The Bankhead Highway, also known as the Broadway of America, stretched from Washington, DC to San Diego, California, and was one of the nation’s earliest transcontinental highways. In 1917, the Texas Highway Department designated the 850 miles of the Bankhead Highway within Texas as State Highway 1. The Bankhead Highway was originally named for John H. Bankhead, a senator from Alabama.
If you have a collection of old family pictures from the 1910s and 1920s, you may have a photograph of an early automobile with relatives dressed up in suits, hats, and dresses commemorating their first cross-country drive. Because of an increase in highway travel, new economic resources developed along the Bankhead Highway, including repair garages, gas stations, diners, cafes, tourist camps and courts, hotels, road markers, and bridges.
Driving nonstop from Texarkana to El Paso takes over twelve hours. Let’s explore the old and the new along the way. Profound changes in the landscape range from East Texas piney woods, central plains, upper hill country, and mesquite-cleared farmland to the mountainous West Texas Chihuahuan desert. Today, we’ll detour off I-30, I-20, and I-10 through Texas, paralleling the old Bankhead route. Let’s go!
Texarkana, Texas, is the twin city to Texarkana, Arkansas, and is located 179 miles east of Dallas. Start driving the Bankhead along U.S. 67 in Texarkana east to Greenville or traverse I-30 and take detours.
The exquisitely restored Perot Theatre, constructed in 1924, was a venue for silent films, stage plays, and reviews, later featuring first-run movies and stage plays. H. Ross Perot contributed much of the restoration costs in memory of his parents. A statue of his brother, who died at age 3, stands waving from the second floor.
The Draughon-Moore Ace of Clubs House, an Italianate Victorian home, was erected in 1885 with winnings from a poker game won with a lucky draw of the ace of clubs.
Pro Tip: Take an Instagram photo while straddling the Texas-Arkansas state line at Photographer’s Island, located in front of the Texarkana Post Office.
2. Mount Vernon
Visit the Historic Bankhead Highway Visitor Center in the 1868 Henry Clay Thruston House in Mount Vernon.
The Franklin County Courthouse in Mount Vernon was constructed in 1911 and restored in 2014.
In Bankhead Highway days, the Sinclair Gas Station called 2211 Stonewall Street home beginning from 1930. Today, the location is an Appliance Depot.
The Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum honors the most decorated soldier in World War II. Murphy received 24 decorations, including the U. S. Congressional Medal of Honor. He became a successful movie star, portraying himself in To Hell and Back, his war career autobiography. His burial in Arlington National Cemetery followed an untimely death from a plane crash in May 1971.
Pro Tip: Stop at the Buc-ee’s in Royse City on I-30 33 miles east of Dallas, known for competitively priced gas, clean restrooms, snacks, and shopping. This place is enormous, with 99 gasoline bays.
4. Garland, A Dallas Suburb
You’ll see the old bridges during droughts in Lake Ray Hubbard that were part of the old Bankhead Highway. Garland was the only town in Texas along the route which organized and went to work without outside help building gas stations, motor courts, diners, and car repair shops along Main Street. The Bankhead name remained attached to the Garland segment until the early 1950s, when drivers began to access the newer, faster, and safer interstate highway system.
See the Bankhead Highway Historical Marker on Main Street on the south side of the public square in Garland.
You’ll see many Bankhead-era gas stations, auto repair shops, and minor auto sales dealerships on Elm Street and Commerce Street in Dallas. Stay on I-30 through Dallas.
The Bankhead Highway, U.S. 80, ran through Arlington on Division Street. If there had been no Bankhead Highway, there would be no Arlington Downs Racetrack, no Six Flags Over Texas, no Masonic Home, no Top of the Hill Terrace Casino, and no General Motors Plant.
6. Fort Worth
East Lancaster Avenue running through Fort Worth was part of the Bankhead Highway.
Stay at the Drover Hotel, an Autograph Collection Hotel with a luxury western theme, in the Stockyards District. Explore Mule Alley for wine shops, Western wear, the King Ranch Saddle Shop, Second Rodeo Brewing Company, and more.
You can also stay at the luxurious Omni Hotel, right off I-30 in downtown Fort Worth. Then, stroll across the street to the Fort Worth Water Gardens, walk up the avenue to Sundance Square, and duck into Reata for a Texas margarita and my favorite tenderloin tamales.
Miles of great Bankhead loom from Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth to Weatherford, still traversed by locals.
