How Veterans Memorial Highway got its start

A line drawing of an antique car, with a Cobb County Courier logo alongside it

We take the major roads running through Cobb County for granted now, but as the county entered the 20th century, there were very few paved roads. Trips by automobile that are now routine were treated as pioneering expeditions until a wave of enthusiasm for roadbuilding swept the nation.

Veterans Memorial Highway, once known as Bankhead Highway, was part of a project envisioned prior to 1920. The goal was to create a highway from Atlanta to Memphis by way of Birmingham. During the 1910s through 1920s, the highway was often covered in the news alongside another major highway project of that time period, the Dixie Highway.

Both ran through Cobb County. The Bankhead Highway ran through Mableton and Austell, the Dixie Highway through Smyrna, Marietta and Acworth.

The original name, Bankhead Highway, was in honor of Alabama congressman (later senator) John Hollis Bankhead, the grandfather of film star Tallulah Bankhead. Bankhead was a major promoter of road building.

Here is an article from the December 18, 1916, edition of the Atlanta Georgian that describes Cobb County’s early progress on the road to that point..

Bankhead Road Plans Being Lined Up

The onset of winter has failed to diminish the enthusiasm over the proposed great Bankhead Highway, which is to connect Atlanta and Memphis by way of Birmingham, and which ultimately will become a transcontinental highway. On Monday, preparations were underway for a big conference of officials of the Georgia Bankhead Association, which, it was announced, would be held in Atlanta not later than February 1.

Chairman Oscar Mills, of the County Public Works Committee, who, with Dr. T. R. Whitley of Douglasville, is a referee for the Georgia end of the highway, instructed County Engineer Tom Wilson, secretary of the Georgia Association, to communicate with the five Georgia vice presidents to obtain reports on the situation in each of the five Georgia counties through which the highway will pass. This information will be in hand and considered by officials prior to the Atlanta conference, at which further definite steps toward the building of the highway will be taken.

The five highway counties in Georgia are Fulton, Cobb, Douglas, Carroll, and Haralson. Dr. W. L. Gilbert, County Commissioner, is the vice president for Fulton.

Interest among the highway enthusiasts was further increased Monday by the announcement that Cobb County already has started work on its link of the highway. A splendid road is being built from the Mayson and Turner bridge at the Chattahoochee River to Austell. From Austell, it will be continued to Lithia Springs, where Cobb joins Douglas County. Fulton’s portion of the highway, from the city to the Mayson and Turner bridge, already has been built, and the completion of the Cobb County section will leave but three counties to finish the highway in this state.

Referee Mills declared Monday that the highway all the way to Memphis is assured. “It now will be but a short time until Atlantans can tour to Birmingham and Memphis over a splendid boulevard,” he said.

Here’s an image of how the article look in the original newspaper:

About Georgia Historic Newspapers

Georgia Historic Newspapers is a part of the GALILEO project and is housed at the University of Georgia. It’s an amazing resource for anyone with an interest in the history of Georgia and its regions.

According to the “About” page on its website:

The Georgia Historic Newspapers Archive is a project of the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG), a part of Georgia’s Virtual Library GALILEO and is based at the University of Georgia Libraries. Since 2007, the DLG has partnered with universities, archives, public libraries, historical societies, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions to digitize historical newspapers from around the state. The archive is free and open for public use and includes over two million Georgia newspaper pages between 1763 and 2021.

Newspaper titles are regularly digitized and added to the archive. If you are interested in including a particular title, you can visit our participation page. A majority of the newspapers on this site were digitized from the microfilm produced by the Georgia Newspaper Project (GNP). For more information about the microfilm available through the GNP, please visit their website.