Stephen F. Austin State University

Gregg Judge McHaney paved way for good roads (November 2017)

Gregg Judge McHaney paved way for good roads

By Van Craddock

In 1915, Gregg County voters approved a $300,000 bond election to build 100 miles of "good roads" in Gregg County. The bond issue passed by a six-to-one margin thanks to the efforts of County Judge J.H. McHaney, who has been called the "Father of Gregg County Roads."

Americans in 1915 had fallen in love with "horseless carriages." Henry Ford produced almost 250,000 Model T touring cars that year, average price $490.

Problem was, a hundred years ago most roads in East Texas were little more than wagon ruts. The highways were muddy in winter and dusty in summer.

Fortunately for residents, Gregg County Judge J.H. McHaney knew good roads were a necessity if East Texans were to prosper in the early twentieth century.

Judson Holloway McHaney was a lawyer, planter and cotton gin owner. From 1909-1916 he was county judge, then served as Gregg's county and district attorney from 1917-1928.

McHaney covered the county convincing businessmen and farmers to support the March 1915 road bond election, which passed easily.

"Gregg County's roads are already known all over East Texas as the best in this section," said the Henderson Times after the election, noting Gregg was "ten years ahead of Rusk and adjoining counties … Good roads are one of the best investments a county can make."

In May 1915, the county bought a new road-building machine capable of grading "six miles per day. The machine will be run over all public roads a year if necessary," reported the Longview Times-Clarion.

By October that year, McHaney had organized six "rural and town clubs" into a "county confederation for the beautification of the highways that are being constructed," said the Times-Clarion.

McHaney wasn't just interested in improving Gregg County roads. Regional and even national highways were needed in East Texas, the judge said. In 1914, McHaney was elected president of the Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas Highway Association, an organization to create a "division of the trans-continental highway through Eastern Texas."

By the following year the Dixie Overland Highway passed through Gregg County. One Texas newspaper noted the Dixie Overland was "the shortest and most direct road east and west connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific, and the most accessible road the year round."

Known as the "Broadway of America" in its early years, the Dixie Overland began at Savannah, Ga., passed through Jackson, Miss.; Shreveport, La.; Longview, Dallas, Fort Worth, Sweetwater, El Paso, Phoenix, Ariz.; and ended in San Diego, Calif.

Judge McHaney's efforts paved the way but it wasn't until 1920-1921 that the first paved road was laid through Gregg County. It was, according to Gene McWhorter's 1989 book Traditions of the Land a "16-foot-wide strip of asphalt" laid through the county on what later became U.S. 80.

After the 1915 highway bond projects had been completed, the Times-Clarion reported that "an automobile party" had motored over from Smith County to Longview. When the touring cars reached one of the smooth Gregg County roads, "a little boy exclaimed, 'Oh momma, we are riding on the sidewalk!"

In late 1926 the Dixie Overland Highway was commissioned as U.S. 80 from coast to coast. The highway ran some 2,800 miles.

Most of the early route was surfaced with gravel, sand-clay and topsoil although about 800 miles were paved with brick, concrete or "bituminous macadam," which featured compacted layers of small stones and rocks cemented into a hard surface.

Judge McHaney died in December 1931, still urging Gregg countians to build more roads, this time because of the new East Texas Oil Field boom.