Monday, October 24, 2011

Belcherville (Montague County) - May 2010/October 2011 photos

When I first started my personal ghost town project in May 2010, the first townsite I visited was that of Belcherville, which is located a short drive west of Nocona in Montague County in northern Texas. There was no real strategy for visiting Belcherville first; I was on my way north to Oklahoma City when I decided to make a side trip west of Interstate 35 on Highway 82 and visit a couple of ghost towns that T. Lindsay Baker had documented in his book Ghost Towns of Texas. Six miles west of Nocona, I turned north on FM 1816 and followed it up for about a quarter mile, and there it was.

Belcherville intrigued me so much during my short visit that I knew I'd have to come back someday, which I finally did in October 2011. During my first visit, it was just me, my trusty camera, and Baker's book in the front seat. Since then, I've taken advantage of various Web resources, satellite maps, and various accounts from others who have visited Belcherville or even lived there in the past. I've had to change many of my first assumptions of the ghost town as a result, and my appreciation for this abandoned town has grown significantly. Amanda Warr, editor of The Squawker, has described Belcherville as "a photographer's oasis of gutted old structures, abandoned homes, and overgrowth of purple sage, mesquite and spindly live oaks." Frankly, I can't top her description of the ghost town by myself - I'd better let my photos do most of the talking.

A short bit of background first. Belcherville, established in 1887 as part of a land promotion enterprise by Alex and John Belcher, enjoyed a short but happy boom period during which the population grew to at least 2,000, with thirty businesses serving the population. The Belcher brothers laid out the townsite apparently in anticipation of the extension of the Gainesville, Henrietta, and Western Railway. Indeed, the destruction of nearby Red River Station by a tornado in 1890 caused the denizens of that town to move further down the tracks to resettle in Belcherville, leaving Red River Station to become a ghost town in its own right.

The details of Belcherville's demise are a bit murky. The railroad eventually extended out to the still-active town of Henrietta, a few miles east of Wichita Falls on Highway 82, and this drew away some of Belcherville's townfolk; but what really brought Belcherville to its knees were a couple of fires that gutted the town. In Ghost Towns of Texas, Baker gives the date for the first fire as February 6, 1893, but the Texas State Historical Association claims that the fires erupted shortly after World War I. Oral tradition from some of the people who stayed at Belcherville states that the business district was burned down by people from the other side of town, so someone from the business district retaliated by burning down whatever was left - in other words, Belcherville self-destructed. Only a few of the buildings were rebuilt, because everyone was headed off to greener pastures in Nocona or Henrietta. In 1930, there were only 85 people and five businesses left in Belcherville; in 2000, only 34 people still resided at Belcherville.

And what does Belcherville look like today? I mentioned photos, so here goes:


A former gas station and post office at the heart of Belcherville; once operated by the Blevins family


The entrance foyer to the abandoned Belcherville Church of Christ, which collapsed sometime after 1992


Another view of the ruins of Belcherville Church of Christ

I've been told that the church sanctuary still contained pews, hymnals, and various other sundries before the roof collapsed. Want to excavate any of these from underneath the roof? You're braver than I am. Bring a first-aid kit, and I hope you like grasshoppers...


Exterior shot of Belcherville Baptist Church at the intersection of Belcher Avenue and Bonham Street, now hidden behind trees and foliage


Interior of Belcherville Baptist Church's sanctuary with minister's pulpit

When I first discovered this abandoned school, I regarded it as another church. Then I found older photographs and testimonials from former students of Belcherville High School that seemed to confirm that this was a school building instead of a church. Not true, according to a former resident of Belcherville; this is a church after all. One more reason why studying history is so important - it's so fragile.


The abandoned Manley house in Belcherville on Elm Street


Abandoned furniture and debris inside the Manley house; the doorway leads to the deteriorating bathroom

A word of caution - when I explored the Manley house, it groaned and creaked whenever the winds picked up. This house may not remain upright by the time you make it out to Belcherville, so take advantage of the cooler autumn temperatures and see it now while it lasts.


Abandoned Belcherville gas station and grocery store, once operated by the Vannoy family, right off of Highway 82


Intriguing stone ruins on the extreme western edge of Belcherville, now on private property


Sign near the front gate to Belcherville Cemetery, on Crenshaw Road west of the town center


Handsome tombstone of Belcherville Freemason V.D. Cranford


Primitive stone grave of John W. Campbell with hand-carved grave marker

There are many gravestones at Belcherville Cemetery where either the letters have weathered away or there never was any inscription in the first place. This plot, however, is the most isolated of all the plots at Belcherville Cemetery - and, in my estimation, one of the most poignant cemetery plots I've seen:


"Unknown Cowboy" buried at Belcherville Cemetery - unknown, but definitely not unloved

I hope this photo essay has inspired you to make your own trip to Belcherville and visit these sites on your own. Be sensible, be safe, and by all means, enjoy.

