1930: This State Highway is One of the Shortest in Texas

February 26, 1930

The Texas Highway Commission (a predecessor of today’s Texas Transportation Commission) approved the designation of a new highway to be built through the longtime State Cemetery in the city of Austin. The origins of this cemetery in the eastern part of Texas’s state capital date back to the 1850s. The State Cemetery, encompassing about 22 acres (8.9 hectares), achieved prominence over the decades as the final resting place for several state governors, various other public officials, and a large number of military heroes.

By 1930, however, public awareness of the cemetery and its historical significance had mostly faded. Louis Kemp, a leading historian of the Lone Star State, sought to address this ever-growing neglect of the cemetery. He spent a considerable amount of his time, efforts, and money to make arrangements for many notable Texan statesmen and soldiers buried elsewhere to be moved to the State Cemetery and interred there instead. Kemp also advocated for something that he hoped would make it easier for more people to visit the cemetery: the replacement of the dirt path there with a paved road.

In authorizing the construction of such a road, the commission – as summarized in the minutes for that February 26 meeting – specifically directed the Texas Highway Department (the present-day Texas Department of Transportation) to create an Austin-based route “beginning at the corner of Sixth and Onion Streets and extending north through the State Cemetery grounds to an intersection with Eleventh Street.” As the meeting minutes likewise highlighted, “This road is designated and will be constructed to provide the people of Texas access to the cemetery that is now not available.” About six months later, the planned road was formally classified as Texas State Highway 165 (SH 165).

The head of the Texas Highway Department at this time was Gibb Gilchrist. He had first been the state highway engineer in 1924-25 and then served in the position again from 1927 to 1937. In addition, Gilchrist served as president of the American Association of State Highway Officials in 1936-37. Gilchrist was publicly supportive of Kemp’s idea for an improved route through the cemetery, and the Texas Highway Department finished building SH 165 by 1932. In honor of Kemp’s work on behalf of the State Cemetery, the commission agreed to name the highway after him. As Gilchrist confirmed, this was the first time that a Texas state highway had been named after a living person.

At the time of its debut, SH 165 was only 0.9 miles (1.4 kilometers) in length. This made it the shortest Texas state highway, even though a few of the other components of that system (i.e., spurs and loops) are shorter. It is also worth noting that claims have been made that Texas State Highway 168, which was inaugurated in Galveston in 1986 and has a length of 0.87 miles (1.40 kilometers), is technically the shortest highway in the system since (unlike SH 165) it is fully signed. In any case, modifications to SH 165 in more recent decades have made the route even shorter than it was before. This highway is now only 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in length, running north along Comal Street from Seventh Street into and within the State Cemetery.

Owing to the limited hours during which people can visit the State Cemetery, SH 165 is also believed to be the only highway in Texas that is partially closed at night on a regular basis. The speed limit for the section of SH 165 within the cemetery is 10 miles (16 kilometers) per hour.

For more information on the Texas State Highway system, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_state_highways_in_Texas.

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