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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

Depression-era
Roadside Parks

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Each time I head southeast from Lufkin, a boyhood memory pulls me into a roadside park beside U.S. 287 a few miles before entering Woodville.

Sprawling over a wooded hilltop on the west side of the highway, this particular roadside park was a favorite stop of my father in the l940s each time he headed the family Ford toward southeast Texas.

The park’s appeal was not its shade or picnic benches, but in a spring bubbling from the hillside into a rock-lined pool. It was a place we found ideal for wading or dipping up cold spring water for the remainder of the trip. It mattered little that strangers and wild animals had used the pool before us.

Built in the l930s, the roadside park holds a special place in East Texas history. It is one of only sixteen Depression-era roadside parks left in East Texas.

To understand the significance of these highway landmarks, you have to imagine a time when automobiles lacked air conditioning, highway travel was young and life moved at a slower pace.

To meet the needs of travelers for places where they could stop for rest and eat their lunches, Texas began creating roadside parks in the l930s. Built in typically shady areas, the parks offered drivers and their passengers some respite on hot summer days. Where natural shade was unavailable, the Texas Highway Department built shelters and arbors.

Texas started building roadside parks in 1935 and by 1938 there were 674 such “wayside” parks scattered throughout Texas. Today, only 41 of the 1930s-style parks still exist statewide.

Most of the old parks were built by the National Youth Administration during the Great Depression. The NYA provided employment to young people between 16 and 25. Lyndon B. Johnson, the nation’s 36th president, was the first director of the Texas NYA from 1935 to 1937.

Using NYA labor, the Texas Highway Department launched the parks program to meet the expected influx of visitors for the 1936 Texas Centennial.

Today, most of the parks are only memories. Some closed when traffic flowed to newer, faster highways. Others were shut down when they deteriorated and became maintenance problems. Some became victims of vandalism and vagrancy.
Today, East Texas’ remaining Depresssion-era parks supposedly stand in an area stretching from Hopkins County to Hardin County. Here are their locations (if they are still there).

Hopkins County: SH 19, 7.5 miles north of Sulphur Springs, and FM. 67, 3.5 miles west of Weaver.

Franklin County: U.S. 67, two miles east of Mount Vernon, and S.H. 37, 7.5 miles north of Winnsboro.

Bowie County, U.S. 67, 1.5 miles east of Simms.

Cass County, S.H. 49, 1.5 miles northwest of Avinger.

Harrison County, U.S. 80, eight miles east of Marshall.

Marion County, FM 2208, a half mile east of U.S. 59, south of Jefferson.

Panola County, FM 959, four miles north of Tatum.

Shelby County, U.S. 59, six miles north of Timpson.

Sabine County, SH 184, 4.7 miles west of Hemphill, and Spur 35, two miles south of its junction with SH 21.

San Augustine County, SH 21, three miles west of San Augustine.

Newton County, U.S. 190, three miles southeast of Newton.

Tyler County, U.S. 287, five miles north of Woodville.

Hardin County, U.S. 69, 10.7 miles southeast of Kountze.

All Things Historical December 15, 2008 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers

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