If you have recently driven down the stretch of Highway 121 that runs from State Highway 56 to the US 82 overpass, you know things are getting a little busy and crowded. Safety concerns coupled with increased traffic over the last several years dictates that the highway be widened into a four-lane structure complete with dividing medians and convenient turn lanes.
So, how did we get to this point? What is the history of one of the county’s most legendary roads, specifically the stretch, often referred to as the 121 Loop, from State HWY 56 to State HWY 78?
It was roughly 1910-1915 that the automobile appeared on the American scene. With it, and trucks as well, came the call for paved roads. People were getting tired of bogging down on dirt roads that went mushy after heavy rains. As more and more businesses began to transport goods by truck rather than by rails, the call went out even louder: We need better roads!!!
Cities began paving streets, states began building highways, and the federal government got into the act later with farm-to-market roads and impressive interstate highways. It seemed everything was getting paved.
Perhaps for Highway 121 the whole story began in earnest when a group of citizens from Collin and Fannin counties met with state highway officials in April 1928 to encourage the routing of 121 from Fort Worth to the Red River via McKinney and Bonham.
The building of 121 from Fort Worth to Bonham was done in different sections at a time and took decades to complete.
Work on the highway basically started at both ends and eventually met in the middle. Various newspaper clippings and road maps show that the stretch from west of Bonham to Randolph and Trenton started in the mid 1940s. The February 16, 1948 Bonham Daily Favorite carried a short piece noting that 121 was already completed from Bonham to Trenton.
On the other end, a look at a vintage Humble road map shows that by 1950 the highway stretched only from Fort Worth to an intersection with US Hwy 77 near Lewisville. Another Humble map, from 1954, shows 121 finally reaching from US 77 to McKinney.
Next came the job of filling the gap between McKinney and Trenton.
Road maps from the folks at Humble and Phillips 66 still showed no state highway between those towns in 1960. In 1965, however, an Enco map shows 121 finally running from McKinney to Trenton.
And so, Hwy 121 by the mid 1960s finally ran all the way from Fort Worth to Bonham. All that was left was the building of the stretch west of Bonham. As with the rest of the highway, it was a slow process.
In its June 10, 1963 meeting, the Bonham City Council voted to join Fannin County Commissioners in their call for an extension of Highway 121 through Bonham. In its January 11, 1965 meeting, the council heard a report from the city manager stating that the city was still in discussion with the state and county concerning right of way purchases for the project.
By late 1967 things seemed to be getting into high gear. In its December 19 issue, the Bonham Daily Favorite had a front-page headline with the ambitious prediction that Loop 121 would be built in 1968. As usual, time predictions were a bit off the mark.
The September 26, 1968 BDF noted that the R. W. McKinney Company (RWMC), with offices in Nacogdoches and Leonard, was the low bidder on the project. The October 2 issue noted that the RWMC was given the Loop 121 contract.
Work on the project apparently started soon afterwards. The December 20 BDF reported that B. P. Burtner, resident engineer for the Texas Highway Department, stated that “good progress was being made” on the project.
1969 was obviously the year of major work on the 121 Loop. The Bonham Daily Favorite, unfortunately, didn’t deem it worthy of any stories or photographs. However, Bob Cantrell, managing editor of the BDF, did give the following updates in his popular Odds and Ends column:
February 25: recent rains did not stop work on drainage structures near US HWY 82 (now State HWY 56);
September 3: rock base was being placed on the stretch from 898 to HWY 78, while the US 82 end was being prepared for the rock base;
September 30: the north end was being tied into SH 78. Drivers were cautioned to drive slowly through a detour;
December 4: the RWMC was making good progress due to a lengthy stretch of good weather;
January 16, 1970: Bob Barrow was wondering how he was going to get onto either 78 or 121 from his home near the newly-created intersection;
It’s hard to say exactly when the new stretch of 121 opened for traffic. However, a story in the May 25 BDF about an unfortunate fatal accident at the intersection of 898 and 121 shows that steady traffic flow must have started in late winter or early spring of 1970.
And now, forty-three years later, the 121 story enters a new phase. Or, for all you REK fans, perhaps I should say, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.”
Tim Davis teaches at Bonham High School. Many thanks to the ladies at the Sam Rayburn and Bonham Public libraries for enduring my requests for bound volumes of newspapers and rolls of microfilm.