History of US 301

When the original system of numbered federal highways was codified in 1926, US 217 was established between Pee Dee, SC and Wilson, NC. The highway continuing north of Wilson was numbered US 17-1 and terminated at Petersburg, VA. Six years later, our route officially came into existence as the entire stretch from Petersburg to Pee Dee was rebadged as US 301. In 1935, the highway was extended south to terminate in Summerton SC at US 15.

Coincident with the opening of the Potomac River Bridge in 1940, US 301 was extended northward all the way to Baltimore, Maryland. At the end of the 1940s, the highway was again extended, this time southward from Summerton all the way to Tampa, Florida. It was at this time that the route became a favorite for travelers to and from Florida, in direct competition to the older US 1 (The Atlantic Highway) and US 17 (The Ocean Highway). Unlike these routes, US 301 passed through no major cities and thus was considered a faster and more traffic free route.

A few years later, in 1960, the final southward extension was made when US 301 was routed to Sarasota, Florida. Also in that same year, the highway was extended northward to the Delaware Memorial Bridge at Farnhurst, Delaware.

Along the way, the highway became known as the “Tobacco Trail” due to its routing through some of the key areas of the Eastern Seaboard where the crop is grown. During the 1930s, a gang of desperados known as the “Tri-State Gang” terrorized towns in the three state area of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. In 1950, Warner Brothers produced “Highway 301″, a movie based on the true life story of these notorious criminals, who were eventually caught and executed for their crimes. “Highway 301″ survives today as a classic example of “film noir”, a style of filmmaking that was popular in the late 40s to late 50s.

In all, US 301 passes through the states of: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Interesting tidbit:  US 301 is the only federal highway that passes through its own area code (Area code 301 in southern Maryland!)