Lee Highway: Beyond Pavement

Published in 2000 by Arlington County Cultural Affairs

Collaborative limited edition artists’ book of eight printmakers and four poets from Arlington, VA.  Kim Roberts edited the poetry portion. The poems were handset in Bodoni Bold and printed letterpress by Mike Kaylor at the Press at Gunston Day School, Centreville, MD. The binding was created by Portfoliobox, Inc., Providence, RI.

Out of Print


Poets: John Elsberg, Carol Heller Nation, M.A. Schaffner, and Hilary Tham.

Visual Artists: Margaret Arthur, Lucy Blankstein, Diane Bruce, Gwen Impson, Gwen Partin, Jane Phelan, Claudia Vess, Carolyn Witschonke.
All the artists printed their images at Lee Access Print Studio on Lee Highway.

Afterword by Kim Roberts

When Lee Highway was officially dedicated as a transcontinental route in 1923, the automobile was no longer a rare sight. Paved roads, however, were still the exception rather than the rule, and cars could only travel dirt roads in dry weather without fear of getting mired. Lee Highway was the first all-weather route across the nation, a model for the “modern improved highway.”

As Dr. S. M. Johnson, General Director of the Lee Highway Association boasted: “We have taken a stand for a paved United States…The use of the automobile is universal, therefore pavement must be universal. Until this is accomplished we will not be living in the spirit of the age in which our lives are cast.”

A zero milestone dedication ceremony, presided over by President Warren Harding, took place on June 4, 1923. The zero milestone, located in the Ellipse behind the White House, was compared to the golden milestone in the Forum of Rome, as a point from which modern highways would radiate and “over which will surge the tides of an ever-advancing civilization.” The occasion drew together more automobiles than had ever before assembled in the capitol city, including 100 cars filled with Shriners, who circled the crowd twice in a caravan, blaring horns in exultation.

Lee Highway was named, of course, for Robert E. Lee, Confederate General in the Civil War. It is perhaps the first time in history a losing general has been so honored by his victors, and yet Woodrow Wilson thought the tribute appropriate, writing: “It is one of the happy circumstances of our national life that the bitterness of the Civil War has disappeared and that General Lee is now recognized as a man worthy of the admiration of the whole nation.” In this spirit of reconciliation, Lee Highway was envisiond as a road that would transcend “section strife, binding North, South, East and West in the bond of an indissoluble Union.”

Lee Highway is now called by that name in only two states (Virginia and Alabama), but the route still exists, following US 11 in Tennessee, US 72 in Alabama and Mississippi, US 70 through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and US 80 in Arizona and California, where it ends in San Diego at the Pacific Milestone, with a spur to San Francisco.

In Arlington County, Virginia, it is a major thoroughfare for local traffic, and the site of the County’s first fire department (1904) and first permanent fire station (1919). Arlington County was named after Lee’s Mansion (now part of Arlington National Cemetery), and Arlington Memorial Bridge was built as a symbolic connector of the North and South in 1935. Lee Highway is also the location of the Lee Arts Center, where the Access Printmakers are housed. This book documents the relationship of the artists and poets to the communities and businesses along Lee Highway, and pays tribute to the history and people intimate with this notable road.