There’s something about a stretch of open road that calls us. The road says, “let’s go.” And we answer, “We’re on our way.”
In the 1900s, America changed. Horses and buggies were on their way out; cars were on their way in. We wanted to see our nation on our own terms, free from schedules imposed by boats and trains. We wanted to answer the call of the open road. And in 1916, this desire helped create the Bankhead Highway.
When finished, it stretched from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, California with the Texas portion running 850 miles from Texarkana to El Paso. It was later referred to as “The Broadway of America” and everywhere it went, communities transformed. The road brought tourists and tourists brought money. Travelers needed food, fuel, and shelter and that meant jobs, progress, and opportunity.
Some think that the folks who cobbled the Bankhead Highway together couldn’t have imagined highways as they exist today. But they didn’t just imagine it, they banked on it.
One of these visionaries was the U.S. Senator from Alabama, John Hollis Bankhead. A savvy politician, Bankhead promoted not only the idea of national road improvement but he brought money to the project, funneling federal dollars into newly minted state highway departments.
Another indispensable figure was John Asa Rountree, an Alabama publisher and gifted promoter. Rountree travelled from county to county, convincing even debt averse Texans to build now and pay later.
By the mid-1920s, the idea had worked so well there were too many roads with too many names. To simplify things the Bureau of Public Roads replaced the names with numbers—like Texas Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 80. So, in theory, the road known as the “Bankhead Highway” no longer exists. But it can be rediscovered.
It’s still here…. and so are we—in our cars, our motorcycles, our minivans, and our RVs—answering the call of the open road.