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Dec 23

The Bankhead Highway, Part 1

Posted on December 23, 2020 at 4:03 PM by Allison Duncan

Community development is partially the result of social trends.  As with any other element of design, communities change in response to social drivers.  And the automobile is a driver of change that brought about transformative community development.

Motoring for convenience and recreation grew in the early 20th century.  Many local roads were functional at best, and the system of numbered highways that we recognize today was established until the 1920s. 
Bankhead Highway_Douglas County_Georgia State University Library Collection
Early boosters of local economic development capitalized on this new mobility to promote business opportunity.  A series of National Auto Trails stitched together pieces of local roads that could convey motorists through towns and countryside on a transcontinental corridor. 

The Bankhead Highway Association formed in 1916 in support of the Bankhead Highway National Auto Trail.
Douglas County Sentinel_Bankhead Highway_1917
The goal was to promote an east-west transcontinental connection from Washington DC to San Diego, California. Telephone poles along these corridors were marked with different color bands to signify the different Auto Trails.

A Georgia Department of Transportation historic context study on the Dixie Highway yields some relevant insight into the early operations of the Bankhead Highway. “Initially, local governments and businesses paid for road construction and improvements, with the federal government providing matching grants after 1916. Existing dirt or gravel roads were resurfaced with macadam, low quality asphalt, and later upgraded to paved brick on concrete… The roads in Georgia – as was the case in most of the Southern states – were primitive by the standards of the time and typically poorly maintained.  Inclusion along the Dixie Highway route meant the promise of not only better roads, but also the promise of progress and growth in the local economy.”
The Dixie Highway Narrative

Bankhead Highway was initially designated along the northern branch of State Route 8 between the Alabama State Line and modern day Villa Rica.  It was designated as mainline SR 8 between Villa Rica and the city of Decatur in DeKalb County.  It was eventually designated US 78 under the new federal system in the 1920s, and by 1933, the entire length from the state line to Decatur was paved.

Special thanks to the Georgia State Library, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Douglas County Sentinel for information in this post. 


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