My days at the TxDOT photo archive

I-10 south of De Zavala looking north, 1966

I-10 south of De Zavala looking north, 1966 (TxDOT archive)

After returning from my Florida vacay a couple of weeks ago, I spent the balance of my time off of work at the TxDOT archive in Austin.  I had been wanting to go for years after seeing some of the great historical photos from there on other roadgeek websites.  I was not disappointed.

The TxDOT archive is primarily composed of photos from the Texas Highways magazine and includes lots of tourist-type photos, but it also contains photos taken by TxDOT engineers over the years of various road projects.  Many of the photos were for publicity purposes, but in the early days of the federal road aid program, the engineers were required to take photos of their projects to include in reports sent back to Washington to prove that the money had been spent on the project.  Sometimes they included before-and-after shots, which I always find particularly interesting.

Since I only had one full day (spread-out over two half-days), I focused my search initially on my number one desire, that being historical photos of the San Antonio expressway system.  It turns-out that there was already a whole indexed drawer of about two dozen or so of nothing but “San Antonio Urban Expressway” photos, and I knocked that out in an hour or so.  So then I was free to browse through the remainder of the collection for other interesting photos of local roads over the years and boy did I find a bunch.  Besides other photos of local expressways that were filed under different subject headings, I also found lots of photos of the earlier US and state highway system here.  Many of them had no location listed or an incorrect location, so I’ve been spending the past couple of weeks determining those locations and I’m proud to say that for all of them except one (which I’ve posted below), I have been able to find the location through a combination of my own knowledge of the city coupled with Google Maps and a follow-up field survey.


"San Antonio Expressway Overpass" - Location unknown, ca. 1955 (TxDOT archive)

My two days yielded about 150 photos, although some were duplicates.  For that and other editorial reasons, I’ve eliminated about a fourth of them– the rest are going on my website.  I’ve posted the first batch, those being the expressway pics.  I’m working on organizing the off-expressway photos and will post them soon.  I also picked-up a couple of interesting articles, maps, and factoids that will make their way onto my site as well.  My only disappointment was the utter lack of photos of Loop 410– I only found one, and it was relatively recent (ca. 1990).  Given Loop 410’s history and importance to this area, I had expected to find substantially more.

I want to give special thanks to Anne Cook at TxDOT for her help.  She’s a great person who obviously loves her job– she’s been doing it for over 20 years.  She’s pretty much a one-woman show whose job includes organizing the collection, digitizing it, and handling requests from people like me.  Use of the archive is free; as Anne says, your tax dollars paid for it, so as long as there’s no incidental cost to the state, folks are free to peruse and make their own scans of everything.  Most of the Texas Highways photos have copyright limitations, but the stuff done by TxDOT staff is public domain.  The archive is not the simple collection of drawers with photos that I had expected– there is some of that, but the room is a smorgasbord of archiving.  There were several special cabinets with tons of photo slides, lots of three-ring binders full of those old federal aid reports, bookcases with old district reports as well as books done about Texas highways over the years, and lots of other cabinets I didn’t even get to.  Just before I left, as if to ensure that I would come back some day, Anne pointed-out a set of photo cabinets near the back– “you can go through these next time you’re here”.  Those apparently are drawers full of hundreds– or even thousands– of photos nobody has had a chance to catalog and file yet.  I guess I know where I’ll be spending some time from my next vacation!  🙂 

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