Route 66 in the News

Obelisks Once Marked Old Highways

2010-04-24 21:57:20

PLAINVIEW, Tex. - While once scores marked the route of the Ozark Trail highway system, only seven of the 21-foot tall concrete obelisks remain, and three are within easy driving distance of Plainview.

Erected nine decades ago when most highways were little more than meandering sets of ruts between widely-scattered communities, the markers were designed to help travelers find their way long before states and federal governments took over the job of maintaining and numbering public roadways.

According to the Drive The Old Spanish Trail Web site (, various trail associations were formed early in the 20th century to encourage local communities to improve and maintain roadways and to aid travelers in finding their way. One of those groups was the Ozark Trail Association which employed a green-and-white paint scheme to mark its path.

Rather than a single roadway, the Ozark Trail had several principal branches and generally followed a line from St. Louis, Mo., to Santa Fe., N.M.

The central Ozark route — with key portions eventually becoming Route 66 — passed across Oklahoma through Wellington. A second southern route was built through the communities of Childress, Estelline, Tampico, Turkey, Quitaque, Silverton, Tulia, Nazareth and Dimmitt.

J.E. Swepston of Tulia was elected Ozark Trail Association president in 1920 and was instrumental in having the markers placed in this area.

At first the group simply painted a green “OT” between two green stripes against a white background on telephone poles, boulders, barns and just about anything that could hold paint.

However, in 1913, organization founder and Arkansas resort owner William Hope “Coin” Harvey suggested erecting “white pillars bearing the inscription ‘Ozark Trails.’”

At the group’s 1918 convention, Harvey galvanized his proposal by suggesting that concrete obelisks — four-cornered slender shafts topped by pyramids — be erected at junctions where the Ozark Trails branched and at intersections with major roadways. He initially envisioned a string of 12 large pyramids — from Springfield, Mo., to Romeroville, N.M. (near Las Vegas, N.M.) — where a 50-foot shaft would mark its junction with the historic Santa Fe Trail.

In 1919 the group agreed on a standard design — a tall, tapered concrete shaft resting on a square base and illuminated by five lights. Along two or more sides were painted names and distances of towns along the Ozark Trail.

While there is no record of the actual number of markers constructed, according to DTOST and other online sources, today only seven obelisks are known to survive.

Texas has four of those markers. Two — in Dimmitt and Wellington — were moved from their original spots in the middle of major intersections to more traffic-friendly curbside locations. Wellington’s marker also was reconstructed to a shorter height.

The pyramids in Tampico (a ghost town between Turkey and Quitaque) and Tulia are in their original locations.

Castro County’s marker, originally in the intersection of U.S. 385 and Texas 86, was built in the early 1920s for $600. It was reportedly moved to its present location on the courthouse square by pioneer settler Edwin “Goose” Ramey. It lists distances in miles from Dimmitt to Amarillo, 63; Lubbock, 80; Albuquerque, 275; Oklahoma City, 325; Fort Worth, 396; Dallas, 438; Denver, 463; and Austin, 476.

Tulia’s marker is in the intersection of Maxwell and Broadway. The west side lists mileage to towns going east: Silverton, 32; Quitaque, 53; Turkey, 65; Estelline, 100; Memphis, 107; Wellington, 132; Hollis, Okla., 145; Chandler, Okla., 378; Stroud, Okla., 392; Tulsa, Okla., 450; Monte Ne, Ark., 534; Joplin, Mo., 588; Springfield, Mo., 609; Kansas City, Mo., 720; St. Louis, Mo., 928; Pittsburg, Kan., 595.

Swisher County Museum Director Alan Glasscock explained that the marker was originally placed in the middle of the intersection of the Amarillo highway and the Silverton highway. “The marker has never moved, but over time the highways did,” he said.

While Tulia’s marker survived numerous attempts over the years to have it removed as either traffic hazard or eyesore, those in most other communities did not. Glasscock said Quitaque’s marker fell victim to progress during a road building project years ago. “They dug a pit behind it, strapped a chain around it, pulled it over, and then buried it.”

Silverton’s marker is thought to have had a similar fate, with it likely being used to fill a roadside ditch during a road expansion and paving project sometime around World War II.

The Tampico marker is northeast of Texas 86 near FM 657 and has its own Texas Historical Marker nearby. It once was part of a thriving oil community that quickly faded in the late 1920s. Its last recorded census was in 1960 when the now-abandoned Hall County community had a population of 12.

Two markers survive in Oklahoma. The shaft in Stroud is listed in the National Register despite having been moved and covered with graffiti. Another, at Langston, sits at its original location.

The final surviving marker is at Lake Arthur, N.M. Built in 1921 at a cost of $250, it was one of eight on the Pecos Valley branch of the Ozark Trail. While it remains in its original spot, the course of the highway shifted over time and it is now located far from the beaten track but is still listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Artesia, N.M., removed its marker in the late 1920s because it had become a road hazard. A marker in Clovis, N.M., also was demolished years ago.

Miami, Okla., on the other hand, earlier this month approved plans to build a replica 21-foot Ozark Trail Milepost Marker to replace the long-gone original that stood in the intersection of Route 66 and Central Street.

Harvey, who once ran for president on a Free Silver platform, planned to build a huge Ozark Trail-style obelisk at his Monte Ne resort with a time capsule for future generations to see what society had been at its peak. However, his health and finances deteriorated after the 1929 stock market crash and the monument was never completed.

Upon the enactment of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1925, many regional road systems such as the Ozark Trail and coast-to-coast roadways as the Lincoln Highway and Old Spanish Trail were absorbed into the national road system.

Hereford has its own concrete obelisk in the middle of Dameron Park. However, the design of its eroded highway shield indicated that the shaft likely once marked the Abo Pass Highway — later U.S. 60 — which connected Hereford to Amarillo and Clovis.

Plainview was located on a branch of the Mackenzie Trail, which eventually became U.S. 70. A marble monument noting that fact was erected on the Hale County Courthouse square in honor of the Texas Centennial in 1936.

~Doug McDonough,


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