Monday, August 30, 2010

Old Bankhead Highway

 Family lore indicates that George Emerson Robinson and his three older sons - Gideon, Leonard and Floyd - helped build part of the original old Highway 78, known as Bankhead Highway.   Supposedly, they were part of the team that built the stretch of highway from Bull Mountain bottom to the Alabama state line.     Since George died in 1907, it is unlikely that he was involved in the paving of Bankhead Highway but he very possibly could have been responsible for part of the upkeep and maintenance for the dirt road the preceded the paved one.

There's another story, too, that I remember my father telling, about his Uncle Louis Robinson who organized the first "sit-down strike" in Itawamba County for higher wages.   Seems that Uncle Louis was part of a crew working for Granddaddy E.A. "Rip" Harbor who had the contract to build part of the new Bankhead Highway.   According to Daddy, Uncle Louis and the rest of the striking men got their raises.

Last week, my mother and daughter Rebekah were returning from a foray to Vernon, Alabama and took the "scenic" route back to Itawamba County.   The pictures shown here were made by me during other travels, and it seems that I am always struck by the beauty and simplicity of this early highway and the trees that now line its path.   Last week was no exception, and as we crossed the state line from Alabama where the highway has been repaved with asphalt into Mississippi where the old concrete highway can still be seen, the canopy of trees over the highway was a welcoming sight.

For more reading on the Bankhead Highway in Itawamba County, you might enjoy this post in 2007 by Bob Franks at Itawamba History Review.    Over at American Roads, there is additional information about the history of the entire Bankhead Highway.  I had no idea that the highway was a transcontinental highway.   What a big deal for a transcontinental highway to come through Itawamba County!


Anonymous said...

Do you know if these "bottoms" still flood during heavy and prolonged rains? I believe it was about the summer of 1968 when we chose to drive to Little Rock and down to Memphis through Tupelo and on to Marion County, AL. Folks, this was the route that my dad and grandparents drove to visit my Great Uncle John Clifford Robinson in Dallas! I have always wondered if this was the only direct???? route between Bexar and Dallas in the late '30's! Anyway, those pine thickets along those long straight strips of the Old Bankhead Highway that you show had water almost up to the road berm. When I saw that first picture this is my memory that flashed in my eyes. haha

I once told the late Terry Thornton about the time I remember riding to Tupelo with my grandparents before that highway became a full two lane paved road and I'm not exactly sure how close to Tupelo or was it closer to Fulton? The driver had the whole road to drive on until he met an oncoming car/truck and then each one had to "drive half on and half off" the pavement. Terry came up with pictures to match that area, but I didn't print that blog, much to my sorrow.

Mona, can you describe to "old timers" like myself with memories of this old highway approximately where along that road would you pass "Bull Mountain" - I'm finally convinced that this refers to a creek and not an honest to goodness mountain! as I always thought of that area when Granddaddy Morman Stone spoke about delivering the mail "up on Bull Mountain." ( I never recall hearing him speak of a creek by that name). Thanks for another stroll down "memory lane/Old Bankhead Highway". bettye

Mona Robinson Mills said...

Bettye, I couldn't say for sure but I would bet that parts of that old highway probably does flood at times. Today, you can only ride on Old Old Highway 78 in parts of Itawamba County. Most of the old highway either is gone or was incorporated into the "new" highway or another road.

My mother remembers riding on the old highway when she and daddy went over to Bexar, and she said that you would have to pull over when you met another vehicle.

Bull Mountain is a creek that runs through both Marion County and Itawamba County and serves as a watershed for many smaller creeks. It begins as a small stream, probably in southern Franklin County or barely in Marion County, and enters Itawamba County above Tremont where it flows southwestward and empties into the Tombigbee River (now Tenn-Tom Waterway) just above Smithville and just across the Tombigbee River from Peaceful Valley.

Because of the many smaller creeks that feed Bull Mountain Creek, flooding during heavy rains was/is a frequent occurrence. When I hear "Bull Mountain" I think more of the bottom land that parallels the creek than the actual waterway. The "bottom" gets wider the further south the creek goes.

I bet your Granddaddy Stone was referring to the portion of Bull Mountain Creek that was north of Bexar, and north of Shottsville. My great-great granddaddy Isham Loyd owned land along that part of Bull Mountain,in a community later known as Newburg, and in fact was instrumental in getting a post office put in there that was named "Bull Mountain." Your granddaddy, who lived "down" in Bexar, would have made such a reference as "up at Bull Mountain."

Hope this isn't too confusing!