Across the State in Eight (part 2 – Texarkana to Mount Vernon) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure.

 

BH map letterhead c (2)“The best path through life is the highway.” – Henri Frederic Amiel

Is the best path through Texas the Bankhead Highway?

Today the journey begins and maybe, when complete,  I can answer that question.

A chilly morning in Texarkana, Texas, and I attempt to get some shots of the Machine in downtown.

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Headed west on Broad St. (Texarkana)

Texarkana is still asleep and I decide not to wake her.

Texarkana is a town on the brink of rebirth. A resurgence can be felt all around. The discovery of something old and interesting by the heritage tourist and urban explorers.

Effort all around the community excite the aging stone and iron, stirring the soul of the town that produced “The Father of Ragtime”, Scott Joplin.

Revitalization, no longer lip service, as crews, scaffolds, and engineers rework, redesigned, and reward a downtown that had fallen on hard times.

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The Grim Hotel getting a facelift

 

I drop by the Harley Davidson dealer and they are busy jockeying bikes. I discuss my trip’s plans with an interested employee. Before the conversation turns to bike purchasing I decide to get on my way.

Today will be a short day in the mileage sense. The point is not to get from A to B, it is to find a lost highway, The Bankhead Highway.

I have no plans to continue any further than Sulphur Springs, Texas, during today’s ride. This entire journey will be a slow ride, visiting towns, looking, listening, an attempt to find the pulse of the Bankhead Highway.

I know it exists, I know this road is alive.

Quickly outside of Texarkana I  pick up “Old Redwater Road”

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Old Redwater Road is original Bankhead Highway alignment. The road’s purpose today is to service a handful of homes and shade the motorcycle traveler with a canopy of trees.

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As I travel toward Maud, Texas, I begin to see the old original Bankhead hidden in the trees only feet from the current pavement of Hwy 67.

Century old bridges and asphalt partially hidden in plain sight. I scout for a way to access the old road. Soon I find the spot.

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Abandoned Bankhead Highway (Maud, Texas)

 

The condition of the abandoned roadway is a testament to the longevity of the skilled craftsmen’s construction.

Maud’s main street still carries the name Broadway. An homage to the Bankhead Highway’s nickname, The Broadway of America.

From Maud, I turn south on Texas 8 toward Douglassville.

Deep in the trees of East Texas I pause to appreciate the colors of spring. A mixture of pine and oak crowd but do not overtake the needed space, nutrients, or sunlight from one another, while clusters of wildflower collectively create colorful roadside tussie-mussie.

I roll into Naples, Texas, nestle the Machine up next to a curb and look for a place to grab a cup of coffee. Unsure that I will find success in this small Bankhead town, I am pleased when I stumble upon Chartier’s Wine and Coffee Bar. 

Chartier’s proprietors, Dennis and Connie Chartier, have built a comfortable cafe that was an unexpected surprise to find in Athens. While I enjoyed the coffee, I was able to learn more about the Bankhead Highway, a subject in which the Chartiers are well versed.

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Dennis and Connie Chartier (Athen, Texas)

From Athens I find more original Bankhead Highway. One can tell the Bankhead by the bridges. The same style of bridge was used all the way across Texas. In the upcoming days the Machine and I will cross many original Bankhead bridges.

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The bridges will look the same for the next 800 miles (most will not be painted yellow).

The old Bankhead route is incredibly, and surprisingly, smooth. A very relaxing ride.

Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon,  come quickly. I make my way to the historical museum in Mount Vernon, Texas.

Mount Vernon was home to Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Don Meredith. The museum has an excellent exhibit with many personal items from the Dallas Cowboy’s legend.

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The museum also has a permanent exhibit of bird eggs. A unique collection that contains eggs from extinct birds.

 

While picking up some “road” food I found the local convenience store celebrating both Meredith and the Bankhead Highway.

 

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I will end Across the State in Eight (part 2) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure  with a pour for Sulphur Springs own Backstory Brewery’s “Blonde Blood Orange”.

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Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Bankhead adventure that will take us into Sulphur Springs, Texas, a dynamic East Texas community. We will visit a micro brewery and unique attractions before continuing on into Greenville and the big cities of Dallas and Fort Worth.

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Please join us on our ride.

Across the State in Eight – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure

Warm and cold air mixed  last night. The sky wrote messages of love as the electrons and protons showed their attraction to each other.  Air rose and fell, uplift, downdraft, strong, weak, hot and cold. Energy.

Today the air is cool and a strong north wind will keep my machine dancing all over the road as we begin our adventure down the Bankhead Highway.

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Before this journey can begin we, the machine and I, must get to the starting point. In Texas the Bankhead starting point is Texarkana, Texas.

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Today will be spent quickly, and safely, navigating space between tractors and trailers, UPS and FedEx, vans, parents, pets and wildlife.

Texarkana, emotional mile marker one for the machine and I. In the upcoming days we will cover almost 900 miles, four regions of climate and geographic change, revitalization, decomposition, long tall tales, colorful characters, myth and legend.

Our guide is Dan Smith book Texas Highway No. 1 – The Bankhead Highway in Texas. I will attempt to follow the maps as close as possible, staying true to the actual “original” route.

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Tomorrow is a big day. The start of an epic journey across the State of Texas. A toast to the unknown with a pour of Texarkana’s own Pecan Point brewery’s “State Line Blonde”.

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Let’s spend the night together. Three nights, in three iconic century-old Texas hotels.

A train horn blows loud, rattling the wooden french doors that open to the narrow perch overlooking the courtyard.

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Once-upon-a-time the train would have stopped and allowed a respite for the rail weary travelers. Once refreshed the passengers would return as the big engine would let out a “psssssssht” while a “clunk and clang” would indicate that the massive metal monster would soon be pulling out.

Today, the train horn blows loud, not stopping, multi-engines maintaining a speed that will soon pull its links of load over the Delaware Mountains and into the fertile lowlands of the Rio Grande River,  an international border that creates an oasis in the desert.

Today, passenger trains do not stop in Van Horn, Texas. No trains stop in Van Horn, Texas. The trains just blow horns and rattle the windows,  acting as an early morning alarm clock in this far west Texas town or reminding the town, who is responsible for its establishment.

I sit in a room, in a hotel,  that has witnessed world wars, economic collapse, and midcentury prosperity, and whose own life has been a series of up-downs, repurpose and renewal.

A hotel whose sister property, Hotel Paisano, hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean during the filming of the motion picture, Giant. A hotel whose architect Henry Trost, arguably, designed every structure in downtown El Paso, Texas, in the early 20th century.

The courtyard’s fountain’s song is muted by the train’s announcement.

The water sprays over the wall of the fountain. The fountain works against the wind and freezing temperature to maintain its purpose, fighting to hold the water against the north wind that blows hard and cold.

Tonight I find myself in the iconic Hotel Capitan in Van Horn, Texas. The third historic hotel I have stayed in, in as many days. All three have been west of Dallas/ Fort Worth, and all have been located on the old Bankhead Highway.

A slow wifi connection has me pondering and wandering through my thoughts. I wanted to love this hotel. I love Van Horn, Texas, the desert and southwest Texas.  I wanted my journey to end with experiences that would be transcendental as-well-as transformative.

Am I different than when I started? Do I have an appreciation of what century-old hotels can offer to today’s traveler? Would I do it again?

I guess I should start at the beginning, or at least three days ago my first hotel, my first stop,  my first night, The Eastland Hotel,  in Eastland, Texas. Two blocks from the railroad tracks and one block off the town’s square.

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The Eastland was built in 1918 as a rooming house, a time when Eastland county was booming. An oil strike in neighboring Ranger, Texas, ushered in wealth, prosperity, and roughnecks. Roads were laid, buildings built, and fortunes found.

The oil boom memories are scribed on historical markers while murals depict the area’s historical events in faded full-color glory.

I linger outside the property appreciating the longevity of the building that has withstood so many years. While the structure is a century-old the amenities are 21st century. My room is large with five windows and a kitchenette as well as a deep tub with jets. The hotel boasts a pool and conveniences such as heat and air, luxuries never imagined in 1918. 

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Looking out the rear window of the second-floor room, I can view the location where, ninety years ago,  a vigilante mob hung the Santa Claus bank robber. Tonight there is no activity on the corner where justice was found. I try to imagine two-thousand individuals packed into the side streets and alleyways and find peace that I am unable to create an image of what the window bared witness to.

The Eastland Hotel does not have a full-time desk. The guest is given a front door code when checking in, an easy code I still remember. Wonder how often they change it? This setup does have the feel of what I would imagine a rooming house would be like. Come and go with your own key, sharing everything but a bed.

Creaky steps up to the second floor announce my return after wandering the town’s square and visiting Old Rip, the zombie horn toad. Legend has it that Old Rip was revived after a thirty-year slumber, hence the Old Rip (Van Winkle) name. Today the legend’s body can be found “lying in state” at the Eastland County Courthouse.

This evening I was unable to find any restaurants within walking distance and settled on a microwave meal from the grocery two blocks away.

As for breakfast, The Eastland Hotel offers coffee and pastries to guests but I have my heart set on a classic two-egg breakfast. Luckily there is a breakfast place just up the street.

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Louise’s is everything I could hope for and more. What breakfast should be, a time to gather thoughts, make plans, enjoy endless cups of coffee, devour starches and fats without guilt,  while listening in on the familiar gossip and goings-on of people in an unfamiliar setting. Perfect.

I am satisfied with my night’s accommodations in Eastland.  A quiet night in a hotel that felt like a rooming house. A true step back in time. An experience I would return to. A hotel I would frequent.

Now on to the next historic hotel, the Hotel Settles, miles away in distance and a world away in appearance and purpose from humble yet perfect  Eastland Hotel.

The Hotel Settles appears like a large lum over the town of Big Spring, Texas. The odd monolith towers high. At one time the tallest building between El Paso and Fort Worth, Grand in appearance and attitude it seems that no one has let the edifice know anything has changed regarding its status.

In 1930, the Hottle Settles opened, designed by David Castle, and built by oil revenue of the Settles family, its future was soon in limbo with the onset of the Great Depression and the drying up of the oil reserves.

The hotel would go through several owners and be the accommodations for political,   and pop-cultural royalty, including President Hoover and Elvis Presley.

The oil and energy demand would ultimately be the downfall of the hotel. By the late 1970’s, Big Spring, a town built by oil, had succumbed to what many other parts of the nation faced, an energy crisis coupled with a West Texas oil bust.

In 1982, the hotel shut its doors, the playground of vandals’ mischief, and property decline for the next thirty years. In 2006 the hotel came back to life with a 30 million dollar renovation.DSC_0564 (2).JPG

Tonight my room is on the third floor with a view to the north. Only two blocks to the railroad track. The room is well-appointed with a desk that faces the window. A window that looks upon a town that has seen better times, but offers more than meets the eye.

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While the hotel offers an incredible restaurant and lounge, a vibrant nightlife has sprung up around the grand hotel. Multiple restaurants and lounges are tucked away in obscure buildings presenting an eclectic mix of class, culture, coexisting in a perception of calamity.

Lumbre, a restaurant, nestled beside an abandoned theater plays host to a packed house and offers up a menu of five-star dishes.

 

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Big Spring, Texas, is sure to surprise. And offered a night to remember combining refined dining and lodging with classic Texas hospitality.

Now here I sit. Hundreds of miles away from home listening to the train’s horn blow loud. The winter sun has set early and the courtyard glows in the chilly air. The wind has subsided, the old Bankhead Highway is void of traffic.

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I venture downstairs to the dining room, surprisingly packed. I sit at the bar and order the signature dish, a pistachio-crusted chicken fried steak. I enjoy the meal around the company of fellow travelers. We discuss historic hotels attempting to one-up each other on our experiences.

I return to the room and open the french doors. The air is cold but the soothing sound of the fountain convince me to deal with the temperature. The experience of the three hotels have not changed. I have learned a great deal about the towns I visited and their struggles.

What I realize is these hotels, when built, were the hub of the communities. As revitalization continues, in towns across Texas and America, it becomes apparent that these hotels return to the original purpose, establishing themselves as the hub of the communities. The epicenter of energy where commerce and life radiates from.

 

 

Finding the lost Bankhead Highway

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Dan Smith and the Bankhead

Dan Smith is not shy when it comes to the promotion of the Bankhead Highway. His love of the road is apparent with his self-designed Bankhead shirt and ball-cap. Even his car carries the Bankhead brand with magnetic badges that can be prominently displayed on any metallic surface, today they are on the doors. His car’s trunk is a treasure trove of Bankhead paraphernalia from t-shirts, postcards, maps, photos, and even actual pieces of Bankhead pavement. The only thing that challenges his quantity of tangible Bankhead items is his mind full of Bankhead Highway knowledge and history. All of which, he is excited to share.

Today the Bankhead, once labeled the Broadway of America, is difficult to find unless one knows where to look. Scattered reminders are hidden in plain sight. Out of place blacktop and bridges sit abandoned of their original purpose and useless in the current condition. Vibrant towns that once boasted numerous residents and visitors stand motionless. The grid of the streets create plots where many of the buildings now lay to rest.

There is a stir of life along the Bankhead due to an increase of heritage tourism and revitalization of small-town America. While a multitude of factors have come into play to help breathe life back into the road, Dan Smith, author, historian, and road reviver, maintained the Bankhead’s faint pulse and kept the road alive.

 

Dan Smith wrote the book on the Bankhead Highway, literally, he wrote the book. Texas Highway No. 1 The Highway, is “that book” and currently the only Bankhead Highway guidebook in print. Dan intended the book to be one-half history and one-half travel guide. Dan stated, “I wanted to replicate the old earliest 1920’s guidebooks.” His book is spiral bound because Dan intended the traveler to just, “lay it on the seat next to them.”

How the Bankhead Came to Be

With an origin at Mile Marker Zero, in Washington D.C., the Bankhead would snake its way across the southern half of the lower 48 with its terminus in San Diego, CA. The Bankhead Highway would guarantee America the reliability of all year travel, something the Lincoln Highway could not offer due to its northern route.

The United States Federal Government had allotted money to states for highway construction. With roughly 1000 miles of the Bankhead located in Texas; the lion’s share of the funds would be headed to the Lone Star State. In April of 1917, a large group of important people convened deep in the heart of Texas to make sure that Texas had its share of what would ultimately become the Bankhead Highway.

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Ultimately in less than one week, in 1917, the group would string together commerce and community and like an artisan jeweler, they would create a fine chain of highway that would shine across Texas and America ushering in new businesses and tourism.

Texas would brand its Bankhead Highway section as Texas 1. Collectively the entire route of the Bankhead would come to be known as the Broadway of America.

The Texas Section of the Bankhead Highway

The Abilene Morning News reported in 1929 that the Bankhead Highway was carrying one car per minute. The official count was 1,216 cars in 1,200 minutes explicitly excluding local traffic.

In the 1920’s an oil boom in West Texas utilized the Bankhead to its full extent.

According to the Texas Historical Commission, “The Bankhead Highway provided an indispensable transportation route for oilfield laborers and drilling supplies.” In 1927, the Bankhead was widened to accommodate traffic to oil wells near Midland.

The Bankhead also ushered in a new type of development targeted toward tourists. A multitude of courts, cafes, and gas stations as well as hotels that were grander than anything before.

Such a hotel was the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells constructed in 1925. The Baker Hotel created quite a footprint in the town of Mineral Wells with 232,000 square feet and rising 14 stories above the town. Four hundred fifty guest rooms and the healing mineral waters awaited Bankhead Highway travelers in what Texas Monthly Magazine describes as “Texas’ premier spa” during its heyday.

Dan envisions an early Bankhead Highway’s travelers’ experiences as, “every day is a whole new world,” when driving, “from here to California.”

World Wars further utilized the Bankhead importance to America’s security and transportation of military traffic. Several World War I military installations were located on the Bankhead. As America became involved in World War II, the Bankhead Highway became vital to the war effort. Local communities became the home of multiple newly constructed military bases and installations. The road, in turn, benefitted with upgrades and improvements during mobilization.

The Bankhead is Lost

While the Bankhead Highway was the primary route early in the 20th century, Bankhead Highway’s history would become a tangled mess of names and numbers, realignments and alternative routes, abandoned fragments, fenced off pavements slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature, and other sections covered with interstate highway I20 and I10.

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The Bankhead was repeatedly beaten and battered by political and economic forces that resulted in the evolution of the road. The highway would ultimately become a variety of numbers with only a couple of small sections keeping the Bankhead moniker in their names. The Bankhead, pride of the south, testament to America’s dedication to progress and development, and a conduit for West Texas Oil wealth, would fade into history until Dan Smith would accidentally become its savior.

Dan’s Journey to the Bankhead

Dan is an author, historian, and self-proclaimed geek who seems to find the unique and forgotten topics the most fun to research.

Dan is a Floridian, born and raised in Miami. He graduated number two in his class and began a career with the weather service. He does not remember when he became interested in weather but remembers in the seventh-grade winning science fairs with his weather experiments.

Dan recalls a time in graduate school when an assignment sent him on a journey to research, “the most obscure thing I could find.” This led Dan deep into the library to discover dusty journals focused on 19th-century steamboats that navigated narrow Florida rivers.

Dan immerses himself in his interests, while the Bankhead might be his passion, even years after his introduction to the steamboats, he will still use any opportunity to discuss this steamboat with any ear that will listen.

But he will admit that his thoughts and talks will quickly go, “back to the Bankhead Highway.”

His interest and career choice will ultimately bring Dan and his family to Texas and closer to the Bankhead Highway. Fresh out of college and eager to continue his work with the Weather Bureau, Dan was quick to take advantage of a vacancy in Fort Worth, Texas. Dan would spend the next thirty-plus years of his life working with the Weather Service.

New Year’s Day 1970, was, “the first time I was west of the Mississippi.”

He humorously describes his new Texas home as a “new world” and “neat place.” This “neat place” unknown to Dan, will introduce him in a few decades to an old road that will become his passion demanding years of research and attention and ultimately bring Dan recognition and respect from people far and wide. This Texas transplant will arguably be the best thing that has happened to the Bankhead since 1917.

Dan readily admits that he, “literally just stumbled on the Bankhead Highway.”

A random bicycle ride near his home in Fort Worth, Texas, would be an event that would change Dan’s life and ultimately breathe new life into the Bankhead. As for the actual date of the ride, Dan will respond, “your guess is as good as mine”. While the exact date and time is up for debate it was for sure around the year 1983.

Dan’s ride that day took him down a random Texas road, a road that happened to still have Bankhead in its name. A street sign was enough to pique Dan’s interest and when he got home decided to find out more about this Bankhead Highway.

This single sign opened an area of research that would become the focus of Dan’s life and introduce him to over 1000 miles of route in Texas of a road that crossed the country as the Broadway of America.

An endless amount of information about a forgotten road

Dan made calls from Austin, Texas, to Washington, DC, attempting to learn more about the road. He received boxes of information that had been stored away for years. Dan states that the information about, “the Bankhead just grew, and grew, and grew.”

“The more I researched the more I went out and learned things,” and the more people he would meet, “so many people, notebooks full of people.”

Unknown to Dan at the time, the Bankhead was about to have a birthday, and he would be a key player in the celebration.

Dan understands that there is much more to learn about the Bankhead. While he does not look to compare the Bankhead to more well-known and popular routes in America, he feels that the Bankhead has great significance.

Texas celebrating the Bankhead

As the centennial celebration of the Bankhead grew near, the State of Texas and the Texas Historical Commission joined the celebration.

“I heard from the folks with the Historic Commission in Austin (Texas), and they were fixing to give a contract of roughly a million dollars or whatever it was, to a research company to do a study on the Bankhead Highway.”

Dan Smith was soon contacted by the research group that secured the contract.

Curious about their plan, Dan asked, “what are you going to use for a map?”

Their response, “that is why we are calling you.”

Dan’s book became a valuable resource to the state and its research

At this time Dan’s Bankhead book was not complete, but he did have a draft that would soon be ready to publish.

“I gave the only copy to them,” he quickly corrects his statement, “loaned it to them.”

The intention was to create a guide. “My thing was that if they can’t find their way with this then I got work to do,” Dan states with regards to revision.

Both parties mutually benefited. Dan’s book was field-tested, and the group was able to navigate a century-old road.

As for Dan’s relationship and influence with the Texas Historical Commission, he states, “I feel I have been very helpful to them.” He continues that he tries to keep them up to date “with what is going on” with the Bankhead.

Dan pays homage to the Bankhead Highway with signs and his book

The book was not the only homage Dan had for the Bankhead Highway. Dan, together with a local sign maker, started producing Bankhead Highway signs and historical plaques. Dan states with pride, “I’ve put out about 100 of those all the way across the state.”DSC_0011 (2)

The State of Texas also has placed some official signs designating the old Bankhead Highway, but Dan is quick to point out, “My signs were never intended to compete with any state sign,” those placed by the highway department the TDot signs, “are altogether different.”

Dan points out that, “signs go up on city or county property, not TDot,” not interfering or infringing on state or federal rights of way, confessing, “that’s how we get away with it.”

The self-described Johnny Appleseed of the Bankhead Highway peddling BH signs to all takers. He does have a request, “when I give those away (BH signs) my only wish is, put it somewhere people can see it.”

What Dan Smith offered the Bankhead Highway

“I can’t tell what is going to happen to the old road, but at least in my book it will be preserved forever.”

Dan reconnected the broken chain of the Bankhead. His book pieces together the fragments that would have been lost in plain sight. The gems and jewels still exist albeit a bit tarnished and Dan’s travel guide allows the heritage traveler to have an experience a century old.

Today those same communities that built the tourist courts and camps, spas and hotels, gas stations and cafes 100 years ago are looking for ways to bring them back to their original luster.

The heritage tourist, as well as the casual traveler, will find several gems and jewels along today’s route as well as historical and cultural significant interests. Each town down the Bankhead route will offer a multitude of hospitality of yesterday and luxuries of today. These roadside treasures await the heritage tourists as they make their way down the Broadway of America.

The Settles Hotel in Big Spring, as well as the El Capitan in Van Horn, have been reconditioned to their early twentieth-century glory offering five-star overnight accommodations and services.

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The previously mentioned Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells is presently being restored with plans of reopening in 2022. Laird Fairchild discussed the plans with Texas Monthly Magazine and stated the restorations as, “the largest restoration in Texas history of a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” Phil Garrett, the Mineral Wells unofficial historian believes that the Baker’s rebirth is, “the most significant historical event since the discovery by our town’s founder of the local mineral water in 1881,” as stated in the article.

Abandoned tourist courts in Abilene and decaying midcentury architecture in Merkel will give the traveler a haunting reminder of how things used to be. Native American and Comanche culture is woven into the route. With the dynamic city of El Paso not ending the journey, but just adding extra layers to a satisfying experience with the mixture of cultures and old west persona.

Today’s Bankhead traveler can still drive on miles and miles of original hand-laid brick roadways. Traveling on a brick road can add to the nostalgia of heritage travel. These hand-laid roads are evidence of the longevity of certain early road engineering. Dan believes that there is, “at least a hundred miles, maybe more,” of vintage Bankhead pavement in Texas adding, “that brick goes all the way across Eastland county.”

These unique experiences will add variety to what Dan calls today’s “great sameness” in traveling experiences.

And just like the State of Texas Dan Smith’s, Texas Highway No.1 The Bankhead Highway in Texas, will be the required travel companion. The guide will inform and educate while keeping the tourist from getting lost.

What the Bankhead Highway offered to Dan Smith

Dan’s humbleness often overshadows his accomplishment.

Dan is identified by many as “America’s Recognized Expert” on the Bankhead Highway, he is quick to affirm, “I don’t make that claim,” but as Texas’ research group confirmed with their call – he is the go-to guy with regards to the Bankhead Highway.

Dan loves to discuss and chat about the Bankhead, “What I am happy about is the fact that I am still at it, that people still give a hoot.”

Dan wishes he would have kept count of the number of formal and organized groups he has spoken to across the state. When Dan is asked about what has brought him the most joy he brightly responds, “all the talks I have given.”

Dan borrows from Jimmy Doolittle’s quote that he will, “never be so lucky again,” and the Bankhead’s history and today’s heritage tourists will never be so lucky that Dan decided to go for a bicycle ride.

 

The Baker Hotel, Colorado City, Texas

The Baker Hotel, Colorado City, Texas.

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When one mentions the name Baker, in reference to a hotel, chances are, the mind’s eye will find an image of the iconic Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas. The fourteen-story beast that sits, out of place, and out of time, nestled in the hills of Palo Pinto County. This association is warranted, The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells carries a wealth of history and is all deserving of the traveler’s fascination.

Unbeknown to some is that more than one Baker Hotel existed.  Theodore Baker designed and built many hotels branding a few with his name.

Colorado City, Texas, (aka Mother City of West Texas) located in the  Big Sky Country lays claim to a Baker Hotel.

According to a Texas Scapes website article, early in the town’s history, it was, “the largest community between Fort Worth and El Paso, Colorado City had more millionaires than any other Texas town”. The article further declares that the town had more saloons than any town in the west.

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The following is taken from the back of a Baker Hotel postcard:

“Located just one block off U. S. 80 in downtown Colorado City, Texas, the Baker Hotel offers the traveler the finest in hotel services – free parking, year ’round air-conditioning, superb accommodations, television, Heated Swimming Pool, and good food in the Baker’s beautiful “Colorado Room.”

Not sure why the Heated Swimming Pool is capitalized?

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The Baker of Colorado City still stands. A gutted shell more akin with bombed-out cities than the fabulous 1920s.

While little life stirs within the walls of the Baker, the adjoining movie theater was renovated in 2007.

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The Palace Theater was renamed 3M Palace Theater after the 2007 renovation. While it is reported the celluloid is still projected on the screen, a recent trip found the exterior void of life.

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Colorado City, once a city of wealth and promise, finds itself attempting to exist in a fast pace world void of mainstreets. Mainstreets at one time in the 20th century were the epicenter of commerce and entertainment. The place where life happened in a town. Today only remnants of these ideas weather and crumble with each passing year.

The still life of a town like Colorado City allows the traveler a moment to reset and ponder the frailty of all that is taken for granted.

The El Capitan finding purpose on the Bankhead Highway

Elements create, in the hands of artisans, wonders. Some wonders inspire as art, some function as needs, some create envy as wants, all have a purpose. The Hotel Capitan, in Van Horn, Texas, was created with such purpose. The designer’s purpose was aesthetics while the developer’s purpose was to capitalize on the tourist industry. The combination of these two purposes would culminate into developing several hotels in West Texas whose purpose would impact well beyond the expectations of the designer or the developer. Elements of art, earth, and the economy would bring to life the Hotel Capitan and these elements would continue to shape the hotel’s purpose throughout its life.

Designer and Developer

The designer, Henry Trost, was an established and respected architect well before designing the Hotel Capitan.  Trost’s designs had come to life across the southern states.  Trost is credited with designing most of the buildings in downtown El Paso, between the years 1910 and 1933. His buildings can be found from Austin, Texas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Trost found inspiration in a multitude of styles, although he would embrace the Spanish Colonial Revival style in many designs in the southwest. Trost’s designs were cutting edge in  respect to the steel-reinforced concrete he would use. Approaches such as this could be the reason many of his buildings still stand.

Charles Bassett a developer and part of  the Gateway Hotel Chain had the vision of hotels at the crossroads of the newly developed National Parks of Big Bend, Guadalupe, and Carlsbad Caverns. Bassett developed five Gateway hotels within a 200 radius of El Paso. He felt that tourism would soon create a great need for overnight accommodations.

El Capitan’s  Birth and Early Life DSC_0053 (2).JPG

The Hotel Capitan opened in 1930, arguably not the greatest time in American history to become a realization. Only one year before the stock market crashed and brought about the start of The Great Depression. This did not deter the Hotel Capitan from being a success and operating as a hotel into the late 1960’s.

The Hotel Capitan met the same demise as many other early and mid-twentieth century overnight accommodations. Interstate ten bypassed the main street of Van Horn, Texas. While the interstate is in earshot of the hotel, this had a huge impact on not only the Hotel Capitan but all of Van Horn.

Mid-life

Many hotels and motels fall quickly into disrepair and decay once their original purpose is abandoned. The Hotel Capitan was able to escape this fate by being repurposed as a bank in the mid-1970’s.  While this did change much of the character and design of the original layout it would ultimately save an American roadside architectural treasure.

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Rebirth

In 2007, seventy-seven years after the Hotel Capitan was built it was purchased by Joe and Lanna Duncan. The couple had the plan to convert the Capitan back to its former glory. The Duncans had success in bringing life back to Hotel Capitan’s sister property, The Paisano, in Marfa, Texas. The dedication of the couple would eventually bring the Capitan back to its original purpose of welcoming, entertaining and wowing the weary traveler in West Texas.

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2019 – The summer of KOAs

In the mid-seventies while the nation was in a gas shortage and energy crisis my family was pulling a Terry bumper-pull travel trailer around the USA. In my mind we were always traveling somewhere, in hindsight I realize my blue-collar dad only had off a couple of weeks per year making this memory of constant transcontinental travel impossible.

Today, I know many memories were the product of photo albums and stories that saturated my mind.  It really does not matter to me how these reflections of family vacations  got in my head, they are there and that is what is important.

Oh – most of my memories are at KOAs

So In the summer of 2019 Tab across Texas hit the road and to check out a few KOAs to determine if they still held the power to create memories.

Spoiler alert, to our surprise, they did.

Our summer journey began in Oklahoma and we would ultimately stay in four Oklahoma KOAs.

Each KOA offered a different experience with similar vibe, a friendly vibe. No matter if we just showed up to get a spot or called ahead, the KOA staff seemed authentic in manner and customer service.

As for the experience – right on the mark for memory making. From fishing ponds to  game rooms, on-site horse tracks to casinos, not to mention the swimming pools and wonderful restroom and shower facilities Oklahoma’s KOAs are A OK.

Our KOA experiences continued on into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.

The KOAs in places such as Abilene, Texas and Grants, New Mexico we used for quick overnight spots. Even for these stays of less than twelve hours the KOA offered easy setup, attentive staff, and quite neighbors.

The Las Cruces, New Mexico KOA was an experience that will not be forgotten. A pleasant staff greeted us on arrival and we settled into a spot with a great view of the Organ Mountains. A wonderful sunset and a brilliant night sky made for a wonderful experience.

Our KOA experience in Mesa, Arizona was just as pleasant as New Mexico. Our site had a great view of Superstition Mountain and was surrounded by Saguaro cactus. The busy season in Arizona is definitely winter, while during summer reservations would not be required for an RV site, many attractions and restaurants are closed for the season.

Tab across Texas made it all the way to Las Vegas during the summer of 2019. We found a KOA at Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino and set up for a couple of nights. At first we were a bit leery about a KOA on Bolder Highway in Las Vegas but our concerns quickly dissipated as we entered into this desert oasis. While the RV sites are nothing to write home about the pool and facilities are great. With the Tab only a few yards from these amenities we would spend the day by the pool before venturing over, easy walk, to Sam’s Town for and evening of entertainment.

Tab across Texas stayed in a total of nine different KOA in five different states over the course of the summer of 2019. The KOAs offered a consistency in operation that allowed us to not worry about what to expect from each overnight.

While the prices ranged from thirty to fifty dollars per night, Tab across Texas believes that quality comes at a price and from our experiences, KOA is quality.

The Bankhead Highway

Before American roads and highways had designated numbers they had names. These names were associated with politicians  who help make the roadways reality. Political clout allowed politicians the ability to be forever remembered by having their names tied with cross-country roadways. This legacy was compromised when the highway department organized state and national highways with the numerical system used today.

The Bankhead Highway was named for John Hollis Bankhead an Alabama politician. According to the Texas Historical Commissions website the Bankhead Highway  ran from Washington D.C. to San Diego, Ca. with construction beginning in 1916 making the Bankhead Highway one of the earliest continuous routes from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Over 850 miles of the Bankhead Highway existed in Texas. Today much of the original route is covered by Texas highways 67 and 80 while others sections were left abandoned and reclaimed by nature. There are still parts of the Bankhead that are maintained and Tab Across Texas set out to find a piece of the Bankhead and experience a drive on a road that is 110 years old. We started our adventure in Weatherford, Texas, and decided to travel west toward the town of Mineral Wells, Texas.

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The remaining sections of the Bankhead are clearly marked and have little traffic so the journey down the Bankhead can be easy and casual.

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Keep an eye out for some vintage concrete. This bridge has seen better days but has supported and witnessed more than a century of traffic on the Bankhead Highway.

 

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A rest stop along the highway dates from 1936. The lonesome picnic table sits waiting for the next weary traveler to take a break in the shade of the Oak tree canopy.

Our trip on the Bankhead Highway terminated at the Crazy Water Well in Mineral Wells, Texas.

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The taps allow the public to purchase the Crazy Water pumped out of the original well.  It did take a while to get our bottle filled.

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