Heritage, Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1990 Page: 16
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Above: El Paso County State Highway 1.
Right: By the 1920s, a Model T Ford could travel
the paved, twisting Old San Antonio Road from San
Antonio to Austin in just over three hours.
to construct highways as powerful enough
to erode local rights. It was also viewed as
being symbolic of rootlessness, the domain
of the wayfarer, as opposed to the sedentary
local. The clash of wayfarer and villager
created an atmosphere of both distrust and
deference since the traveller, although
bringing the mystery of the other place to
the young, in doing so undermined the very
mores that controlled and ossified the
Our forefathers also believed roads, or
ways or traces, happened naturally, by
chance rather than by design. One found
the best existing way or trace and adopted
it as a road. According to Stilgoe, artificial
roads, that is, roads deliberately constructed,
became popular first in the South, since
Southerners recognized their importance
more than their New England counterparts;
they moved in much larger geographical
The greatest single change to have an
impact on a Texan's rural life was an increase
in individual mobility and commerce
brought about by the automobile
and the truck. Up to World War I, and
even beyond, it was no rarity to find individuals
who had spent their entire lives
within the topographical confines of their
16 HERITAGE * FALL 1990
immediate surroundings. This was not because
travel was unavailable, but that it
was generally too expensive.
Before the arrival of the truck and automobile
in the early 1900s, sparsely traveled
roads symbolized peace and quiet. Roads
were the web on which village people discoursed,
children played, and livestock
meandered. For the city person, the quiet
of the rural street was so eerie as to induce
sleeplessness. Jaywalking, an apt rural
name for a rural offense, was not considered
a misdemeanor. The arrival of the car and
truck introduced noise and danger,
diminished casual interaction, and isolated
across-the-street neighbors. For today's
Texan the expressway is as absolute a
boundary to movement as a snake pit or an
ocean; only the suicidal venture across its
Individual and local control of road
siting and maintenance had produced
idiosyncratic routes of diverse quality.
Then crossroads had no directions, and
today's essential road map was nonexistent.
Such conditions can be experienced
today in rural Texas, where one can
encounter a confusion of roads that appear
to lead nowhere and crossroads that are
devoid of signs.
Early Texas roads were constructed of
logs and planks that often buckled and
rotted, or of sand and gravel. In 1871, a
federal county road effort improved the
Austin-San Antonio link, as did the construction
of the post road in 1915, believed
to be the first paved highway in Texas. U.S.
Highway 81 linked these cities by the
1930s, and Interstate Highway 35 was
completed in the early 1960s. By the 1920s,
a Model T Ford could travel the paved,
twisting, narrow-bridged Old San Antonio
Road in just over three hours.
The highway department's road sequel
moves from securing the right of way, to
grading and stabilizing the top soil, to
inserting culverts and pipes for water drainage,
to rolling and packing the road surface
and, finally, to improving the bearing capacity
with cement and bitumen-asphalt.
This process is exemplified by the clearing
of land for U.S. 281 in Burnet County and
the laying of a single track in Rockwall
Political attitudes toward road building
began to change from a local responsibility
to that of a state and national one.
Financing Texas' roads, which have an
average life of some twenty years, is based
on the premise of the "user fee." The more
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1990, periodical, Autumn 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45429/m1/16/: accessed August 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.