Jefferson Davis Park
The listing of the Jefferson Davis Highway marker on the Clark County Heritage Register is unique. The monument itself is not deemed historically significant to Clark County, nor is the life of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Rather, the significance lies in the grassroots effort, led by the Daughters of the Confederacy, for the designation and commemoration of Highway 99. The marker was listed on the Clark County Heritage Register in 2002. In 1996, the marker was removed when it was deemed not crucial to the area's history as well as too controversial. After a legal battle, it was replanted in its current location as the local Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy fought back and made the cases that Jefferson Davis played critical roles in America's expansion and diplomacy for 40 years previous to the Civil War and that the marker is to honor those ex-Confederate veterans that moved to the the area and helped settle it and give it prosperity.
Backstory and Context
Because of unintended conflict between the National Auto Trail movement and the federal government, it is unclear whether the Jefferson Davis highway ever really existed in the complete form that its founders originally intended. Highway 99 (now Interstate 5 : I-5) through the State of Washington was the Jefferson Davis Highway. The section near the western terminus was in Blaine, Washington at a peace arch near the Canadian border. Next to it was a marker erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy noting this as a portion of the Jefferson Davis National Highway.
The name Jefferson Davis Highway was removed as well as the remaining marker at Blaine, by action of the Washington State legislature, thereby removing any linkage of Highway 99 to Jefferson Davis. In 1998 a marker of the "Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway" in Vancouver, Washington was removed by city officials. It was subsequently moved twice, and eventually was placed in 2005 alongside Interstate 5 on private land purchased for the purpose of giving the marker a permanent home.
The marker formerly at the Peace Arch Park in Blaine, Washington and the marker formerly in Vancouver, Washington at the state-line of Washington and Oregon are now both installed with an interpretive plaque in the Jefferson Davis Park alongside Interstate-5, just south of Ridgefield, Washington. At the Monument site, some 65 stones are present with names of some war veterans. No remains or individual headstones are present on the site.
The concept of a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway was presented and adopted at a United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) general convention in 1913. The plan envisioned a highway beginning in Virginia on the banks of the Potomac and passing through the southeast into Kentucky, Davis' birthplace. The highway continued to move west through the gulf region ending in California.
Members of the Washington Division UDC wished to extend the highway into Washington as a final link of a nationwide network of roads. The UDC supported a bill introduced into the 1939 Washington state legislature to designate the Pacific Coast Highway as the Jefferson Davis Highway. Although the bill did not pass, the Department of Highways authorized the UDC to place road markers at the point at which the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon enters Washington and where the highway met with the Canadian border. The United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated the Vancouver marker – Jefferson Davis Highway No. 99 - in June of 1939. The marker was moved from its original location and installed at the present site in 2002.
Jefferson Davis attended West Point, fought in the Black Hawk Indian War and was an American hero in the Mexican War. He served as a U.S. Congressman from Mississippi and was appointed Secretary of War in the cabinet of President Franklin Pierce in 1853. By an act of Congress, February 14, 1853, a military reservation was created in Vancouver on the Columbia River, and was confirmed by Jefferson Davis in an official communication to the commanding General of the Pacific Division of the U.S. Army. While Secretary, he proposed a transcontinental railroad system (through the south) and secured funding for surveys that resulted in the building of roads and railways out west.
He was elected a U.S. Senator in 1857 and resigned in 1861, when Mississippi seceded from the Union to become General of the Mississippi militia. On February 16, 1861, he was inaugurated as the only president of the Confederate States of America. The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway was intended to honor his achievements. Currently, the Vancouver NAACP is trying to get the park shut down, marker removed, and the highway name changed.