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Texas Heritage Trails at 50: Texas Takes Action

By Barbara Brannon


Beginnings Texas Takes Action Planning the Trails Launching the Trails Travelers Take to the Trails New Directions Ongoing Travels

Although tourism had emerged in the 1950s as the state’s fifth largest industry, Texas could not by law use tax dollars to attract outsiders—until a constitutional amendment in 1958 at last reversed the situation. In the spring of 1963, Connally’s first session in Austin, the state passed its first allocation of funds for this purpose, and also established the Texas Tourism Development Agency (TTDA) [2]. The TTDA hired an enterprising reporter for the Baytown Sun named Frank Hildebrand, who would head the agency for many years.

The Natchez Trace Parkway.
Photo: natchez-trace.thefuntimes.com; nps.gov/natr

In July of that year, a rising sophomore at Texas Tech by the name of Jim Phillips wrote to Governor Connally with an idea. Phillips’s family had taken a vacation in the southeastern U.S. from Wichita Falls a couple of years earlier and had driven on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Phillips described his idea thus: “I laid out my thoughts on a trail to the Governor, thinking that would at least get the idea out of my head. I was surprised when within a week, I got a letter back saying the Governor thought it was a great idea and he had forwarded it to the head of the Texas Highway Department” [3].

Whether Phillips’s letter is what really got the ball rolling, we may never know. But the governor in any case took the possibilities for highway tourism seriously. The TTDA began the search for a Texas advertising agency, and by January 1964, even with Connally still recovering from the gunshot wound received when the President was assassinated in November, it had narrowed its review and on February 3 selected McCann-Erickson’s Houston office to handle its account. In account executive Kern Tips’s report, two weeks later, of the agency’s initial meeting with representatives of the Highway Department (which had been responsible for all tourism promotion to date) and the new TTDA, the exploratory concept of “Texas Travel Trails” was already in the air [4].

Texas Visitor Industry Report, 1966.
Photo: John B. Connally Papers, LBJ Library

The ad agency also got down to business on marketing research to “provide information about the Texas ‘image’ and public attitudes toward Texas as a place to visit.” Their research firm was to explore these objectives in detail [5].

What the survey revealed was dismaying. Overwhelmingly, Americans thought of all Texas as a desert wasteland—lots of oil and gas and cactus (saguaro, at that) but no water. There was little awareness of any water recreation of the sort that brought tourists to Florida or California [6]. So Texas set about to change that perception, both through its advertising messaging and by more direct means—building more recreational lakes. It’s no coincidence that the state approved major dam projects in the 1960s, including the De Cordova Bend Dam that would create Lake Granbury and prompt John Graves’s river trip that he famously recalled in Goodbye to a River [7]. (I speculate that the desire to counter the tourist image of Texas as a state without water is one theory behind the naming of the Texas Lakes Trail.)

The 1963 legislative session had also merged two separate agencies to establish Texas Parks & Wildlife—the result of a study Connally commissioned from the then new Department of Parks Administration at Texas Technological College according to the recommendation of the Texas Research League. The state parks study was so well received that in 1965 Connally commissioned another. By then Connally, ambitious and eager to showcase Texas as both a modern, cosmopolitan state and a stronghold of Old West mystique, set Professor Elo J. Urbanovsky and his Texas Tech team on a new task [8]. They were to examine the feasibility of creating a Texas State Parkway [9].

Continue to Planning the Trails


[2] “An Inventory of Texas Tourist Development Agency Scrapbooks at the Texas State Archives, 1970–1977.” Accessed at www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/80010/tsl-80010.html, March 15, 2013.

[3] Email, Jim Phillips to Barbara Brannon, 14 April 2013.

[4] LBJLib_081913 4651, letter, Frank Hildebrand to Gov. John Connally, 18 Nov. 1963; LBJLib_081913 4654/4655, memo, Hildebrand to Connally, 19 Feb. 1964, attached to McCann- Erickson contact report, 17 Feb. 1964, John B. Connally Papers, [Box __], “Tourist Development Agency 1964–64” folder, LBJ Library (collection hereafter cited as Connally Papers, using the document number I assigned to identify the digital copies I made). TTDA had compiled a list of 27 ad agencies statewide and planned to invite six to make presentations in Austin Jan. 16–17, 1964. The process apparently went forward on schedule despite the disruption caused by Connally’s long recovery after the Kennedy assassination Nov. 23, 1963.

[5] LBJLib_081913 4655–62, contact report, Kern Tips to TTDA, 17 Feb. 1964, Connally Papers.

[6] LBJLib_081913 4519, Texas Visitor Industry Report 1966, Connally Papers.

[7] Laurie E. Jasinski, "Lake Granbury," Handbook of Texas Online, www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rolgr, accessed November 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[8] The genesis and development of these two studies is documented in the Department of Parks Administration Papers, Texas Tech University Archives, Southwest Collection (4 boxes; hereafter cited as DPA Papers) and corroborated by Prof. Urbanovsky’s scrapbooks, also in the TTU Archives. Further documentation is provided within the Texas Historical Commission’s working files on the Texas Heritage Trails, located in their Austin offices (hereafter cited as THT records). Because this latter group of records has not been archived or cataloged, the citation system is unofficial but identifies the folders as currently organized and labeled, and the type, author, and date of each document as far as can be determined. Documents available at the time of this writing were digitized to facilitate further scholarship; however, it is quite possible that the contents of the original folders may change during the course of ongoing staff work. An in-house “History and Status of the Texas Travel Trails Program,” drafted by unidentified THC staff in 1991, provides a useful but general overview of the program (THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History”).

[9] LBJLib_081913 4503, Texas Parkway Project brochure, Connally Papers.