From Pioneer Paths to Superhighways - The Texas Highway Department Blazes Texas Trails 1917-1968

Table of ContentsIntroductionThe King's HighwaysBy Raft, Oxcart, Horseback, and CanoeGood Roads for TexasGet the Farmer Out of the MudCreation of the Highway DepartmentThe Highway Department in Depression and WarThe Great Age of BuildingThe Third GodOnline Finding AidsFor Further ReadingMore Exhibits

The Third God

Bexar-Medina County Line, 1958
At the Bexar-Medina County Line, fifteen miles west of San Antonio, 1958. Bexar County project files, Texas Highway Department Records, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.

Historian George B. Tindall concluded that good roads were the “third god” in the transformation of the modern South, along with industrialization and education.

The impact of modern highways upon the state of Texas was nothing short of revolutionary, and unlike many government initiatives, it was driven from the grassroots up. In 1917, when the Texas Highway Department was created, much of Texas remained  largely an economic backwater, literally mired in the mud of roads scarcely any better than the rough frontier traces carved out by the Spanish pioneers four centuries earlier.

Texans correctly foresaw the automobile as their path to end their isolation from rural life. As one early commissioner of the Highway Department noted, “A man’s physical horizon has a powerful influence on his mental horizon.” It was the growth in automobiles—from 14,000 in 1910 to 200,000 in 1917, from 975,000 in 1925 to 1.4 million in 1929—that forced public policymakers to finally put the taxpayers’ money “under the rubber.”

By 1968, when Dewitt Greer retired, Texas was home to a modern highway system that had won worldwide fame for the Texas Highway Department and helped catapult Texas into the leadership position in the rising economic power of the American South.

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Page last modified: July 11, 2019