Natives and tourists alike enjoy the view from Scenic
Scenic Drive is the road that follows the rim
of the Franklin Mountains, the lower tip of the majestic Rocky
Mountains. Scenic Drive overlooks two countries, two states
cities. This road attracts young and old as a tourist
attraction and as a favorite site for natives, and it only cost $200,000! Impossible, you say?
Well, today yes, but city fathers in the 1920s
saw the future and created this wonder — Scenic Drive — for
generations to enjoy.
The beautiful Franklin
Mountains and Scenic Drive have always fascinated El Pasoans,
and the Franklins are unique for their location
in the middle of the city. In 1921, W. E. Stockwell wrote, "The
city of El Paso, Texas, in growing from an adobe village in
1900 to a city of over 80,000 people today, has spread around Mt.
Franklin so that the point of the large mountain projects almost
to the geographical center of the city."
El Paso has grown so much
since then, it's no longer the geographical
center of the city, although the Franklins still divide El Paso into West
and East sections. It is impossible not to admire the rugged
crags of the Franklins whether one is flying in or out of the
city or driving in any direction. Ninety+ years later, this mountain road is
still a popular place to visit, as it was as soon as it was
Mayor C. E. Kelly's
administration enthusiastically supported the construction of
Scenic Drive, and Kelly held a citywide celebration to
encourage the plan. Tom Lea, candidate for the 1915 mayoral race
along with Kelly, also backed the road's construction, as did Hughes D.
Slater and George E. Kessler. Slater,
the editor and owner of the El Paso Herald, led efforts
to eliminate slums, build public parks and develop local points
of interest. George E. Kessler referred to Scenic Drive as
"mountain drive" when he wrote "The City Plan of El Paso,
Texas." He felt strongly that "nothing of a permanent nature
should be done here [on the Franklin Mountains] until funds are
available for something worthy of the place and the city."
Building Scenic Drive was
no easy feat. The project began in March 1920 and was completed
by the end of the year, with a chain gang helping on early
construction of the road. More than a mile road was
carved from solid rock on the slopes of Mt. Franklin; workers
excavated more than 26,000 cubic yards of solid rock, 5,800
cubic yards of loose rock and 3,500 cubic yards of caliche. R.
E. Hardaway, a civil engineer, was named the consulting and
locating engineer for the mountain drive, while R. M. Dudley and
W. E. Orr were hired as contractors. Dudley was in charge of the
west side construction, while Orr took care of the east side.
By the 1920s, more
of an expanding middle class owned automobiles and had the means to see the wonders of
the nation, and the West with its mountains and spectacular natural
beauty was fast becoming America's favorite playground. Records show that
from 1907 to May 1913, El Pasoans registered 1,495 automobiles.
Seating from two to five persons, these automobiles began to be
used for recreational purposes. On October 6, 1920, the rough
dirt road still under construction known as Scenic Drive
formally opened for automobile traffic. During construction, the
road was widened in places for cars to park so their
occupants could enjoy the stunning view.
Once completed, the road
became very popular; historian W. H. Timmons
noted that in the 1920's most El Paso citizens could afford
automobiles to go to movie theaters and drive up to Scenic Drive
on a "starry moonlit night." During construction, a brick wall
was placed around the road to insure the safety of travelers. But the view
was not entirely beautiful.
At that time, travelers did not see
beautiful, stately homes like those now lining Rim Road; before the construction of Scenic Drive,
was known as Stormsville, and the city considered it a public
health nuisance. D. Storms, a lawyer, owned a great deal of land
along the rim where about 400 people lived in squalor. Stormsville had no water,
electricity, gas, phones or sewers and only four toilets for all
residents. Stormsville was torn down in 1928 when plans for the
new Rim Road development were made. No one entering this area
today could believe such a neighborhood existed in the same
The paving of Scenic Drive
occurred after it had been opened to the public. In 1932, the
city contracted with J. C. Wright to grade and surface the road
and over 4,000 tons of gravel were smoothed over it. Some
funds for paving came from a Reconstruction Finance Corporation
grant and the project employed many El Pasoans out of work
during the Depression. Hartman says it cost around $87,000 to
pave Scenic Drive, making the total cost of building of the
drive less than $200,000.
In February 1933, Scenic
Drive reopened: "Streams of cars clogged the newly-paved road,
and at 'Inspiration Point,' now Scenic Point, motorists honked
their horns impatiently as they tried to move through the
traffic jam," wrote Hartman. By 1933, 18,851 passenger
automobiles were registered in El Paso County.
visit Scenic Drive today can see several markers and monuments
at Scenic Point identifying historical and geographical points
of interest. Two bronze markers honor the city officials who had
the foresight to build the road and those who were responsible
for paving it. In 1972, the city council raised a flagpole at
Scenic Point honoring El Pasoans who lost their lives in World
War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Many young couples still
visit Scenic Point as part of a romantic date, just like their
parents and grandparents did. And just like in 1933 when the
paved road was opened, sometimes drivers experience traffic jams on the
mountain road, especially on weekend evenings. Tourists and
natives alike use the coin-operated telescopes to magnify a
particular view as they gaze out over two countries and the
sparkling night lights.
The narrow, winding road
high above the city can terrify new drivers, but the views
from Scenic Drive remain breathtaking, even in this jaded,
technologically-oriented society. Not many cities have a
mountain range right in the middle of their city, and still fewer
have a spectacular drive around the rim of their mountains. El
Paso has both.
Hartman writes "If the pioneers who were
responsible for Scenic Drive could stand at its apex on a clear
evening, when millions of city lights are shimmering in the distance,
their hearts would skip a beat or two at the marvels spread