By Leslie Wolfenden, Historic Resources Survey Coordinator
For the past year and half, THC staff, along with historic resource management consultant Hardy-Heck-Moore, Inc. (HHM), has been working on the Bankhead Highway project under the Texas Historic Roads and Highways Program. The Bankhead Highway was one of the nation’s earliest transcontinental highways, dating to 1916 and crossing Texas from Texarkana to El Paso via Dallas-Fort Worth. This project is funded by the Texas Legislature and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) through the Transportation Enhancement Program provided by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.
So far, the project team has conducted an enormous amount of research at many archival entities across the state and even the nation; developed a historic context for Texas highways statewide; implemented an extensive cultural resources survey along the various alignments of the Bankhead Highway; and is creating interpretive measures that will provide valuable heritage tourism information and research material. There is also a “Bankhead Highways in Texas” Flickr group with photos submitted by the team and the public—anyone is welcome to join the THC-moderated group and encouraged to upload their own images of scenes along the Bankhead Highway.
Starting in August 2013, THC staff and HHM held 10 public outreach meetings that began in Texarkana, then went to Mount Vernon, Dallas, Fort Worth, Mineral Wells, Eastland, Abilene, Midland, Van Horn, and ended in El Paso in December. The purpose of these meetings was to raise awareness of the Bankhead Highway and the project, and to gather information and visual items from the public. The attendance varied from town to town (with a high attendance of more than 60 people in Mount Vernon). Each meeting was well-received and attendees peppered the team with questions and ideas, and provided bags and boxes full of Bankhead memorabilia for scanning and research information.
HHM wrapped up the survey work in December, traveling more than 900 survey miles and cataloguing some 2,400 historic-age road-related resources with more than 7,000 images (see survey inventory image below). The survey teams documented more than 30 different types of resources, including auto repair shops, gas stations, auto dealerships, restaurants, motels and tourist courts, hotels, and drive-in theaters. Prime examples of intact segments of the Bankhead roadway were found in Cisco and Redwater.
HHM staff is busy sorting through all the data, using an innovative GIS-based program to organize data into property type/subtype classifications, styles, estimated dates of construction and other attributes, and incorporating the survey images, along with historical photos and postcards. THC IT staff will incorporate the GIS data into the Texas Historic Sites Atlas. The Atlas is currently being updated as part of the scope of the Bankhead project. David Moore, project lead for HHM, will give a short presentation at the THC Commissioners’ quarterly meeting in January.
The end results of the Bankhead project will be research materials useful for historic resource management consultants, researchers, and TxDOT in terms of historic highways, roadside architecture, and future highway construction projects, as well as heritage tourism information and marketing tools for the general public and local communities. Examples of such products include a Historic Texas Highways/Bankhead Highway website, rack card, and mobile applications with downloadable maps to give people the opportunity to drive the Bankhead Highway with suggestions of what to see and do. These will be available by July 2014.
Up next for the Texas Historic Roads and Highways Program: Funding has been approved and contract paperwork is being processed for the second historic highway project, which will be the Meridian Highway that ran roughly from Wichita Falls through Fort Worth to Waco before splitting to go Laredo and Galveston (pictured below). The Meridian Highway is also known as Camino del Norte or the Northern Road, and roughly follows Interstate 35.
The following images provide more information about the Bankhead Highway survey work and the Meridian Highway, respectively:
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