PS - Amanda, if you're reading this, I have yet to visit Big Fatty's Spankin' Shack in Valley View. I'm a big fan of Clark's Outpost in Tioga, myself. But maybe I'll take the Big Fatty's challenge next time I'm in the neighborhood.

9 comments:

  1. I went look for the poem on the headstone pictured above. I found it, it is called Rest by Mary Lathrop -very sweet:


    REST.

    BEAUTIFUL toiler, thy work all done,
    Beautiful soul into glory gone,
    Beautiful life with its crown now won,
    God giveth thee rest,
    from all sorrows, and watching, and fears,
    from all possible sighing and tears,
    through God's endless, wonderful years—
    At home with the blest.

    Beautiful spirit, free from all stain,
    Ours the heartache, the sorrow and pain,
    Thine is the glory and infinite gain—
    Thy slumber is sweet.

    Peace on the brow and the eyelids so calm,
    Peace in the heart, 'neath the white folded palm,
    Peace dropping down like a wondrous balm
    From the head to the feet.

    "It was so sudden," our white lips said,
    "How we shall miss her, the beautiful dead,
    Who take the place of the precious one fled;
    But God knoweth best.

    We know He watches the sparrows that fall,
    Hears the sad cry of the grieved hearts that call,
    Friends, husband, children, He loveth them all —
    We can trust for the rest.

    Mary T Lathrop.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Whoops, that should be on the Bluffton page :-(

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the great photos of Belcherville. I was born and raised and went to school there until 5th grade. The building you have shown as the Belcherville High School is incorrect. Our Baptist Church is at the corner of Belcher & Bonham streets. I enjoyed the photos of the inside of the church so much. The exterior of the building you show is not the church though. Our church was all wood and last time I saw it (in mid 80's) it was in sad shape and being used to store hay. When they closed our school down in Belcherville and we all transferred to Ringgold School I was in the fifth grade. Our school was sold to some local folks and torn down and moved out. It was built of frame/wood, large and painted white and all grades were in the same building. Prior to that we had a large red brick 2 story school that burned and they build the school I attended on the same location. The photo of stones that you made a picture of kind of makes me think it is the old stone wall of a saloon that was still standing when I lived there. The small "house" on highway 82 is an old gas and grocery station that was owned by some folks named Vanoy and they lived in the house next door on west side there on the highway. The old station used to have a lean-two on the east side of it and the gas pumps out front. The old house on Elm Street that is shown was owned by the Manley family and they were friends of my family. The former gas station that you show in downtown Belcherville was operated by the Blevins family and our last post office was at that location also. I have not visited that area since the mid 80's and it was a sad experience but I enjoyed seeing everything again.
    Again, thanks so much for nice pictures.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Belcherville, TX
    I have not visited the site for a while. I hate that you are unemployed now and not able to do your travels. Just a note here. The last time I used Google Earth I noticed that the old Vannoy (I misspelled that name in the first contact with you) store on highway 82 in Belcherville is gone now. That area looks to have been cleaned up and is now just another cow pasture. Good luck with finding a job and in your travels. Sisy

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you, sisy - I have indeed landed another job for now, so maybe I can venture forth again soon and bring you more news on my travels. I still have a backlog of photos I need to share, too - coming soon!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mr.Kiran Chitanvis (Proprietor of Living Area) has over 20 years of real estate experience servicing buyers and sellers in the Mumbai-Pune region. He is known in the area as the premier Realtor for those who demand the best, personalized service throughout the transaction. Mr. Chitnavis prides himself on his relationships with his clients and gets most of his business from referrals and recommendations.

    Real Estate Broker Pune | Real Estate Brokers in Hinjewadi Pune

    ReplyDelete
  7. Daniel,did you happen to find any information on the Campbell's that lived there? Thank you for posting a picture of John Campbell's grave. My line of the Campbells defend from one of his sons. Mike Campbell

    ReplyDelete
  8. The abandoned Manley house was last lived in by Minnie Bell Manley. No indoor restroom out house outside had plumbing in kitchen sink only outside shower was lived in until 1995 when she was placed in the nursing home house was believed to be left alone hidden off main road then ransacked and looted of items little to no value. During a great fire her and her husband were the ones who recalled most burial sites and stone headstones were place due to most were made of wood and were gone

    ReplyDelete
  9. I enjoyed seeing those photos. My father and I have talked about going out to Belcherville to look around for years. He found it when he was doing our ancestry. Never made it before he passed away, but I still would like to see it.

    ReplyDelete