GUS THOMASSON

Among Major Dallas thoroughfares bearing the names of individuals, none is better known than Gus Thomasson Road, for it is proclaimed day and night by large, reflectorized road signs at junctions with Interstate Highways 20 and 30 and is one of the most heavily traveled crosstown routes between Mesquite on the east and White Rock Lake and Garland Road on the west. Actually, Gus Thomasson Road goes back to the pioneer days of town and county, when it was the earlyday trail between the town of Mesquite and the now largely forgotten village of Reinhardt. The latter was a community and railroad station on the line of the Santa Fe northward from Dallas which retained its identity as a separate community until well into the 1920s. Today, the Reinhardt Bible Church at 10123 Garland Road, with Rev. Dr. Lewell C. Wendt as pastor, is the main surviving link with Reinhardt’s former existence as a town.

The name of the Reinhardt-Mesquite Road was officially changed to Gus Thomasson Road by order of the Commissioners Court on February 21, 1938. Gus Thomasson was singled out for this important street name honor for the part he played in shaping the county highway system of Dallas in the 1930s. It was during the depths of the Great Depression that he found himself in a unique position to assist Dallas in developing its secondary road system. As district director in Dallas for seventeen North Texas counties under the Works Progress Administration, Thomasson was largely responsible for the spending of almost $100,000,000 in New Deal federal funds on a wide variety of projects. Between the establishment of the WPA in 1935 and its final phasing out in 1942, it provided more than $17,000,000 in the laying out and construction of county roads in Dallas County. Not until the post—World War Il years when the multibillion-dollar nationwide Interstate Highway System got fully underway would a larger federal highway-aid program be unleashed in Dallas in the expressway program now in progress.

This was a period in which the dollar had a lot more purchasing power than at present and the millions channeled into local road building went farther probably than at other periods of time. The basic design of the Dallas County system was drawn up by the veteran county engineer, R. H. Clinger, now retired, who worked with both WPA offiicals and city public works directors to stretch funds as far as possible. Among city thoroughfares built in this period with WPA funds were Harry Hines Boulevard, from Field Circle to downtown Dallas, and Skillman Avenue. Hines Boulevard was named for Harry Hines of Wichita Falls, then chairman of the State Highway Commission. Skillman, a new street through Northeast Dallas, was originally named for Charles A. Lindbergh.

Portrait of Gus ThomassonThomasson was scarcely the sort of business leader expected to be found in an appointive New Deal post as a district WPA director. He was, and had been for many years, a leading member of the ‘Establishment” in Dallas business circles and was far more conservative than liberal in his economic philosophy. His personal background, career training, and economic outlook might seem to have kept him from being altogether sympathetic with the social and governmental policies with which the nation embarked on its first great mass application of federal welfare programs stemming from Washington. Born in Savoy, Fannin County, in 1870, Thomasson was brought up in his father’s country grocery store. He was married first to Annie Laurie McKinney, a great-granddaughter of Collin McKinney, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. (After her death in 1947, he married Vera English Clark of Greenville.)

Thomasson in 1900 established a dry goods business in Van Alstyne with his brother-in-law. He sold this interest in 1909 when he decided to try his hand at “the big time” of Dallas’s wholesaling by joining the firm of Harris-Lipsitz Dry Goods Co. Thomasson’s business career in Dallas also included association with Higginbothan Bailey-Logan. From 1919 until the advent of the WPA, he was vice president and general manager of Perkins Dry Goods Company of Dallas. In Dallas, Thomasson organized and headed the Buy-it-Made In-Texas Association. This was later known as the Associated Industries of Texas. He was a founding member of the Dallas Bonehead Club, and during the Texas Centennial Exposition of 1936 he found time to serve as its purchasing agent.

Following his service with the Works Progress Administration, he accepted the post of Dallas director of the Office of Price Administration during World War Il. While his administration in the WPA post is best remembered for its emphasis on road building, he encouraged many other projects, including the Dallas County history and guide carried out by the WPA Writers Project headed by Louis P. Head, well-known Dallas newspaperman. But Thomasson, who lived to be eighty-three, was always fiercely proud of the freedom of his public service record from the slightest taint or suspicion of financial irregularity. The Dallas News said of him editorially at the time of his death in 1954 that he had served his country well and that he would long be remembered as an exemplary public official.

Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam Acheson.