Journey down historic Jefferson Highway brings documentary duo through Natchitoches

By Corey Poole

Darrell Johnston and Josiah Laubenstein drove into Natchitoches Tuesday afternoon, May 31. The two filmmakers are documenting their journey down the historic Jefferson Highway, which covers 1,500 miles from Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans. On the road for 25 days, they have 5 days left until the end of their journey in New Orleans.

The best part of their trip is their ride, a 1954 Dodge Royal that belonged to Johnston’s great grandmother. She drove the car on part of the Jefferson Highway in the past as she took a trip from Johnston’s hometown of Leon, Iowa to Park Rapids, Minn.

Built in the 1910s as part of the National Auto Trail system and named after President Thomas Jefferson, the route was solidified in 1916.

Known as the “Pine to Palm” Highway, it was promoted as a vacation pipeline.It was replaced in the 1920s with a numbered U.S. Highway system.

Celebrating the highway’s centennial year in 2016, the documentary is funded through the Meredith Corporation in Des Moines, Iowa. Edwin “ET” Meredith first founded his company in 1902 and his original magazine publication was eventually retitled Better Homes and Gardens.

Meredith was also the driving force behind the formation of the Jefferson Highway Association, where he served as president.

The Jefferson Highway documentary is the third film for Johnston and Laubenstein.

The duo began in 2011 documenting a hitchhiking journey from Iowa to Portland, Ore. Their work is shown on ShortsTV and public television in Tennessee.

“We’re just two bumbling friends on adventures,” said Laubenstein.

Keeping to the rule of thirds, they tackle adventures in their films that incorporate history, humor and adventure. Their films also challenge viewers, implore them to take risks and empower them to do it.

Johnston and Laubenstein are also meeting with the mayors in each city they stop in to ask for a proclamation declaring the day of their arrival as Drive the Jefferson Highway Day.

Mayor Lee Posey presented them with a proclamation declaring June 1 as Drive the Jefferson Highway Day in the City of Natchitoches.

The proclamation states that there is a need for more awareness of the Jefferson Highway, a major early highway that ran through Natchitoches and reached from Winnipeg to New Orleans, making it the first international highway traversing the United States from north to south through the Mississippi Valley; and there is a campaign to secure marking by the Louisiana DOTD of the Jefferson Highway route in Louisiana as a heritage byway; and a special day recognizing the Jefferson Highway would bring a greater awareness of that historically important highway in Natchitoches, the state and the nation.

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