Monday, March 31, 2014

389 (2014 #17). The Bankhead Highway in Texas

The author of this book, retired meteorologist Dr. Dan L. Smith, will be on the program for a Friends of the Library event for my university library this upcoming weekend.  The book's colorful cover and intriguing subject matter caught my eye (I love Texas history and I love travel), so I decided to read the book.

The Bankhead Highway was an automobile route from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, mainly through southern states.  It was the second national cross-country highway and the first that could be used year-round. It was named for Alabama senator John Hollis Bankhead, a leader in the early national road building ("Good Roads") movement.  Work on the route began in 1916, and its about-850 miles across Texas run from Texarkana to Dallas, and then west more or less near the routes of Interstates 20 and 10 today.

Part 1 of the book is a 76-page, well-researched history of the "Good Roads" movement, promoter John Asa Rountree and his Bankhead Highway Association, determining the Bankhead's transcontinental route, and the heyday of the highway.  This part ends with an index and a list of some references and sources.

The most interesting chapter in this part was a detailed description of the 1920 "Second U.S. Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy," which really illustrated just how difficult travel was by car in those days over poor roads (the Bankhead Highway route had been designated but much of it was unpaved), with sticky mud, flooding, and washed-out bridges in the South, and impassable sand in Arizona.  The convoy was in Texas from August 7 through September 10 and had to make many detours on the way.  Smith includes maps that show the route the convoy took and how it varied from the official Bankhead route, and indicated which dates the convoy overnighted in or near towns along the way.

Part 2 of the book was even more interesting.  Smith took the 1921 Authentic Roadmap and Tourist Guide of the Bankhead Highway  by Thomas A. Dunn and marked its routing on 1936 county maps of Texas.  Those maps show roads that may no longer exist today, but even by 1936, a few parts of the 1921 Bankhead Highway no longer existed - or could not be definitively identified.  And of course, today the interstates and other highways have obliterated parts of the Bankhead.

Part 2 consists of  32 double-page spreads, each with a segment of the route through Texas.  For example, here are the pages from the double-page spread for the section on western Tarrant County, which includes the route through Fort Worth and Benbrook (click on the images to enlarge them).  I've crossed or driven on the modern roads in these locations a number of times:

The map pages show the route matching to the Dunn guidebook, as well as other likely early routes.  A well-known modern road (such as the Interstates) is often shown on the map for orienting purposes.  The detail page opposite the map is full of all sorts of interesting information - a picture from the Dunn guidebook showing the mileage and turns for the segment; old photos, ads, and postcard images of bridges, signage, hotels, tourist courts, service stations, and other businesses along the routes, and recent photos of remnants of the road, buildings, landmarks, and other features that remain today.  (More images are available in a Bankhead Highway in Texas group on Flickr started by the Texas Historical Commission as part of its Bankhead Highway Project).

I've presented these pages with the map first and then the detail page about that segment of the route, because that makes the most sense to me, but actually they are presented in the opposite order in the book, probably because Dunn's guide runs from east (typically on the right in maps) to west.

The book is spiral-bound, which facilitates displaying the maps if you are trying to follow the route.  However, our library may end up having the book hard bound at some point, because spiral-bound books don't have a very long shelf life.  This book is interesting enough that I think it may get checked out a lot - so we might end up having to bind it sooner rather than later!

After reading this book, I want to go out and explore some of its still-existing old segments for myself, and see more images from along the old route.  And that, in my mind, makes this book a success.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]


  1. Great review Amanda! Makes me wish I was going to the Dinner in the stacks now, instead of the concert :)

    1. Thanks Tracy! It's too bad the events are on the same night. I had more luck getting Breathless to agree to go to the dinner than I would getting him to go to the concert!