For Vancouver area residents, car trips to Bellingham and Seattle in Washington state are a pretty common occurrence. But for Vancouverites of a certain age—and with a knowledge of U.S. history—the journey often included a perplexing site at the Blaine border crossing.
For many years, a stone marker standing just metres south of the Peace Arch commemorated the stretch of road as the “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway”.
So how did a monument to the former president of the Confederate States of America wind up in one of the most liberal states in the union?
As it happens, the story predates both the interstate highway system and the current structure of Washington State highway routes.
Back in 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy—a commemorative organization made up of the descendants of Confederate veterans—spearheaded the naming of a transcontinental highway after Davis, consisting of a number of privately and government-funded roads. As planned, the route would start in Arlington, Virginia, and travel through the Deep South to San Diego, California and then up the West Coast to the Canadian border.
Over the decades, as the nation’s roads and highways evolved, many portions of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway simply vanished as they were overtaken by development of state highway routes and the federal Interstate Highway System. Today, there is even some confusion as to where sections of the Davis highway actually stood, as route numbering conventions have gone through so many changes that some of the highway’s original route has been lost to the sands of time.
On the West Coast, potions of the route have been supplanted by the Pacific Coast Highway and Interstate 5, but in some areas, as in Blaine, Washington, there are small stretches of the road that still exist in pretty much their original form. And that’s just one of the places that the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a monument, in September of 1940.
The granite stone sat there by the Peace Arch for more than 60 years. Then, in 2002, Washington State Representative Hans Dunshee submitted a bill to rename the highway for William P. Stewart, a black civil war veteran from Illinois who fought in the Appomattox campaign of 1865 and settled in Washington State in the 1880s.
Although Dunshee’s bill to rename the highway was defeated in the state senate, it did lead to the discovery that the state had never officially recognized the naming of the road, and the marker was quietly removed.
Last year, after the Charleston church shooting and subsequent re-examination of Confederate symbols in modern America, Dunshee reintroduced the bill and in May of 2016, Washington State Transportation Commission agreed to rename the highway in honour of Stewart.