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American Roads: Site Map > Auto Trails > Auto Trail Articles > History of Alabama Bankhead entry 1921


Thomas McAdory Owen. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. Chicago, 1921. Page 90.

[ For maps and history, see Bankhead Highway page. ]


A transcontinental highway, starting at the "Zero Milestone" in Washington, D. C., and ending in San Diego, California, passing through the states of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The practicability of such a route is due to climatic conditions prevailing the year around, and the low grade that could be maintained, freedom from snow blockade and steep mountain climbs, open to travel every day in the year. The Highway was inaugurated and named at a meeting of leading good roads advocates assembled in Birmingham, October 6, 1916, to formulate plans for the establishment of a Southern transcontinental highway from Washington to the Pacific Coast. The Highway was named as a tribute and later as a memorial to John Hollis Bankhead, "father of good roads in the U. S. Senate," the man who secured the first Federal aid in building good roads in every state in the Union. In the fall of 1917 the pathfinders appointed to locate the route made their selection from Washington, D. C., to Memphis, Tenn., and reported to the United States Good Roads Association, at the convention held at Little Rock, Ark., April, 1918, when the recommendations were approved. The route from Memphis to El Paso, Texas, was reported and adopted at the convention held at Mineral Wells, Texas, April, 1919. At the convention held at Hot Springs, Ark., April, 1920, recommendations of the pathfinders and the board of directors, fixing the route from El Paso to San Diego were ratified.

The Bankhead Highway was at first largely a series of connecting county roads, but has gradually become through official action of the legislatures and highway commissions of the States through which the route lies, an integral part of the several state highway systems. In th-? majority of States, federal aid is provided by the Bankhead road measure. By 1920 more than three fourths of the highway was being improved under the direct inspection of the government. More than a thousand miles at that date was improved with either permanent paving or hard surface, and more than $40,000,000 was available or in prospect for construction of permanent links in the Highway. More than a thousand miles of the Highway runs through the State of Texas, and the Highway Commission of Texas, and counties which the road traverses, have appropriated and voted bonds to the amount of $27,405,000 to build their respective links, which are to be permanent and hard surface roads. California has voted bonds to the amount of over $40,000,000 to build a paved link of the Bankhead Highway from the Arizona line to San Diego, a distance of over 200 miles.

The Bankhead Highway is not only a practical route for touring, but also for hauling of freight. It connects the principal cities of North Carolina with Washington; it links Atlanta, Birmingham and Memphis, and it also serves the principal cities of the west all the way to San Diego and the Pacific Coast.

Army Convoy.—The War Department sent a U. S. Army Convoy over the route during 1920 thus giving government recognition to the Bankhead Highway, definitely establishing it as the most important Southern transcontinental route. The Convoy, following an impressive ceremony at Zero Milestone on June 14th, left Washington, D. C. with Col. John F. Franklin, U. S. Army, as expeditionary commander, and J. A. Rountree, Secretary of the Bankhead National Highway Association as field director, under appointment of the War Department and by the Association as representative and spokesman. The convoy was composed of forty-four trucks, four of which were 10 ton size, seven automobiles and four motorcycles. The personnel consisted of twenty officers and one hundred and sixty enlisted men. The convoy landed in Los Angeles October 6th, after traveling 4,000 miles.

The convoy received an ovation from the start to the finish. In every city, town and village through which it passed receptions with banquets, barbecues and chicken dinners were served. Public meetings were held and the people addressed by members of the convoy during which a half million people heard the gospel of good roads. It is the present expectation of the promoters of the route that the Bankhead Highway will be one of the first highways to be taken over by the Federal Government as one of its transcontinental post and military roads.

The Bankhead Highway is recognized as one of the great routes for tourists from the north and east to the south and west, and is prominently shown on the map of the American Automobile Association and other tourists' maps. It is estimated that the total cost of the Highway, when completed will be above $100,000,000.

Road of Remembrance.—It is the intention of the Bankhead Highway Association to make of the highway a road of remembrance. Fruit and nut trees, flowers and shrubs will line the route, planted as memorials to heroes of the States and localities through which the highway passes. Monuments and markers will also mark the route.

Woman's Auxiliary Board.—A woman's auxiliary board was authorized by the board of directors at Birmingham, February 5, 1920, "to have charge of beautifying the Bankhead National Highway."

Features of Interest on Route.—The capitol and public buildings at Washington, D. C.; battlefields and historic points in Virginia; tobacco fields and King's Mountain in North Carolina; cotton mills in South Carolina; Stone Mountain in Georgia, Camp McPherson, Atlanta; iron and steel plants and coal fields at Birmingham; cotton plantations in Mississippi; crossing the Mississippi River at Memphis; Hot Springs, in Arkansas; oil fields of Texas; copper mines in New Mexico; Roosevelt Dam in Arizona; Indian and game reservations in Oklahoma; orange groves and orchards in California and on the Pacific Coast. See Zero Milestone, and sketch of Senator John H. Bankhead.

REFERENCES.—Archives of the United States Good Roads Association, and the Association's bulletin; letters from J. A. Rountree and S. M. Johnson, in the Alabama State Department of Archives and History.


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