The Bankhead Highway in Texas
Most everyone has heard of Route 66, the highway. It was the inspiration for a song and even a 1960s television series. It was certainly the most famous highway in the USA. But have you heard of the Bankhead Highway? Unless you were purposefully looking, you probably would'nt even know it ever existed. But it did exist, and it might even bring back a little of the prosperity that was originally enjoyed by the small Texas towns along the Bankhead Highway.
What is the Bankhead Highway?
The Bankhead Highway was transcontinental automobile route that connected Washington, D.C. and San Diego, California. It ran through 14 states and included Texas as part of the route.
It was named the Bankhead Highway because it was championed by John Hollis Bankhead, a U.S. senator from the state of Alabama.
The Bankhead Highway had several nicknames such as Main Street USA, Dixie Overland Highway, and Broadway of America.
The Bankhead Highway came about due to by the passing of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1916 by the U.S. Congress. This act allowed the federal government to raise money and fund the building of national highways. The Bankhead Highway was the first national highway to be created due to the Federal Aid Highway Act.
The Bankhead Highway was not a road that needed to be built from scratch. It was actually a route that included existing roadways. Once the route was decided on the existing roadways would enjoy improvements since they were now part of a national highway.
The Texas Route
The Texas route, State Highway 1 from Texarkana to El Paso, was not officially incorporated into the Bankhead Highway until April 1919.
Some of the towns on the Texas route include Texarkana, Redwater, Naples, Omaha, Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Vernon, Sulphur Springs, Greenville, Garland, Dallas, Grand Prairie, Arlington, Fort Worth, Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Abilene, Sweetwater, Big Spring, Midland, Pecos, Van Horn, and El Paso.
The Bankhead Rises again
The Bankhead Highway route through Texas was virtually forgotten. However, a biology teacher and history buff in Garland, Texas named Jerry Flook made a discovery. Through Mr. Flook's interest in Garland's history he learned about the Bankhead highway and that it went right down the middle of Garland Texas, via Main Street.
The story is that Mr. Flook, having made the Bankhead discovery, thought it would be a great idea to have a historical marker about the Bankhead Highway in downtown Garland. So in 2008 he submitted an application to the Dallas County Historical commission. It was approved, and the marker was dedicated on May 2010.
But that was just a start. This thing turned into a movement!
The Garland City Council came up with a plan to try to boost federal funding for historic preservation. Now, follow closely because this appears to be classic politics. Apparently the Garland City Council pitched an idea to state representative Carol Kent to establish a Texas Historic Roads and Highways Program. Part of that pitch including establishing the Bankhead highway as the first historic Texas Highway. It worked.
Yes, there was a little bit of politics involved, but I think it's really cool how one person's interest in history made a big difference in Texas for generations to come. Hats off to you, Mr. Flook!
Another person having genuine interest in the Bankhead Highway is Dan Smith, a retired meteorologist in Fort Worth. In fact, he is so interested he has been researching the the old route for years and compliling information to be published in a book specifically about the Bankhead Highway. The book is now published and is available on Amazon.
How to Experience the Bankhead
All this history is great, but how do you experience the Bankhead Highway?
Here are a few suggestions for Bankhead spotting:
- Plan a road trip to visit one of the towns along the route.
- Do an internet search on a town and include 'bankhead' to see what comes up. More information is popping up on the web daily.
- Find out if the town has a museum, and if they have any information on the highway.
- Scout for historical markers on the original main street roads. Historical markers commemorate the route in Arlington, Garland and Baird.
- Search for events. Some towns are having annual Bankhead celebration events to help generate interest and tourism.
- State Highway 180 West of Dallas and State Highway 67 East of Dallas was pretty close to the original Bankhead route.
- Look for streets named Bankhead or roads such as Old Highway 80 in town. These are definately worth exploring. The Bankhead route east of Dallas is State Highway 67.
Jump start your Bankhead exploration with our short list of Bankhead towns and attractions noted below!
A state historical marker is located in downtown Garland on Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. The ceremony took place on May 22, 2010.
A state historical marker of the Bankhead Highway through Arlington is installed near the corner of Division St. and Center St.
A county historical marker commemorating the Bankhead Highway is located on the lawn of the courthouse at 4th and Market Street.
The Baird Texas T&P Railroad Depot Museum, 100 Market St., is one of the few two story depots in Texas and has many interesting exhibits such as the T & P railroad and Bankhead highway. The depot building turned 100 years old in September 2011.
The Bankhead Hotel, on N. Front St. near highway 16. Apparently 16 was an alternate route.
The Abilene (tourist) Courts, 633 S. 11th., was build in 1930. It served the travelers along the Bankhead rout tha ran through town. This is a building that is in danger of being demolished as there is no formal protection. We hope the current, or future owners, are sensitive to the historical significance of the few remaining motor courts in Texas.
A portion of original concrete road that runs from on Old US 80 near Abilene Speedway, then turns into South St. These segments are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NR#98001414).
Road Trip Resources
Have some fun and explore! If you find something cool send us a photo!
The Texas Historical Commission's website
The Texas map is a modified version from the www.thc.state.tx.us website.