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Connecting Communities from the Rio Grande to the Red River

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Connecting Communities from the Rio Grande to the Red River

  • U.S. Highway 281
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Downtowns and highways are forever connected in Texas. While in many small towns a historic highway is the lifeblood of a downtown commercial district, even in the largest cities you can find vestiges of state and U.S. highways.

In Texas, U.S. Highway 281 stretches 643 miles from Brownsville to Burkburnett, connecting communities of all sizes. Many travelers choose this route as an alternative to the frequent congestion and construction found on Interstate 35 and appreciate the slower pace, scenic beauty, and unique downtown destinations.

From the Lower Rio Grande Valley, to Central Texas, to the rolling hills of the north, the communities of Highway 281 have much to offer.

The newly installed gateway sign welcomes visitors to Pharr and provides a centerpiece for special community events. |City of Pharr, Texas

Pharr

Known as the ”hub” of the Valley for its location at the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Expressway 83, Pharr is the only city in the Texas to be designated a “Triple Crown City,” receiving the Preserve America City, National Main Street City, and All-American City awards.

U.S. 281/South Cage Boulevard is the main thoroughfare of downtown Pharr. Boasting destinations like the Junction Café and Smitty’s Juke Box Museum, it’s also the location for downtown events like La Posada, Hub Fest, and the city’s Veterans Day celebration.

The recently installed Welcome to Pharr gateway features an homage to the original neon cowboy sign formerly located on the rooftop of the old Texan Hotel. Today the neon cowboy is in storage, awaiting restoration.

Hico

Some of the highest traffic counts in Central Texas can be found at the intersection of 281 and Texas Highway 6 where they meet in Hico, creating an incredible opportunity for businesses and cultural assets located both on and off the highways to thrive in the town “Where Everybody Is Somebody.”

Historic Midland Hotel – The recently restored hotel includes The 1896 Saloon, the Chophouse restaurant plus lodging accommodations. With 13 rooms upstairs and 1 ADA approved room downstairs, each room has its own unique history, focusing on different parts of history including people, businesses and community life that surrounded Hamilton Co. during the early 1900s. |Green Canoe Digital Solutions 

Downtown Hico has seen a slew of new businesses open in recent years including a winery, mercantile, and The Midland Hotel, originally founded in 1896. Several are owned by new Hico residents who were drawn to the community’s small-town feel, central location, and friendly people.

Mineral Wells

Mineral Wells is home to another “crossroads of America.” U.S. 281 runs north–south from Canada to Mexico, and Highway 180 (part of the old Bankhead Highway) runs from the East Coast to the West. Though locally referred to as Oak Avenue, Highway 281 is the city’s designated Main Street, home to downtown shops, dining, and historic hotels.


Welcome to Mineral Wells – a town that embraces crazy! (The local mineral water was known to cure many ailments.) The welcome sign which provided signage for the Crazy Hotel was built in 1933 and spanned Hubbard Street (US 180) until it’s mysterious disappearance on December 24, 1958. When constructed, the sign was one of only two signs allowed by the Texas Department of Transportation to cross a state maintained highway. Due to local efforts and community support, a replacement sign was erected this past spring. |Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce

In the last few years, a renaissance has been underway in downtown Mineral Wells. The famous Baker Hotel, vacant and neglected for decades, is under renovation. The Crazy Water Hotel, a smaller lodging a few blocks north of the Baker, is being converted into a mixed-use development utilizing a Public Benefit Corporation (the first in Texas) to allow for local investment. These projects, coupled with new retail and restaurant options, have attracted attention not only in Texas, but also nationally.

As you are planning your next road trip, be sure to check out nearby communities and attractions for even more ideas of what to see and do on and off Highway 281. We know you will not be disappointed!


  • Highway 281 is the only continuous three-digit U.S. route that extends from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Beginning in Brownsville, the ribbon of highway extends northward through the middle of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota to reach the International Peace Garden at the Canadian border.
  • At 1,875 total miles, the road is also the longest continuous three-digit U.S. route!

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