In the past year, Ogee has been fortunate to work on several different projects in historic Mount Vernon, Texas. Mount Vernon is a small, charming town where you can find a mixture of different commercial architectural styles that represent various periods of growth. Because Mount Vernon was the only town in Franklin County with a train station, most of the town’s early commercial buildings are unique for the area. The St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company arrived in Mount Vernon in 1897, and the last passenger train rain in 1956. By the 1920s, another layer of transportation-related architecture began to emerge as a portion of the Bankhead Highway was built in the town.
The Bankhead Highway ran from San Diego to Washington, D.C and opened in 1917 as America’s first all-weather transcontinental highway. By the 1920s, the majority of travelers on the highway were tourists taking advantage of a new, exciting culture of automobile travel. Mount Vernon became an important stop as adventurers passed through Texas; from the 1920s to the 1950s, several automobile-related roadside businesses popped up in Mount Vernon to serve increasing traffic. Motor courts, gas stations, and car dealerships were just some of the new businesses that were built as a result of the Bankhead Highway, which had been dubbed the “Broadway of America.” Travelers could stop to fill up their tanks, grab a bite to eat, and rest for the night in Mount Vernon.
Ogee recently completed a survey of Mount Vernon’s historic resources during which we identified several historic roadside buildings that help tell the story of Mount Vernon’s place in America’s early automobile tourism history. One of our favorite resources is the Teague Chevrolet building, which was built in 1949 in the Art Moderne style. We love the curved brick walls and display windows that give this building a dignified touch for luxury shoppers. They don’t make car dealerships like this anymore!
Pulling up to the modern style Magnolia Mobil station, which was built in 1948, you can imagine vintage Plymouths and Fords driving up the pump as families reached their first stop in several miles. This humble filling station would have served thousands of people taking part in the now-sacred American tradition of the road trip. The building’s slanted roof and steel-framed storefront windows would have been quite a contrast to the downtown commercial architecture found in Mount Vernon before the Bankhead.
We also love the Bolin Gulf Station, which is one of the earliest examples of automobile-related architecture in Mount Vernon. The Bolin Gulf Station was built in 1927 in the Prairie School style, and features a flat roof with decorative brickwork. According to the Mount Vernon Historical Society, the Gulf Oil Company designed their early gas stations in signature red brick in order to mimic the appearance of a large, stately home. The company felt that this branding would attract the affluent customers that could afford to own an automobile.
It’s easy to drive by these worn-down buildings and think that they are insignificant. However, vacant car dealerships and old gas stations help tell the story of Mount Vernon’s place as a major hub on the Bankhead Highway, a place which firmly cemented the city an important piece of America’s automobile heritage legacy. The next time you’re on a road trip, make it a point to get off the interstate and explore some of America’s historic highway towns – Mount Vernon is just one of the small cities full of interesting architecture, local businesses, and fascinating history.