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Texas Heritage Trails at 50: Launching the Trails

By Barbara Brannon

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

Draft of Texas parkway routes, 1967.
Photo: Connally Papers

The team came to see the roadway as a designated system of existing highways complemented by new construction, where recreational needs warranted. They saw it as passing through long stretches of rural land and small towns. They saw it as an opportunity for historical interpretation whose aesthetic and economic benefit to the state would in the long run exceed initial costs. And their implementation plan made it clear that they envisioned it as a public-private partnership. As the governor emphasized in his remarks to the press that afternoon, the committee would “shortly be in contact with county judges to solicit suggestions for the route each trail will take. The success of the entire program will rest with local initiative. It will be up to you to convince the committee that your community has sufficient scenic, historical and recreational interest to warrant inclusion on a trail.” [22]

Other organizations had already been pursuing the Trails idea by then. In 1966 the American Petroleum Institute (organizer of seven “Heritage Trails” nationwide, involving more than half of the fifty states) had approached Connally at the invitation of Frank Hildebrand to gauge interest in a new trail, or trails, that might involve Texas. [23] These trails were promoted via ads by oil companies such as Ethyl, touting travel on back roads as a family adventure. [24] Connally drew on the comparable example of the New England Heritage Trail in the introduction to his 1967 rollout.

Their challenge, furthermore, had expanded. President Johnson himself urged the task force, “I want to make sure that the America we see from . . . .(our) . . . highways is a beautiful America . . . Broaden the study now underway on the needs for scenic roads and Parkways to include the goal of maintaining and enhancing the Beauty of America.” [25]

The governor adopted the Texas Tech study enthusiastically, appointing a five-member permanent committee composed of Austin agency heads: Tom H. Taylor of the Texas Highway Department’s Travel and Information Division; Truett Latimer of the Texas State Historical Survey Committee; William M. (Mark) Gosdin of the Parks and Wildlife Department (a Texas Tech protégé of Urbanovsky); and Dorman H. Winfrey of the Texas State Library, with Frank Hildebrand of the Texas Tourism Development Agency as chair. Connally laid out their charge, with nine specific points, a spring 1968 deadline, and an expectation that they would develop not one but “a series of scenic, recreational, and historic trails.” The governor’s office issued a press memo the afternoon following the Tech presentation. “What I see for the future,” Connally said, “is a series of what might be called ‘Travel Trails of Texas’.” [26]

Further, Connally, never one to ignore the prospect of dollars flowing into the state, had a huge stake in the success of the upcoming HemisFair ’68, the first international exposition, or world’s fair, to be held in the American Southwest. [27] He envisioned that the series of trails would draw millions of travelers from San Antonio during the six-month exposition into the small towns and rural byways of every corner of Texas. [28]

That very month the committee sent letters to every county judge, and began to solicit input from community stakeholders. Each of Texas’s 254 counties was invited to submit a proposal by June 30, as the governor expected the trails to be in place by fall of that year so that maps could be drawn, signage erected, and advance publicity arranged. [29] The April 1968 launch of HemisFair was less than a year away. [30]

Series of “Texas!” tourism ads, 1968.
Photo: Barbara Brannon from the Texas Plains Trail Region collection

Committee members drove the regions themselves, noting features of the land, its history, its people. They plotted attractions on a large map, and supplemented the counties’ lists with their own knowledge. They envisioned perhaps six to fifteen loop trails. The Travel Trails were to function as a publicprivate partnership, and also a cooperative venture between local and state agencies, and it was precisely these local entities that stood to reap the benefit even while the state’s tax revenues were expected to increase. [31]

