Thursday, April 14, 2016

Some interesting history on NM highways

by Sherry Robinson

“If any town in the United States needs roads worse than us, it has my pity,” a citizen told his county commissioners. “Farmers,” said the local paper, “have been wedged between two sand hills long enough.”

These were the first rumblings of the Good Roads movement in New Mexico. In 1915, farmers on the East Side threatened to take their produce to markets in Texas, where roads were better, if the Roosevelt County Commission didn’t do something.

The next time you get in your car, remind yourself that a century ago the nation’s roads were little more than dirt tracks and trails with no signs or bridges. In New Mexico, land owners fenced across roads, and drifting sand was a bigger hindrance than fences.

New Mexico joined the national Good Roads movement, which produced a network of  highways, such as they were. We know Route 66 best, but a few years earlier and farther south was the Bankhead Highway, one of the first transcontinental highways.

It began in 1916 with the Bankhead Highway Association, whose namesake, U. S. Sen. John H. Bankhead, of Alabama, was a leader of the Good Roads movement. That year, Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 over the objections of citizens like Henry Ford, who didn’t think roads were a good use of taxpayer money.

...New Mexico’s major proponents included S. M. Johnson, a Presbyterian minister and rancher in Ruidoso; businessman Francis G. Tracy, of Carlsbad, and New Mexico Highway Commissioner Charles Springer, of Raton. It was Johnson who got a Roswell-to-El Paso segment into highway plans. Springer is generally considered the father of New Mexico’s highway system.

...The Broadway of America wasn’t a single route. In New Mexico, the main road entered the state at Las Cruces from El Paso and continued west through Deming and Lordsburg. A branch entered New Mexico at Tatum and passed through Roswell. A northern branch linked Clovis with Roswell by way of Elida, joined the other branch at Roswell and went on through Tinnie, Hondo, Ruidoso and Alamogordo, where it turned south and linked up with the main route.

Roswell, in the 1920s, had a Bankhead Hotel, once described by author John Sinclair as “the stockman’s favorite.”

The main route, from Las Cruces to Lordsburg, passed over what had been New Mexico Route 4, designated in 1909. It would become U. S. 80 in 1926 and, in 1965, I-10. The Bankhead Highway’s legacy is that it not only delivered the convenience and commerce promised but its successor roads are still delivering.

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