Did You Know: 8th Street Was Part Of The Bankhead Highway
It was among the first in Arizona and served to connect our state to other parts of the country. Today, sections of it still exists.
On Tempe’s 8th Street between McClintock Drive and Rural Road is a neighborhood with an apartment complex, restaurant, coffee shop and other businesses. But this one-mile stretch of community street was actually a highway. Did You Know … 8th Street was part of the Bankhead Highway?
“Really it was at one point the ocean-ocean highway. Conceivably you could travel from Atlanta to Pacific,” said Tempe’s preservationist John Southard.
“This was certainly an early alignment of the highway that yes, later became 60, 70, 80 in a sense through Tempe.”
The Bankhead Highway was a cross-country automobile route started in the early 1900s. It connected 14 states and spanned from Washington D.C. to San Diego. By around 1920 the highway crossed through Arizona. It started in Douglas, through Tucson, north to Florence and Apache Junction, then west through Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix, and continued to Buckeye before heading south to Yuma and into California.
“The Bankhead Highway would be marked by posts that were painted black and yellow and had BH written on them so that as you’re passing through an unfamiliar community you can assure that you were in fact on the highway and not driving yourself into some place in the middle of nowhere.”
Community, business and civic leaders initially created highways through their towns connecting it to an automobile path. This spurred the creation of roadside motels, gas stations, stores and other types of commerce. It lured big businesses, including a car parts company, to sponsor the town highway.
“Towns would often compete to be included in these routes because it was a commerce booster. I mean, this was something that would bring people and ostensibly people who were middle-class or even more affluent through their town.”
Roadways like Main Street in Mesa and Van Buren in Phoenix were part of the Bankhead Highway. This short stretch known as old 8th Street is among the last original paths of the highway in Tempe.
“Now there are just a handful of signs that give it away. For instance, right here on the corner of Dorsey we have a building that is, looks rather derelict at the moment, this was Marlatt’s Garage, a very early gas station built to serve motorists here driving the Bankhead Highway.”
There’s also an abandoned rail spur on the north side of the street. Southard said old 8th Street is actually a path that was used many years before automobiles traveled through here. He said this trail connected Mesa and Tempe during the pioneer days.