As responses came back to Austin from the provinces, the committee began formulating driving routes based on the study’s recommended criteria and counties’ willingness to participate. I believe that Highway Department representative Tom Taylor and Historical Survey Committee representative Truett Latimer were likely most closely responsible for the determinations, which cannot have been easy, given the criteria that trails were to avoid both freeways and unimproved roads, no side or alternate routes were allowed, and no trail was to backtrack, not to mention taking into consideration the possible ire of any county or community not selected. Initial layouts were altered when a handful of counties declined to fund the modest cost of signage. In an irritating irony—or perhaps a deliberate political maneuver— Judge Voges of Wilson County, of which Governor Connally’s own hometown of Floresville was the seat, was one of the holdouts, initially refusing to contribute the princely sum of $315, two cents per resident. [32]

Scenic trails across the state are unveiled.
Photo: Waco Tribune-Herald. John B. Connally Papers, LBJ Library

As Fort Worth businessman and Texas Historical Survey member A. M. Pate, Jr., explained to his fellow citizens that June, the Travel Trails would “be the basis for a ‘recreational environment’ where the stresses and strains of existence in the nuclear age may be replaced by a more pleasant and rewarding way of life.” [33] He went on to describe Texas’s parks in language straight out of the “Mad Men” era: “Texas must act now to develop recreation environments to their fullest if we are to compete with other states in providing outlets for our tense businessmen, bored housewifes [sic] and active children as well as vacationing out-of-staters.”

By November the committee had settled on ten trails, [34] abandoning a plan that would have created eleven. [35] The driving routes had been mapped out with the assistance of highway engineers and would be marked with distinctive signage. [36] [37] They decided the Trail signs would be brown, to distinguish them from the Interstate system of green. They estimated some 1,500 signs would be needed, and an equal number of directional arrows. [38] In January 1968 a memo and invoice went to each included county noting the breakdown of signs required, with a two-week deadline for payment. [39]

By the time the committee actually ordered the signs a few weeks later, the choice had been modified to a medium blue and white, a distinctive scheme still recognizable fifty years later. [40]

But it was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill shade. According to a newspaper travel feature in April 1968, when Frank Hildebrand apparently related the story to an enterprising reporter:

overnor Connally has had a strong hand in developing the new tourist program, even to designating the color of the signs marking the trails. The color choice had been narrowed to blue or green, cool colors that psychologists said would take tourists’ minds off the hot summer weather. When asked what color he would suggest, the governor, seated at his desk, pointed to a picture of his wife and said, ‘I would like to see it the color of Nellie's dress.’ And so the signs are ‘Nellie’s Blue.”G [41]

The Southwell Company of San Antonio, makers of the signs, corroborates the unusual choice; in May W. P. Southwell, Jr., supplied Texas Highway Department district engineers with complimentary touch-up bottles of the “Nellie Blue” transparent paint, “slightly lighter in shade than your standard Interstate Blue,” that had been mixed especially for the project by 3M. [42]

On Jan. 17, 1968, Governor Connally launched the Texas Travel Trails to great fanfare at the Third Annual Governor’s Tourist Development Conference in Austin, leading with several encouraging travel statistics. In 1966, tourism revenues in Texas had for the first time reached the $1 billion mark—and of that bonanza, Connally noted, 86 million dollars went directly to state coffers in the form of sales taxes, a hundredfold return for every dollar invested in tourism. [44] He presented a lengthy slide show unveiling the routes, signage, maps, and major sites. 157 counties had been designated as participants, and judges in these counties were billed that very day for their trail signs—directional signs cost counties $22 each, arrows $13. [45]

Continue to Travelers Take to the Trails

[22] LBJLib_081913, press memorandum, Office of the Governor, 7 May 1967, Connally Papers.

[23] LBJLib_081913 4632, letter, Henry Bellmon [governor of Oklahoma], 1 Mar. 1965, Connally Papers.

[24] LBJLib_081913 4560ff, various memos and supporting documents, Folder 60-15-67, Heritage Trail, Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico; LBJLib_081913 4443ff, “Remarks, Governor Connally, Travel Trails of Texas presentation,” Box 20, Texts, Connally Papers.

[25] “Foundations of a State Parkway,” [box number], DPA Papers.

