April 1, 1913
A legislative measure creating the first highway agency in Arkansas officially went into effect. This measure had been signed into law only the day before by Acting Governor Junius Marion Futrell. (As president of the Arkansas Senate, Futrell was acting governor because of Joseph Taylor Robinson’s resignation from that office so that he could serve as a U.S. senator; Futrell stepped down as acting governor that August after George Washington Hays won a special election for governor).
The 1913 law specifically established a state highway department, along with a state highway commission to administer it, as part of the Arkansas Department of State Lands. To reflect these new highway responsibilities, that law also changed the name of the Department of State Lands to the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements.
The creation of the Arkansas State Highway Department marked a major step away from the horse-and-buggy era and a lot further into the modern age of motor vehicles in a state that would eventually be nicknamed the Land of Opportunity. There were great expectations throughout Arkansas that a new highway agency would mean better roads for the state.
The original State Highway Commission consisted of three members. In his capacity as commissioner of state lands, highways, and improvements, Reuben G. Dye served as the commission’s first chairman. Futrell appointed attorney C.W. Highfill and former state lawmaker A.S. Kilgore as the other charter members of the commission.
The commission’s top priority early on was to recruit a qualified state highway engineer to oversee road construction and maintenance efforts. E.A. Kingsley was hired for this position in May 1913, but he resigned less than eight months later. It was then that the commission recruited Hugh R. Carter for that important role.
Carter, who served as state highway engineer until May 1918, brought not just technical expertise but also considerable resolve and vision to his work on behalf of the state’s roads. He displayed this determination and focus in a report that he submitted to the commission at the start of his tenure as state highway engineer. “System in road matters is as necessary as in any private business, yet we are in the same rut and have been for forty years,” noted Carter in assessing the need for improved travel routes. “It is better to build ten miles [16.1 kilometers] of the best construction on important roads reaching the most people than to patch roads over [an] entire county.”
Well over a century later, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) continues the work that was begun by the State Highway Department. The present-day version of the State Highway Commission, which provides oversight for ArDOT, consists of five members who are appointed by the governor of Arkansas with the advice and consent of the state senate.
Additional information on the origins of the Arkansas State Highway Department is available at https://www.arkansashighways.com/publications/Historical_Review.pdf