May is Historic Preservation Month! “Historical Marker Monday” is a new series on my blog highlighting historical markers. This week highlights the Bankhead Highway Through Arlington.
Bankhead Highway Through Arlington
(marker located at the corner of Center and Division Streets)
230 N. Center Street
Arlington, TX 76011
You’ve likely heard of Route 66 — it’s one of the most famous roads in the U.S. One that is often lesser known is the Bankhead Highway, named for John Hollis Bankhead, a U.S. Senator from Alabama. While it doesn’t have a catchy slogan like, “Get your kicks on Route 66,” the Bankhead Highway played a pivotal role in transportation and commerce. The highway connected Washington D.C. to San Diego and was one of the nation’s first transcontinental highways. Plans for the road began in 1916, with the road open for traffic in Arlington by 1922.
The Bankhead Highway traveled 850 miles through Texas — from Texarkana to El Paso — and connected Dallas, Arlington, and Fort Worth, among many others. The highway improved travel and commerce, and many towns along the route benefitted. Businesses sprang up along the highway, including ones that catered to motorists — such as restaurants, gas stations, repair shops, and tourist courts. Much of Arlington’s early commercial development occurred along the Bankhead Highway.
It’s possible that if the Bankhead Highway had been a few miles away or bypassed Arlington altogether, our city would look much different today. Proximity to railroads and later to major highway systems could make or break a small town.
With roads today, we hate the traffic, curse the construction, and groan that 70 MPH on the highway is too slow. But back then, 100 years ago, paved roads were a new and revolutionary way of travel. Indeed, the journey was often more awe-inspiring than the destination.
Texas designated our portion of the Bankhead as a Historic Texas Highway in 2009. You can still travel along the Bankhead Highway route, although it’s often known by other names. In Arlington, it’s more commonly known as Division Street.
Texas Historical Marker
Below is the text from the Texas Historical Marker:
“The Bankhead Highway, often referred to locally as the “Dallas Pike” east of Center Street and the “Fort Worth Pike” west of that road, played an important role in Arlington’s future by connecting it to Dallas, Fort Worth, and the rest of the U.S. The Pike, formerly known as the old Dallas-Fort Worth Road, was actually in use as a Wagon Road long before Arlington was platted. The Road, now Abram Street, being the busiest stretch of Highway in Texas, was designated as State Highway 1, by the Texas Highway Department, which was formed in 1917 to create a state highway system.
In 1920, as part of the “Good Roads” project, the Bankhead Highway system, named for John Willis Bankhead [this is a mistake, see below], was designed as a portion of the new National Auto Trail system, running from Washington, D.C. to San Diego. The road mostly followed State Highway 1, and would be built along Division Street in Arlington. The chosen safer route was entirely new construction, 25 feet wide and eight inches thick, covering 5.84 miles from the Dallas County line to the west side of Arlington. By design, rail crossings were eliminated including “Death Crossing” west of town. The Highway was declared open to traffic in Nov. 1922.
Over time, the Highway has expanded and some of its early features no longer exist including Johnson Creek Bridge’s decorative handrail and a pedestrian underpass at the Masonic Home. In 1926, State Highway 1 was redesigned as U.S. Hwy 80 and again as State Hwy 180 in 1991. The Bankhead Highway opened up business opportunities to many smaller towns along its route, increased commerce between east and west Texas, stimulated automobile transportation, and increased tourism. Overall the Highway was a major factor in transforming Arlington from a small town to a thriving community.”
Note: There is a mistake on the marker. The marker identifies him as John Willis Bankhead, but it should be John Hollis Bankhead.
Bankhead Highway signs
— Post and photos by Jason S. Sullivan, 05-24-21
— Historical Marker text from “Texas Historical Sites – Atlas” – https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us
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