Unbeknownst to many, the Citizens Of The State of Texas have a treasure trove of history at The Texas Department of Transportation. Its gatekeeper? Anne Cook. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, Anne is worth tens of millions of them.
Self-titled “Librari-Anne,” Anne Cook serves as TxDOT’s photo librarian, a title she has held since April of 1989.
“When I came to TxDOT, I was so excited by the collection here (and the work it would require to keep it organized) and by my talented, friendly co-workers, I’ve never been tempted to look for another position,” explained Anne.
The department’s expansive photo library chronicles the history of this state through its highway construction and goes back a hundred years.
“The library has over half a million prints and photographs, and with the addition of the growing digital collection, may reach a million images before I retire,” said Anne. “To make retrieving images efficient, I catalog them in the library databases. I also label, file and organize department archival materials…. Safeguarding the agency’s legacy became a passion when I worked on the 80th anniversary [of the department] and it hasn’t lessened with the passing of our Centennial.”
Maintaining such a large catalog for the posterity of the state has its share of challenges, but Anne is well-suited to the task.
“I have a master’s degree in library and information science. I also recommend being detail-oriented and having a good photographic memory, along with a compulsion to organize. In this job, it also helps to be a bit of a hoarder.”
It also helps to love what you do, and to be surrounded by others similarly interested in the department’s history. “I search for and share images requested by external customers and TxDOT personnel…I have library customers who became friends and I often take advantage of their special interests. They help me to identify aircraft, machinery, historic buildings and other mysteries in the archives.”
In light of current events, the images are striking in that they tell stories of other unprecedented times: World War II, the Great Depression, and the advent of the Interstate System. Through it all, the highway industry worked. The industry continues to be deemed essential even as concerns about health safety and the economy have forestalled other industries. For highway contractors, work goes on.
Texas highway contractors may be surprised to know images of their projects have been safeguarded and archived for posterity. The images, like the roads themselves, belong to the People of the State of Texas. And you couldn’t find a more helpful or capable guide to lead you through them if you were so inclined.
Anne sent AGC hundreds of images going back to the early 1920s (incidentally, just after the end of the Spanish flu pandemic). We will continue to feature these archived photos in future issues since we couldn’t possible highlight them all in one. However, here are a few to get us started.
1972: William Chamberlin, Highway Department project inspector and Ralph M. Baxter, Texas Highway Department resident engineer from Uvalde, inspect construction plans on the site of Ranch Road 337 being built through a rugged portion of the Central Texas Hill Country east of Leakey in Real County (San Antonio District). Allen Keller Construction.
September 9, 1963: Devils River Bridge, US Hwy 90: 1965 Steel stringer bridge over Amistad Reservoir on US 90. Val Verde County. Also called Herbert C. Petry Highway Bridge.
1952: Baytown Tunnel Construction of the Baytown-LaPorte Tunnel, under the Houston ship channel. The project cost approximately 10 million.
February 19, 1972: Construction on the IH610 bridge over the Houston Ship Channel. Huge marine crane lifts v-struts into place. Each v-strut weighs 417,000 pounds; legs measure 128 feet high and 170 feet long. Twelve v-struts will support the center span with 135-foot clearance above the water. The bridge will carry 10 traffic lanes, two shoulder parking lanes, and a 17-foot center median.
July 21, 1964: Construction on Interstate 20 north of Tyler in Smith County.
1952: Construction of the Baytown- LaPorte Tunnel, under the Houston ship channel. The project cost approximately 10 million.
Undated. Houston Interchange
September 9, 1963: Devils River Bridge on U.S. 90 during construction, September 1963. Steel stringer bridge over Amistad Reservoir on US 90. Val Verde County. Also called Herbert C. Petry Highway Bridge.
September 4, 1943: Construction of RM 32, “Devil’s Backbone,” Comal County.
June 18, 1964: Devils River Bridge project on U.S. Highway 90. Steel stringer bridge over Amistad Reservoir on US 90. Val Verde County. Also called the Herbert C. Petry Highway Bridge.
June 1935: Colorado River Bridge, U.S. Highway 281, Marble Falls. Replacing bridge washed out in flood, June 1935. Deck placing unit group photo. Scott Clark, 8th from the left on the back row was contractor’s superintendent. To his left is Pete Merchant and to his right is Mulkey Owens. They were the inspectors.
Undated. Washington Ave. Bridge in Waco.
1934: From BB Freeborough archive photo collection. Modern equipment for grading and small structures Brown & Root, Del Rio.
1926: Bridge Opening from the Paris District, Austin Bridge Company.
June 1927: From BB Freeborough archive photo collection. Central asphalt heating plant in Jourdanton. Property of Kelly Construction Company, Texas 97.
1934: From BB Freeborough archive photo collection. Modern equipment for grading and small structures. Brown & Root. Del Rio.
April 25, 1921: The earliest photo in the collection. Concrete work in Wilbarger County.
1929: From BB Freeborough archive photo collection. Construction of Natalia Bridge, Fort Ewell Creek, on Highway 2 (now U.S. Highway 81) in Medina County. H.B. Zachry.
September 10, 1944: Construction of the Pecos River High Bridge, Val Verde County.
1936: Triple underpass in Dallas, Union Terminal Company Bridge.