The Jefferson Highway Association, named after Thomas Jefferson, was formed in 1915 to build a highway through the Mississippi Valley. The highway was the idea of Edwin T. Meredith, publisher of Successful Farming and Better Homes and Gardens and later Secretary of Agriculture under President Woodrow Wilson, who thought the highway would be economically beneficial to the region's farmers.
In November 1915 a meeting was held with representatives from all the Louisiana Purchase states to organize an association for the purpose of constructing an international highway from Winnipeg in Canada to New Orleans, Louisiana. This convention was also held to determine the route of the new highway. Several Kansas counties were competing against each other and against the state of Missouri to get to be part of the highway. A contest was to be held to determine the route between Kansas City and Joplin, Missouri, the winner to be determined by whichever state, Kansas or Missouri, completed the most miles of new road by September 1916. The Crawford County division of the Jefferson Highway Association was formed after the 1915 convention to help plan and fund the highway. Townships and private landowners were to be the primary sources for funding. It was decided initially that the Kansas route would go through Pittsburg, Girard, and Fort Scott but there were several disagreements that took place while the road was being built. Some places did not want to fund the road and did not see it as a benefit. Girard was later excluded from the route, in spite of many protests, in favor of the Commercial Highway, which went north from Pittsburg to Arcadia and then to Fort Scott. The contest between Kansas and Missouri, in a decision that angered some, ended in a stalemate with both states being awarded the highway between Joplin and Kansas City. After these dual roads were built they were considered too narrow and rough. Despite all these problems, the highway was eventually competed and used by the area communities for many years. The federal and state governments later passed laws that enabled them to build and maintain better highways. The Jefferson highway designation eventually faded away with sections of the road becoming parts of US Highway 69 and US Highway 71.