Vintage Car Museum hosts a classic car museum, conference room, and event center on the old Bankhead route.
Pro Tip: Fire Oak Grill is so good; I love the bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeños and the beef tenderloin tacos. You can’t beat the wagyu beef chicken fried steak with whipped potatoes and green beans.
The Bankhead Hotel was built in the early 1920s on the Bankhead Highway in Strawn. You’ll see the hand-laid brick street that was constructed there a hundred years ago.
Pro Tip: Stop at Mary’s Café in Strawn for the world’s best chicken fried steak. The rest area westbound at the top of Ranger Hill has a fantastic group of exhibits about the Bankhead Highway including an antique Texaco gas station with a gas pump.
The Abilene Preservation League inherited the Bankhead-era Abilene Courts on Eleventh Street on August 13, 2020.
Belle’s Chicken Dinner House, a rustic southern-inspired eatery is the best place for a family-style home-cooked meal like fried chicken, chicken fried steak, family-style veggies, homemade yeast rolls, and, of course, pie. Belle’s is open 11-2.
Lytle Land & Cattle Company won the Best Steaks and Chicken Fry title in West Texas and Best All-Round Restaurant in Abilene.
10. Colorado City
See the map that shows the Bankhead Highway leading you through Colorado City.
The Heart of West Texas Museum, housed in a restored historic mansion in downtown Colorado City, tells the story of Kiowa Chief Lone Wolf and displays a cowboy heritage branding wall and a prehistoric bison skeleton found at Lone Wolf Creek.
11. Big Spring
Hotel Settles, the crown jewel of West Texas, is the hotel to plan your stay along the Bankhead Highway. Designed by architect David Castle, the 15-story, 150-room hotel opened on October 1, 1930, along with a restaurant and pharmacy. Will R. and Lillian Settles built the hotel after discovering oil on their ranch. At the time, the hotel was the tallest building between El Paso and Fort Worth. G. Brint Ryan purchased the hotel and invested $30 million into its renovation.
Have dinner in the Settle’s Grill, offering West Texas comfort food in a casual dining experience. The Pharmacy Bar & Parlor offers an extensive beer and wine list, plus classic cocktails in a welcoming atmosphere.
Check out the Big Springs Visitor’s Center on the historic Bankhead Highway in downtown Big Spring.
Bankhead Highway in Midland still exists, linking two areas on West Wall Street. Located in a vast 1937 mansion, the Museum of the Southwest offers a picture of Midland oil baron Fred Turner’s life during the oil boom. You’ll see a dozen fireplaces, opulent architectural details, and several art exhibits.
I-20 Wildlife Preserve & Jenna Welch Nature Study Center consists of 86 acres of urban habitat that serves as the home of local bird populations, thousands of migratory birds, and other native wildlife.
Old U.S. Highway 80, previously the Bankhead, came through Pecos. Past Pecos, the Bankhead is now the service road for Interstate 20. Toyah is where the original Bankhead Highway bridge crossed the Pecos River. You can see the black trussed bridge from the road, but it’s on private property.
14. Van Horn
Hotel El Capitan, the destination in Van Horn, is located two blocks off I-10 at 100 E Broadway. The hotel has 36 rooms and suites, varying from small rooms facing the exterior of the building to the larger rooms with French doors that open out to the courtyard. The hotel was built in 1930 by Gateway Hotel Chain and designed by architect Henry Trost of El Paso. It was renovated in 2009. The El Capitan Dining Room and the Gopher Hole Bar open at 5 p.m. daily.
Red Rock Ranch, home to an 1880 ranch house and Western movie set boasts Native American pictographs and dark red, purple, and pink Cambrian formations.
15. El Paso
The prominent Bankhead-era 10-story Hotel Paso del Norte displays Louis Comfort Tiffany’s 25-foot-diameter stained-glass dome. Paso del Norte, constructed in El Paso between 1910 and 1912, survives as one of the most elegant hotels in West Texas. Today, this is a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel.
Savor the El Mirador, a lively atmosphere on the tenth floor overlooking downtown El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. It features a full bar with wine, beer, and crafted cocktails with a tapas menu.
The Sabor Cocina offers authentic Mexican food of El Paso and the city’s largest selection of tequila. It is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
In conclusion, the Bankhead Highway in Texas has plenty of Instagram-worthy moments at kitschy landmarks, retro diners, quirky museums, historic hotels, and scenic beauty to make lasting memories.