seminole Trail

Before modern highways full of asphalt and concrete and before a uniform route numbering system existed in the United State let alone Virginia, a series of named 'Auto Routes' or 'Auto Trails' blanketed the country.  Some like the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway were national routes maintained by coalitions that promoted and signed the trails with painted poles or stone markers.  Others were well posted in one state and forgotten in another.  Finally, within the state themselves were series of auto trails many named as a city-to-city route.  In Virginia, one of these trails became known as the 'Seminole Trail.'  The Seminole Trail would run north and south through Central Virginia from Warrenton to the North Carolina State Line south of Danville. (1)

The Seminole Trail was named by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on February 16, 1928. (2) US 29 is known as the Seminole Trail from Danville to Warrenton and it is the assumption of the author, until new information is made available, that the Seminole Trail was adjusted as new alignments and route changes were made throughout the 20th Century.

Same Road; New Numbers, Early 1920's-1932:

As states began to number principal roads and created a statewide system of highways and maintenance, many named trails now became known as a single number of in the case of what would become the Seminole Trail, multiple numbers.  From Danville to Lynchburg, VA 14 would be the number.  VA 18 took over the Lynchburg to Charlottesville segment.  From Charlottesville to Culpeper, the future Seminole Trail picked up the VA 28 designation.  Finally, VA 32 carried the torch from Culpeper to Warrenton.  (3)
 

Could the Seminole Trail have followed the original VA 28 from Culpeper to Warrenton via Jeffersonton?  Well, looking at the 1942 State Map at right, that possibility does exist.  Old VA 28, which in 1942 was VA 29 (totally unrelated to US 29), was the route of the trail from Charlottesville to Culpeper.  If this is correct, the original Seminole Trail follows modern-day VA 229 (which replaced VA 29 in the late 1940s) to near Jeffersonton.  The Trail would then follow Secondary Route 802 from VA 229 to Warrenton.  It is unclear at this time whether or not the Seminole Trail did follow this route; or if it did follow what was then VA 32.  More about this possible alignment of the Seminole Trail can be found here.  In modern times, the current US 29 route from Culpeper to Warrenton is designated as the Seminole Trail.

With the birth of the US Highway System in 1926, new numbers were added to the trail. US 170 would share the road with VA 14 into Lynchburg.  Later in 1929, US 15 would take over VA 32 from Culpeper to Warrenton.  By the early 1930's, VA 14 would leave also.  During this ten year plus period, changes were made to the alignments as roads were improved and straightened.

1942 Va Official (Courtesy Mike Roberson)

One Number for One Trail:

Uniformity came to the Seminole Trail in 1932, when US 29 which had terminated in Kings Mountain, North Carolina was extended along then US 170 into Lynchburg.  US 29 didn't stop there, it continued into Charlottesville along VA 18 and towards Culpeper on VA 28.  As a result, both VA 18 and VA 28 were no longer signed on the trail.  Two years later, US 29 would be extended through Virginia and into the nation's capital along US 15 and US 211.


US 29 North approaching Charlottesville

Since then US 29 has gone through numerous changes, most noticeably over 95% of the route being four or more lanes.  In the middle of the twentieth century, US 29 moved onto a straighter alignment from Amherst to Lovingston. (4)  Beginning in the 1950's, numerous towns: Gretna, Chatham, Hurt, Altavista, Amherst, Lovingston, and Madison would be bypassed.  Also, cities that include Danville, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Culpeper, and Warrenton would see limited access bypasses.  This was a result of the establishment of the Virginia Arterial Highway System in 1964.  US 29 would be included in this system from the North Carolina State Line to Interstate 66 near Gainesville. (4)  As the 21st Century began, more extensive bypasses are being built, planned or discussed in Danville, Lynchburg/Madison Heights, and Charlottesville.  The Lynchburg/Madison Heights Bypass was added to the arterial network in 1990 and is currently under construction. (5)

Why call it 'Seminole Trail'?:

That's a good question, and really no one knows for sure.  A February 22, 2004 Washington Post Article, that featured this site , gives some clues to the possible naming.  The 1928 Act, known as Senate Bill 64, that gave the route its name, gives no reason of why or who suggested the name. (6)  Many believe that the road was named such to attract tourists through the area on their way to Florida.  This theory is strengthened by the fact that many road maps of the 30s and 40s list the Seminole Trail on highways in the Carolinas, Georgia and ultimately Florida.   While these maps show 'Seminole Trail', Virginia is the only state that has kept the name.  In fact, there is no proof that the other states even signed the route as such.  Although many auto trails of the era, like the Lincoln Highway, had distinguished markings for navigation of their routes.  It is unknown if the Seminole Trail did.  Today, Virginia places small Seminole Trail guide signs, like the photo at right, along the enire length of the trail.  The small guides usually are placed after major intersections.

Other Designations:

US 29 is also known by other names in Virginia.  From Warrenton to Washington, DC, US 29 is part of the Lee Highway, named after former Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Of course in various towns and counties, US 29 may have a different name than 'Seminole Trail'.  It also shares the James Madison Highway designation with US 15 in Northern Virginia, and the entire route is named in honor of the 29th Infantry Division. (7)



Site Navigation:
  • Begin at Danville
  • Find some old alignments
  • Return To US 29/Seminole Trail Index

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    Sources & Links:

  • (1) Schul, David. "Seminole Trail." National Auto Trails. http://www.owu.edu/~deschul/trails/state/seminole.html (Jan. 29, 2003)
  • (2) Commonwealth of Virginia.  Department of Transportation.  Virginia Route Index. Unknown, 2001: 39. Available URL: http://www.virginiadot.org/infoservice/resources/route-index-07012001.pdf
  • (3) Roberson, Michael. (Multiple Sites) Virginia Highways Page. http://www.angelfire.com/va3/mapmikey/ (Jan. 29, 2003)
  • (4) Roberson, Michael. "US 29." Virginia Highways Page. http://www.angelfire.com/va3/mapmikey/US29.html (Jan. 29, 2003)
  • (5) Kozel, Scott M. "Arterial Highway System in Virginia." Roads to the Future. http://www.roadstothefuture.com/Arterial_Virginia.html (Jan. 31, 2003)
  • (6) Kelly, John. "What is the Seminole Trail?", The Washington Post, February 22, 2004.
  • (7) Adamick, John. "Highway 29 in VA." Personal e-mail, February 25, 2004.
  • Roberson, Michael. "Seminole Trail." Personal e-mail; July 13, 2004.  (1942 Map Scan).
  • US Route 29 Corridor Study ---VDOT
  • U.S. 29 Maryland to Florida ---Federal Highway Administration

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    Page Created: January 31, 2003
    Last Updated: June 11, 2006

    © 2003-06 Adam Prince