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A History of the Original Dallas-Fort Worth Highway through Arlington

The old Dallas-Fort Worth Road, which was later known as the Dallas-Fort Worth Pike, was actually in use as a wagon road long before the town of Arlington was started. When the town was platted for the railroad, the area around the old wagon road was covered in very thick underbrush which was removed for the newly-designated town by state convicts hired by the railroad.

The earliest known name given the road was Abraham, who according to a 1925 N.T.A.C. Shorthorn article was a long-time employee of the T & P Railroad who did much to help the new town’s progress. This name would change over time from Abrahms, and Abrams, prior to reaching its present name of Abram.

The old pike originally ran along Abram Street from Dallas County west through Arlington to “Death Crossing,” presently the Fielder Road bridge area. Death Crossing obtained its nickname from the high number of fatalities caused by vehicles crossing both the Interurban and railroad tracks on a curved road and being broadsided by unsuspecting engineers. After the crossing, the pike continued west on the north side of the T & P tracks on the Fort Worth Cardinal Road, as it was known at the time.

In 1917 the Texas Highway Department was created to administer federal highway construction and maintenance as part of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. One of its first acts of the new department was to create a state highway system. Twenty-six highways were designated at that time. The Dallas-Fort Worth road, being the busiest stretch of highway in the entire state was designated as State Highway #1.

In 1920, as part of the “Good Roads” project, the Bankhead Highway system was designed as a portion of the new National Auto Trail System. The Bankhead Highway ran from Washington, D.C. to San Diego. It was named for “Good Roads” promoter John Willis Bankhead (1842- 1920), ten-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senator from Alabama. He died in office, and the first transcontinental highway through the South was named in his honor. A marker was placed in Washington D.C. near the White House marking the beginning of the Bankhead Highway (it is still there).

In Texas, the Bankhead highway would, for the most part, follow the route of State Highway 1. A primary task of state and local officials was to lay out the highway as an easy route for motorists to travel, while eliminating as many railroad crossings and other hazards as possible. “Death Crossing” west of Arlington was cited as an example of the grave dangers to motorists that needed to be eliminated.

Eliminating such crossings meant that a portion of the highway would need to be a new construction project from the Dallas County line to the west side of Arlington. Arlington leaders were, to say the least, not thrilled about Tarrant County’s decision to have the highway built on the north side of town utilizing the few existing blocks of Division Street. City leaders had desired the new highway to follow either Abram or Main Street so merchants would not lose business or have property values decline with the highway being built north of downtown.

During negotiations, Arlington Mayor Rose kept pushing for assurances that other joining roads would be paved to connect the new highway to the old pike, and many other items Commissioner Gibbins had offered the Arlington mayor prior to Gibbins’ death in office.

Having nothing written down with regard to the highway plans - just a nod and a handshake – ultimately caused a great deal of controversy and political mudslinging in the press between city, county, and state officials involved in the project. The consulting engineers argued that the cost of right-of-way through town would cause the construction expense to escalate, and would not remove any crossings without the additional cost of an overpass and underpass at each end of town. County Judge Small, who was the point man on the project, had finally had enough bickering. He declared to Arlington leaders that he would build the road to the eastern and western city limits and require Arlington to purchase the downtown right-of-way and build that section of highway without Federal or State aid. Cooler heads prevailed and use of the Division Street plan for the Bankhead Highway was approved. The rest is history.

The chosen route would be entirely new construction, with the exception of a few existing blocks of the old Division Street. The new concrete road would be twenty-five feet wide, eight inches thick, and include a four-inch curb. Modern precast drainage outlets were installed every one hundred feet on each side and the balance of the right-of- way was sodded with Bermuda grass.

The length of new construction consisted of 5.84 miles from the Dallas County line to the west side of Arlington just past “Death Crossing” and was completed at a cost of $56,000 per mile. The new road shortened the route by several hundred yards while eliminating seven railroad or interurban crossings.

The Home for Aged Masons had provided the final piece of right-of-way to eliminate “Death Crossing” from the new route. A stipulation of their agreement was the construction of one of the more unique features constructed on the highway. A concrete- reinforced underpass was installed in front of the Home. The underpass would allow the elderly residents to avoid the speeding highway traffic in order to get to the Keystone stop for the Interurban on the old Pike (Abram Street).

March 16, 1922 brought a tour of “Good Roads” experts from around the state to survey the new highway. It was declared to be some of the best road and bridge work they had seen. In November 1922, the Arlington portion of the Bankhead Highway was declared open to traffic. Over five hundred people gathered from all around for a barbeque and dedication ceremony held at the new decorative highway bridge over Johnson Creek.

In 1926 State Highway 1 was incorporated into the interstate highway system and would be re-designated as US Highway 80 which now stretched coast-to-coast. Later many names would be linked to the highway, such as the Dixie Overland Highway, Ocean to Ocean Highway, Broadway of America, and the World War II Veterans’ Memorial Highway.

In October 1930 the Texas Highway Department announced a two-year plan to widen and improve the highway through much of the state from its present twenty-five feet to thirty-six feet, with concrete and asphalt. Once again Arlington almost lost out on these improvements after having only a small portion of the road widened. News accounts stated that county commissioners requested that federal and state aid for the project be halted until the City of Arlington “refrains from encroaching upon the right-of-way and from fixing the speed limit of less than twenty-five miles per hour through that city.” The Federal Roads Bureau also pointed out that aid would not be released until Arlington “refrains from erecting semaphores, signs, and signals giving preference to local routes rather than Division Street.” Cooler heads prevailed once again.

In 1933 with the highway now widened, an intercity plan for its beautification was agreed to by the garden clubs of Arlington, Dallas, and Fort Worth. The Arlington Garden Club took a very active roll in this beautification project. They won a $1,000 prize from a magazine publishing company, and a portion of this was used to start a rose garden at the city park, and now some would be used on this new project. They worked with property owners along the highway to clean up unsightly rubbish and encouraged the planting of shrubs and flowers along the front of properties, in many cases providing the flowers. They then gathered and scattered wildflower seeds in all of the fields and open places along the highway, encouraging the property owners to protect and maintain them.

West of Arlington, near the Village Creek area, the highway continually flooded. This would often cause traffic between East and West Texas to be diverted either through Mansfield or Grapevine causing great delay for commercial traffic. In 1946 the State Highway Department corrected this problem. The entire roadbed for the highway was elevated with fill dirt and new bridges were constructed over both Village and Rush Creeks. A large dedication ceremony was held in February 1947 at the bridges to celebrate this great improvement on the highway. It was such an important project that members of Chambers of Commerce from East and West Texas towns, as well as local dignitaries, were on hand for the celebration.

Over time the road has been widened and improved, and many of those grand early features of the old Bankhead Highway went by the wayside. The first to go was the decorative handrail on the Johnson Creek Bridge, although the original bridge is still there. This was followed by the underpass at the Masonic Home - it was filled in and the road widened and elevated, its usefulness gone after the Interurban between Dallas and Fort Worth stopped running in 1934.

In 1991, after losing its luster to the new Interstate highways, US Highway 80 in this section of Texas was re-designated once again – this time as State Highway 180, which it is today.