[26] Brochure on “Texas Travel Trails Committee [1967], THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History”; “Press Memorandum,” Office of the Governor, 3 May 1967, THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History”; Frank Maddigan, “Travel Trails of Texas: Connally Appoints Five to Develop Tour Series,” Austin American-Statesman, 4 May 1967.

[27] (L to R) Gov. John Connally of Texas; H. B. Zachry, HemisFair '68 Board Chairman; Frank Manupelli, Executive Vice-President of the fair and Walter W. McAllister Sr., Mayor of San Antonio. The group were gathered to announce plans for the fair at a press conference at the New York Hilton Hotel. University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries, Archives and Special Collections, San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records, 1962–1995 (bulk 1964-1968) MS 31, Box 431, Folder 2. From “Rescuing Texas History, 2009” collection, accessed via, March 2013.

[28] “HemisFair ’68,”'68, accessed March 15, 2013.

[29] Brochure on “Texas Travel Trails Committee [1967], THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History”; form letter, Hildebrand to “Dear Judge,” 17 Jan. 1968, Folder, “Texas Travel Trails,” MC/THC Records.

[30] Series of “Texas!” tourism ads [1968], artifacts from Texas Plains Trail Region collection. Photo by Barbara Brannon.

[31] The committee’s activities are documented in follow-up reports in the TDA Papers.

[32] News clipping “Nothing To See,” 7 March 1968, THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History.”

[33] Remarks of A. M. Pate, Jr., at the Region 2 Meeting, 17 June 1967, Jacksboro, THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History.”

[34] Map of all ten trails, THT records, Folder 2, “Texas Travel Trails General Information.” A digital copy of the original black-and-white image has been colorized for this presentation.

[35] LBJLib_081913 4576, memo, Frank Hildebrand to Bill Carter, 8 Nov. 1967, Connally Papers; letter, D. C. Greer to Frank Hildebrand, 28 Nov 1967, THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History.”

[36] Map of all ten trails, THT records, Folder 2, “Texas Travel Trails General Information.” A digital copy of the original black-and-white image has been colorized for this presentation.

[37] Partial memorandum re: 8-086-808 [December 1967], pp. 7–8, THT records, Folder 2, “Texas Travel Trails Specs for Trail Markers and Arrows.”

[38] Attachment to form letter, Hildebrand to “Dear Judge,” 17 Jan. 1968, Folder, “Texas Travel Trails,” MC/THC Records.

[39] Form letter, Hildebrand to “Dear Judge,” 17 Jan. 1968, Folder, “Texas Travel Trails,” MC/THC Records. Hildebrand followed up with a request to the governor several weeks later for his personal help in dunning the six slow-pay counties (LBJLib_081913 4627, memo, Hildebrand to Gov. Connally, 1 Mar. 1968, Connally Papers).

[40] A detailed record of correspondence among Department of Transportation engineers, the Texas Historical Commission, and members of the Texas Travel Trails committee may be found in THT records, Folder 2, “Texas Travel Trails Sign Purchases.” Later reports of the Texas Historical Commission indicate that more than 10,000 signs were eventually erected.

[41] “Mrs. John Connally Makes 780-Mile Trek Through East Texas,” Longview News-Journal, Apr. 7, 1968, p. 12-D.

[42] W. P. Southwell, Jr., to Texas Highway Department Engineers, 20 March 1968, accessed via Portal to Texas History.

[43] Texas Heritage Trails signs. Image from

[44] “Remarks of Governor John Connally, Governor’s Tourism Conference, January 17, 1968, Austin, Texas,” THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History”; incomplete draft of remarks on Texas Forts Trail and other trails.

[45] Incomplete draft of remarks on Texas Forts Trail and other trails, THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History.” A draft of this speech, marked with revisions, may be found in Folder 1990/20-6, “Texas Travel Trails,” Connally Papers.