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Camino del Norte

How a Series of Watering Holes, Fords, and Dirt Trails Evolved into Interstate 35 in Texas

By Howard J. Erlichman

Publication Year: 2006

Some five hundred miles of superhighway run between the Rio Grande and the Red River—present-day Interstate 35. This towering achievement of modern transportation engineering links a string of Texas metropolises and some 7.7 million people, and yet it all evolved from a series of humble little trails. The I-35 Corridor that runs north-south through Texas connects Dallas and Fort Worth with Austin, San Antonio, and Laredo en route to ancient towns in Mexico. Along its path lie urban centers, technology parks, parking lots, strip malls, apartment complexes, and vast open spaces. In this fascinating popular history, based on extensive primary and secondary research, Howard J. Erlichman asks how and why the Camino del Norte (the Northern Road) developed as (and where) it did. He uncovers, dissects, prioritizes, and repackages layer upon layer of centuries-spanning history to, in his words, "solve the mystery of I-35." His chronicle focuses less on the physical placement of I-35 than on the reasons it was created: the founding of posts and villages and the early development of towns. Along the way, he explores a number of circumstances that contributed to the location and development of the corridor: pre-Columbian cultures, Mexican silver mining, road and bridge building techniques, Indian tribes, railroad developments, military affairs, car culture, and pavement technology, to name a few. Presently, a variety of new highway projects are underway to address the dramatic expansion of I-35 traffic generated by population growth and business enterprise. Those interested in the economic development of the state of Texas, in NAFTA links and their precursors, and in touring the Interstate itself will find this book informative and useful.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University


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Front Matter

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pp. vi-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Virtually all of the facts, figures, and events presented in this history were assembled—inevitably and unapologetically—from secondary sources during 2000 and 2001. This book would simply not exist without the often spectacular research contributions made by hundreds of historians, scholars, observers, and government archivists over the decades (and even centuries). ...

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pp. ix-xii

The subject matter of this book started out as an interest. Then it developed into a hobby. Eventually, the historical puzzle of Interstate 35 in Texas became nearly an obsession. I discovered that the central question—how and why did the magnificent I-35 Corridor develop as (and where) it did?—could be answered only with investigation and research. Fortunately, thousands of excellent ...

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Digging into the Highway’s Past

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pp. 3-14

SLIGHTLY north of San Antonio International Airport in Bexar County lie the remains of ancient prehistoric peoples. Like most archaeological finds today, the remains were discovered during a series of modern construction projects. In one case, the catalyst was a new middle school, St. Mary’s Hall. The prehistoric remains revealed at the ...

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In Quest of Silver, 1519–1776

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pp. 15-44

WITHIN ten years of Hernán Cortés’s first visit to Tenochtitlán, Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and three other survivors of the Pánfilo de Narváez expedition of 1528 found themselves wandering through southern Texas and northern Mexico. Having knowledge of the sophisticated Aztec empire and the wonders of Tenochtitlán, an island city ...

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The Roads to War, 1777–1840

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pp. 45-69

TRAVELING along the Camino Real and the Laredo–San Antonio Road was an adventure. Traffic moved in a northeasterly direction and had to cross virtually all of Texas’ north-south rivers. Wiser prehistoric peoples had utilized routes that ran parallel to rivers, not across them. Inns and hotels were nonexistent, leaving travelers to stop at the rustic parajes ...

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The Texas Frontier, 1840 –1860

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pp. 70-102

THE evolving Chihuahua roads were both an opportunity and a threat to the ambitious plans of Mirabeau B. Lamar. Laredo was in Mexico and could be ignored. But Austin was the new capital of Texas and, prior to its near abandonment between 1842 and 1845, needed a push. To supplement Austin’s emerging (if costly) trade with the seaports at Houston and ...

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From Trails to Rails, 1860 –1900

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pp. 103-129

With or without railroads, the combined effects of immigration, agriculture, and trade raised the population of Texas to 604,215 in 1860, including 182,566 slaves and 355 free blacks. Only 11 percent of the state’s population lived in towns with more than a hundred inhabitants, and only six towns could be categorized as significant: Galveston, ...

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Good Roads for Texas, 1870–1917

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pp. 130-155

Following twenty years of feverish railway expansion in Texas, most of the right-of-way segments of future Interstate 35 had been staked out by two major rail lines and a portion of a third. The I&GN ran between Laredo, San Antonio, Austin, and Round Rock. The M-K-T (Katy) was set to operate between San Antonio ...

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Federal Dollars for Roads, 1918–1938

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pp. 156-185

The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, the birth of the Texas Highway Department in April 1917, and the THD’s state highway system map of June1917, were all catalyzed by World War I considerations, possible actions related to the Mexican Civil War, and the explosion of U.S. automobile traffic. If the foundations for interstate highway development including ...

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A National System, 1938–1960

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pp. 186-214

Most states, including Texas, viewed parkways and freeways as luxuries during the depression years. The predecessors to Interstate 35—US 81 and US 77—operated as well-defined (if undivided) interstate highways which, to the delight of local merchants, passed through Texas cities in a zigzag, time-consuming (and oft-confusing) fashion. ...

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Interstate 35 Comes to Pass, 1960 –2000

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pp. 215-240

In much the same manner that the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 had shifted management responsibilities from counties to state highway departments, the Federal Highway Act of 1956 solidified the New Deal era trend in which the state role, in turn, was subservient to that of the federal government. State highway departments remained powerful entities, but decision...

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pp. 241-244

Talk of TGV systems, light rail, and commuter rail lines would have warmed the heart of Lewis Mumford. Mumford’s advocacy of planned, integrated mass transit systems and pedestrian-centric environments remains timely, even if the execution would be challenging and extremely expensive. Some of his highway solutions, such as depressed urban ...


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pp. 275-284

E-ISBN-13: 9781603445467
E-ISBN-10: 1603445463
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444731
Print-ISBN-10: 1585444731

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 16 maps.
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University
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OCLC Number: 654513963
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Camino del Norte

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Interstate 35 -- History.
  • Roads -- Texas -- History.
  • Trade routes -- Texas -- History.
  • Express highways -- Texas -- History.
  • Texas -- History, Local.
  • Texas -- Commerce -- History.
  • Transportation, Automotive -- Texas -- History.
  • Roads -- Texas -- Design and construction -- History.
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