TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map


Columns
History/Opinion


Books by
Clay Coppedge

Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

America's Broadway


by Clay Coppedge

The Bankhead Highway was one of America's first cross-country highways, originating in Washington, D.C. and terminating in San Diego, California. Named for Alabama senator John Hollis Bankhead (grandfather of actress Tallulah Bankhead), the highway was billed as "America's Broadway."

Parts of the main highway and several branches ran through Texas, leaving some to assume that it was strictly a Texas thing. The late Texas writer and historian A.C. Greene, who grew up in Abilene, was one of those people. He met Tallulah Bankhead during World War II and was surprised and a little offended when she didn't recognize the landmarks he mentioned along the stretch of highway between Baird and Clyde that bore her name.

"It didn't occur to me until years later that the Bankhead Highway began on the East Coast and stretched all the way to the West," he later confessed. "I had assumed it to be a purely West Texas phenomenon, going no farther east than Fort Worth and reaching west certainly not past El Paso."


Senator Bankhead got the highway named for him after he wrote a bill known as the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. The bill was a result of the Good Roads Movement, which included a coalition of citizens, politicians and lobbyists from the automotive industry.

Among the earliest proponents of the Good Roads Movement were farmers, who needed good roads to get their products to market, though some contrarians opposed it because they believed it would only benefit city people. World War I slowed construction but the project gained momentum in the 1920s and 30s when it provided much-needed work along its route during the Depression.

Most American roads in the early decades of the 20th century were roads in name more than function—muddy when wet, dusty when dry. Even the lucky few citizens who owned a car or truck couldn't count on getting too far on any one road. Roads ended abruptly and usually without warning. Gas stations were few and far between. The Bankhead Highway was designed to make it easier for people to actually travel a long distance by car.


Going east to west across Texas, the Bankhead Highway cut through Texarkana, Mt. Vernon, Terrell, Dallas, Fort Worth, Mineral Wells, Abilene, Midland and El Paso. The highway's precise path is hard to trace because it split into several branches all along its route. In Texas alone were nearly a dozen branches, some of them short and others stretching through several counties. At El Paso, the North and South mainline branches merged again as the highway exited the state.

Greene would have been traveling the South Mainline Branch, which included the towns of Gordon, Strawn, Ranger, Eastland, Cisco, Dothan, Putnam, Baird, Clyde and Abilene. The North and South Mainline branches merged in Abilene and took the traveler through much of West Texas.

For its day, the Bankhead was a state-of-the-art roadway. It was paved, which especially impressed people in rural areas—and it had two lanes! The highway came at a time when people began to look at owning a car as more of a necessity than a luxury, in the same way that having a horse was a necessity before cars came along. Towns along the highway developed and prospered, even in rural areas.

Clyde, on the South Mainline Branch, billed itself as the "California of Texas" and advertised that claim on its water tower. People in the area lived up to the motto by growing peaches, apricots, strawberries, grapes, peas and watermelons and selling them at roadside stands along the highway.

Times were good, but times changed.

Like a child that outgrows its britches, America soon outgrew its two-lane roads. No one could call a road with two lanes "America's Broadway." Not anymore. Another act of Congress, the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, was the result of that realization.

Most of what's left of the Bankhead Highway survives as U.S. Highway 80, or most often in Texas, as U.S. Highway 180. In 2009, the Texas segment of the Bankhead Highway was designated as a Texas Historical Highway. Other than that, it's the road not taken because it's not there anymore.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" October 6, 2021 column



TX - Bankhead Highway
One of Two of the original train trestles from the Bankhead Highway that remain in Rowlett, Texas.
Photo courtesy Texana Pictures - Frank R. Brown, February 2017
See Bankhead Highway by Frank R. Brown ›

Related Articles:

  • Bankhead Highway by Frank R. Brown

  • The road that became an Interstate by Clay Coppedge



  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Wired Up in Texas 9-8-21
  • William Lee's Buggy Ride 8-9-21
  • Double-Crossed, Double Murder 7-10-21
  • He Got Wes Hardin 6-16-21
  • Cooking the Books 5-16-21

    more »



  • Related Topics:

    Texas Drives

    Texas Trips

    Columns


     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    TEXAS TOWNS & COUNTIES TEXAS LANDMARKS & IMAGES TEXAS HISTORY & CULTURE TEXAS OUTDOORS MORE
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    TEXAS REGIONS:
    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Courthouses
    Jails
    Churches
    Schoolhouses
    Bridges
    Theaters
    Depots
    Rooms with a Past
    Monuments
    Statues

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Museums
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins
    Lodges
    Stores
    Banks

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Cemeteries
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Signs
    Murals
    Gargoyles
    Pitted Dates
    Cornerstones
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    WWII
    Texas Centennial
    Ghosts
    People
    Animals
    Food
    Music
    Art

    Books
    Cotton
    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps
    USA
    MEXICO
    HOTELS

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Disclaimer
    Contributors
    Staff
    Contact Us

     
    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved