Prohibition – that is what I am talking about. Gin tasted sweeter, drunk was more drunken, and hang-overs didn’t hurt.
Outlaws were admired, cops were Keystone, and gambling was found behind hidden doors – fun!
Roads were being built and tourism became an economy.
Tourist camps, hotels and motels supplied the needed respite for souls journeying toward the God given right of Manifest Destiny.
Ah – the 1920’s – the decade that Texarkana, Texas, aspired to raise a grand hotel along the Texas and Arkansas state line.
The Hotel Grim would be spectacular and a spectacle.
The architectural firm of Mann and Stern, while borrowing heavily from the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, designed an impressive structure, grand in a subtle way. A variety of building material inside and out created, somehow, a seamless, and elegant structure loaded with 90-degree angles – final cost 700,000 – yes, in 1925 dollars.
Guest could dine on the roof top – a dining room and garden, eight stories high, towering above the debauchery below.
The Grim, or so the legend goes, was a haven for illegal gambling. There are also rumors of an elaborate tunnel system below the town – allowing for a convenient transport of women and whisky – and the tunnels terminus, always the Grim.
Her sins aside, the Grim lasted until 1990, better that what can be said for other hotels of the day – hopefully Texarkana found around 11,000 dollars a year worth of use from the hotel.
For thirty years the hotel was vandalized by mother nature and vagrants, teenagers and time. Ceilings collapsed and floors caved, as the once grand hotel became an eyesore.
Today – revitalization of downtown Texarkana is bringing the Grim back – well kind-of. Texarkana is not planning a luxury hotel but affordable apartment.
Never-the-less, Grim will be operating again and that is more that I can say about other hotels of the day.
Redwater, Texas, the first town a Bankhead Highway traveler will pass through heading east out of Texarkana.
Redwater, Texas, is located in Bowie County with a population of sub-one thousand residents, small yet still more prominent than it was when founded in the mid -1870’s.
Redwater was initially named after the great oratorial expert, friend to the rich and powerful, and the “OG” Agnostic, Robert Green Ingersoll, reported by the Washington Post in 2012 as, “the most famous American you never heard of”.
Riding the Old Redwater Road – out of Texarkana.
Ingersoll’s legacy was short-lived in the town that would eventually become Redwater, Texas. A revival was held one night in Ingersoll, and the Spirit was in attendance. The evening resulted in over 100 people finding the Lord.
Quickly enough, the citizens felt that their highly spiritual town should not be named after “The Great Agnostic” and began searching for a new name. They settled on Redwater a homage to the tint of the water in the wells and springs.
Ted Stiger, by accident, created an iconic roadside oasis in the desert. The Buckhorn Baths in Mesa, Arizona, a mecca that denounced segregation, lured Hollywood stars, played host to the political elite, and arguably developed the Cactus League. Ted’s relationship with baseball ushered in the spring training of Americans favorite pastime to the East Valley – and all he did was dig a well.
Arizona was a no-mans-land for centuries, an arid desert, a harsh environment that few called home until the Granite Reef Dam’s construction. Completed in 1908, this early 20th-century engineering marvel on the Salt River diverted water via irrigation canals to Phoenix, allowing growth and development. Soon after, in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was constructed, providing the valley with affordable electricity.
While Phoenix thrived with its new wealth of utilities, America was on the move. The pursuit of mapping all-season and all-weather roads was in full swing. Routes such as the Bankhead Highway, Dixie Overland Highway, Old Spanish Trail, and U.S. Highway 80 trudged west, each claiming the title coast-to-coast.
Soon travelers filled the roadways. Cars needed gas, passengers needed groceries, resulting in mom and pop shops popping up all along the newly formed transcontinental routes. In 1936, Ted and Alice Sliger purchased a parcel of property just east of Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona, a purchase that would set in motion a series of events that would culminate into the development of the Buckhorn Baths. Initially, the couple’s space was occupied by a store, a gas station; in addition to these, Ted found space to display his extensive taxidermy collection.
By 1938 business was good, but there was a problem. Ted had to have water delivered, and with an increase in traffic and patrons, this was becoming impractical. Ted set out to dig a well to find some water beneath his feet. Ted did find water, but not water worth drinking; Ted opened a 120 degrees mineral-rich water well. Water that, at the time, was believed to have healing powers. Understanding the unique opportunity flowing under their feet, the two built a 27 stone tub bathhouse that could serve 75 guests per day, added cottages, and ultimately employed a staff of 25.
The Cactus League Bill Veeck, who owned a ranch in Arizona, purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946. Veeck also intended to introduce African American players to his roster. This would be problematic during spring training in Florida, where Jim Crow Laws still subjected African Americans to sever discrimination; he chose to move spring training to Arizona. The big issue with this move was that there would be no other teams to play during spring training; Cleveland needed another Arizona team during the spring. Horace Stoneham, the hands-on owner of the New York Giants, also wintered in Arizona. And as legend has it moved the Giants spring training to Arizona the day he discovered the Buckhorn Baths and the healing waters. The Giants would call the Buckhorn Baths home each spring for the next 25 years. Legends such as Ty Cobb and Willie Mays would soak in the mineral baths, wander the grounds, and enjoy the mild desert winters.
During a time of racial inequality, The Buckhorn welcomed all players of all colors, allowing the team to stay together on site, something that was not allowed in Florida.
Today, fifteen professional baseball teams call the Phoenix area home during the Cactus League’s season.
Ted passed away in 1984; although it had been decades since the Buckhorn was the Giants’ home base, the baths were still opened and operated along with the motel and the museum, by his wife, Alice.
With Alice at the helm, she drew the last bath in 1999. The motel and museum shuttered around 2005. On November 10, 2010, Alice passed away at 103 years of age.
Today the Buckhorn Baths stand abandoned but well preserved. The mineral-rich still flows through the pipes. A roadside gem. A collection of Americana history.
Years ago, darkness filled the space between city limit signs, a void of life and light. These lonely stretches of blacktop created ideal spots for drive-in theaters.
In the middle of the last century, “Midway” drive-ins popped up along those segments of highway. Strategically placed midway between towns, the Drive-ins would benefit from both populations’ patronage. Mid-century summer nights would come to life in these otherwise desolate areas midway between towns.
One such “Midway” Drive-in existed along what was once known as the Bankhead Highway in Sweetwater, Texas.
Sweetwater’s Midway Drive-In opened on May 20, 1948, with a screening of “The Time, the Place and the Girl,” starring Dennis Morgan. Warner Bros’. most successful film during 1946 and 1947, earning $3,461,000 domestically and $1,370,000 foreign. Might this success be the reason the Midway opened with it two years later?
Owned by Jack Wallace. He, Dorothy, his wife, and son J.D. ran the theater. The projectionist was Billy Faught.
Many other outdoor cinemas share the Midway’s demise. Victims of changing culture and fluctuating populations. Today the screen still stands, a mammoth white cement wall, waiting to continue to perform its duty, frozen in time, just off West Broadway, Sweetwater, Texas.
Your source for Bankhead Highway news and information – Texas’ section.
What is inside this month…
TabacrossTexas just completed the entire Texas’ Bankhead Highway Route. In eight days, we covered over 900 miles slow and easy, taking in as much as we could, while we stayed as true to the original century-old alignment as we could.
This month’s newsletter is dedicated to some of the unique stops and individuals we discovered while we Crossed the State in Eight.
Bankhead Highway People.
Rosenda – Sierra Blanca, Texas.
An opened door in a dead town.
Sierra Blanca is, less of a town, more of a collection of decay.
Random relicts, soon to be rubble, front the old Bankhead town’s Mainstreet.
The Sister Gift Shop and Rocks sit between long abandoned and forgotten theatres and gas stations.
Wistful Warm West Wind carries tumbleweeds through forgotten streets. Dry air has mummified the stone and steel, prolonging the deterioration process. Terracotta colored streets flow into warm stucco-covered buildings whose facade is cracked, exposing the masonry beneath.
Inside the opened narrow entry, I meet Rosenda.
We talk like long lost friends.
Two individuals in a lonely place. Removed, temporarily, from time.
Two individuals exchanging personal information. Sharing as if we were the last two souls on earth.
We could be the last to souls in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
The shop is full of random rocks and jewelry, trinkets and novelties, dusty odds and broken ends.
We chat about where we are going and where we have been. In only minutes I learn about her life, children, challenges, and successes. We ponder the changes that are inevitable and what lies ahead.
I wander out into the afternoon heat and stand in the middle of the road. Overwhelmed with the insignificance of things thought as important, realizing those things that are precious. Things miles away but still as close as a thought.
Bob Stogsdill – Strawn, Texas.
Bob Stogsdill repainted Strawn’s Bankhead Hotel sign. His time and patience brought the old hotel back to its former glory. Well, at least the hotel’s sign. One can find Bob in the Strawn community museum.
Bob is a great guy that will enjoy discussing the history of Strawn and the Bankhead with any ear that will listen.
Eastland Texas – Keeping the Bankhead Highway alive.
Eastland, Texas, has taken the initiative to support the Bankhead Highway by placing BH banners around the courthouse square.
I, for one, hope the signage and discourse about the Bankhead Highway push more heritage tourists, and adventurers, out of their homes and onto the old road.
Within the walls of that Eastland County courthouse, one will find Old Rip. A resurrection story of a Phrynosoma.
Epicurian Exelence in Brashear, Texas
No menu – just tell Betty what you like.
Located only a couple of miles beyond Sulphur Springs city limits is Brashear, Texas. Brashear was founded in 1868 and its population has declined ever since.
Recently, a California transplant has opened shop in the old Brashear Country Store. Betty is the chief chef and pot scrubber of the most relaxed restaurant in all of Texas.
Betty is not shy in her presentation of self or food. She creates larger than life plates that impress.
What does Rockwall, Texas, offer a Bankhead Highway tourist?
Some great old submerged bridges and an incredible 1922 railroad bridge and a great microbrewery on Mainstreet.
Mineral Wells, Texas.
The Laumdronat – Washing Machine Museum.
How fun is this. Wash clothes and learn about the history of washing clothes.
It is not just antique washers on display, cases line the walls with trinkets and wonders of the washateria, including this hanger dispenser.
Next month we will highlight more places we discovered on our Across the State in Eight trip.
Thanks for following along.
Want to learn more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas?
If you are interested in learning more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas, be sure to get a copy of Dan SMith’s book
Next month we will continue to focus on the people and places that make a Bankhead journey special.
We also are working on a trip itinerary for the Bankhead Highway. Our intention is to create a guide that will help the traveler discover some incredible people, places, and things along the Bankhead route.Please follow tabacrosstexas.com to stay up on Bankhead Highway News. Links below.
“Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – The Main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”
West Texas is big!
Wind turbines are everywhere. Their uniformity is eerie. I wish they would paint them like pinwheels, giant pinwheels planted by Goliath in the Big Sky Country.
Or it could be that I suffer from Megalophobia.
Since Texarkana, the railroad tracks have been a constant companion. I can’t tell if I am chasing the engines or if they are chasing me. A game of cat and mouse across Texas.
Those rails witnessed the birth of the Bankhead nearly 100 years ago. At that time the tracks were operated by the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
Abilene, Texas, owes its existence to the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
In 1881 cattlemen began using the location to stockpile cattle awaiting shipment to market via the T and P. They name the town Abilene after Abilene, Kansas, the terminus of the Chisholm Trail.
My traveling companion is the reason Abilene exists.
Following my partner’s tracks into downtown I discover the historic Hotel Grace.
The Grace was built in 1909 and served the needs of travelers riding on the Texas and Pacific Line. The Grace was renamed The Drake in 1946.
As passenger-train travel waned the hotel began to decline and in 1973 it shuttered for good.
Today the building has been brought back to life and houses a downtown museum.
Abilene’s downtown has been restored with preservation in mind. Theaters and museums all conditioned to the standards of today, while utilizing the character of design and construction to make them interesting.
I head west down the Bankhead and pull in to Burro Alley for some lunch.
Sitting right on, what was, the Bankhead the Burro Alley’s courtyard is a hidden gem only a few feet off the road.
The path to the restaurant, shops, and courtyard is very Santa Fe -ish.
Surrounded by a collection of stores and a restaurant this oasis in Abilene is a must stop.
The food is great.
I find little history on Burro Alley but an old postcard shows that La Posada, as opposed to El Fenix, was the original restaurant.
Comparing the Ponca today to early 20th-century linen postcards, little has changed. Still operational and welcoming guests along the Bankhead Highway.
Several other Bankhead era properties can be found in Abilene, including the Abilene Courts.
The town deserves more time than I can give. I push on.
Merkel, Texas. My favorite town on the Bankhead Highway.
The Merkel Restaurant’s fabulous roof.
Abandoned with everything left inside, the restaurant has become a roost for pigeons. Hundreds of these feathered squatters are gathered in the cafe. Giving a real Alfred Hitchcock feel to the place.
While in Merkel, be sure to check out the Merkel Museum and learn about the Hollywood movie shot in Merkel titled “Independence Day”.
Yes, Independence Day was filmed in Merkel, Texas.
On to Sweetwater.
Again, the West Texas Music Hall of Fame is closed. I peer through the window and see a collection of music memorabilia. Maybe someday I will get to go inside, until then I will have to just look at the website.
The Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium has hosted performances from Fred Astaire, Roy Acuff, Eddie Arnold, and the King himself, Elvis. Elvis visited Sweetwater in June and December of 1955 to put on a show.
A pendulum hangs motionless, without purpose, over the old Bankhead route in Sweetwater.
During World War II the majority of male pilots were actively engaged in combat overseas. This resulted in a shortage of pilots.
A need arose to shuttle planes to bases across America. With a lack of male pilots, the solution was to train females to fly, thus The Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S.P) was formed.
Bringing national acts into Greenville, Texas, The Texan is not just a renovated movie palace from the past – it is a world class entertainment venue.
The Bankhead is calling. I stretch my legs with a quick walk and mount the Machine for our next stretch of the Bankhead.
The next section of the Bankhead is now labeled as Texas 66, aka Route 66.
Texas 66, a wonderful section of road. A mishmash of farmland and masterplans.
The road has changed. The environment has changed. Texas has changed.
Only a few miles ago, dense trees and swampy lowlands surrounded me. Today the horizon has opened up. I can see farther than ever before. Heading west to the Big Sky Country. Soon the city.
The beautiful Bankhead town of Rockwall, Texas, respecting the old route with a great sign. The towns of Rockwall, Rowlett, and Garland have all done, due diligence in honoring the Bankhead Highway.
I plan to repay them with a stop at the Bankhead Brewery. Before that, there is one thing I have to see.
Yes, that is an original 1922 Bankhead Highway build. Today Main street east bound terminus is the lake, where the original Bankhead bridge rails peak out of the water, like snorkels. Never die.
This road IS alive.
I break at the Bankhead Brewery only a couple of miles down Main Street. I am pleased that this establishment that has borrowed the name that gives credit to the road.
Unique art embellishes the walls of the Bankhead Brewery like this barbed-wire map of the route.
Continuing on Texas 66 into Garland, I find the historical marker celebrating the old road. I position the Machine for a photo. Take a walk around the square and continue on into the city of Dallas, Texas.
I turn off 66 onto 76 and begin my descent into the city. Grand homes and gardens flank me while the sky line of Dallas presents itself grand against the blue sky. I enter into town beside Fair Park and find that the old Bankhead route travels through Deep Ellum, Dallas’ entertainment district.
I continue through the “Big D” staying true to the Bankhead route. I turn south on Jefferson Ave to find a way across the Trinity River and an original Bankhead bridge.
Before I cross the river, the historical “sixth floor” lingers over my shoulder.
Goodbye to Dallas. The west is ahead of me and the Machine.
I will end, Across the State in Eight (part 3) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour from Rowlett’s own Bankhead Brewery’s limited run brew.
Stay tuned for part 4 of the Bankhead adventure that will take us further west – into the Big Sky country of Texas.
“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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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.
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.
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.