Thursday, December 27, 2012

Obligatory holiday ghost town photo!

Taken at the townsite of Silver Lake on December 26, 2012. This old gas station sits close to the line that divides Van Zandt County and Smith County, which Silver Lake straddles.


I'll present a more complete picture of Silver Lake real soon. Best wishes to everyone for a happy and peaceful New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

La Reunion - A different sort of expedition

If you haven't checked out the December 19 edition of The Dallas Morning News yet, take a look at this article.

Joe Ramirez has been in contact with me a couple of times looking for the scant remains of the La Reunion ghost town west of downtown Dallas, and when he came across what might be the old DeLord homestead, he found he found the site in disarray just as I had in March. Suspecting that the site was being used as a meth lab, Joe tried in vain to get various Dallas organizations to pay attention to the old colony site.

That's when Joe led a small expedition to the DeLord homestead, as recorded in The Dallas Morning News.

I don't want to spoil the story, and besides, the paper would appreciate a few more on-line visitors. But please read it - the article's not too terribly long.

I'm happy that this blog played some part in shining light on a forgotten chapter of Dallas' history, and I'm proud of Joe for staying on the case and not letting this site fall through the cracks.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Gilliland (Knox County) - December 2012 photos

Some ghost towns in Texas have long and detailed histories replete with tales of ambition, grandeur, innovation, and sometimes lawlessness and mayhem. And then there are ghost towns like Gilliland, which is located on Farm Road 1756 in north central Knox County, within an hour's drive from the Panhandle.

Gilliland December 2012 #01
Downtown Gilliland today

Located smack dab in the middle of nowhere, Gilliland never grew to any great size - boasting a reported peak of 120 residents in 1947 - but those that called Gilliland home worked hard to build it into a community that could take care of itself. The first white settlers to put down roots here established a community called Coyote, and their efforts managed to attract some Norwegian families from Bosque County, who migrated to Coyote in 1890. The community established its own school district on May 1, 1892, and opened the doors of its school in 1895, with Oma Aker serving as the community's first teacher. When Coyote resident O.M. Olson opened a post office inside his home in 1907, the post office was named after district judge W.A. Gilliland, and the name quickly stuck to the town itself.

Gilliland December 2012 #02
Abandoned and deteriorating general store at Gilliland

Gilliland December 2012 #03
Remains of Gilliland's garage

Gilliland December 2012 #04
A peek inside the disheveled garage

A cotton gin was built just outside Gilliland in 1910 and later modernized in 1936. Gilliland's population grew from 50 in 1925 to 120 in 1947, with the school, four businesses and one church serving the town's needs.

Gilliland December 2012 #05
Gilliland's abandoned gas station and grocery

Gilliland December 2012 #06
Closer look at the rusting Esso gasoline pumps (today, Esso is known as ExxonMobil)

Gilliland December 2012 #07
One of numerous derelict houses in Gilliland being reclaimed by the elements

The most important building in Gilliland appears to have been its school. Although small compared to many modern school buildings in Texas today, Gilliland's school featured numerous classrooms, a cafeteria, and a gymnasium that doubled as an auditorium for plays and assemblies. Over the years, the school absorbed other schools in the region, which undoubtedly contributed to the town's growth. In 1948, however, it was Gilliland's turn. The town's high school was transferred to the city of Munday, some 20 miles south of Gilliland, leaving the town with only a grade school that continued to operate until the school itself was closed down in 1975.

Gilliland December 2012 #08
Gilliland's school building as seen from the rear

Gilliland December 2012 #09 Weatherbeaten swingset at the Gilliland school

Gilliland December 2012 #10 Ingenious front gate to Gilliland's school - students can fit through, but cattle cannot

Gilliland December 2012 #11 Front door to Gilliland's school building

Gilliland December 2012 #12
Stage in the gymnasium, still outfitted for a school play

Gilliland December 2012 #13
Bleachers in the gymnasium

Gilliland December 2012 #14
Hallway between classes with rotting and deteriorating floor - walking on the floorboards is NOT recommended

The closing of Gilliland's school appears to mirror the fortunes of the town itself; in 1990, the population was reported as 103, but ten years later, the number plunged to only 25. Today, there may be even fewer than that.

Gilliland December 2012 #14
Front gate to Gilliland Cemetery

Gilliland December 2012 #15
Some of the numerous graves at the cemetery

Gilliland December 2012 #16
Memorial to World War I and World War II veterans at the cemetery

Gilliland December 2012 #17
One of Gilliland's denizens had a striking name

Gilliland December 2012 #18
Tombstone for a nurse

Gilliland Cemetery is approaching its sesquicentennial, and unfortunately some of the older gravestones have been damaged or disappeared completely. A couple of graves caught my eye in the far corner of the cemetery - the only known African-Americans buried in Gilliland. Whoever interred them apparently felt the need to not only isolate their graves from the general population at the cemetery, but also to stamp the word "Negro" on each of their headstones.

Gilliland December 2012 #19
Grave marker for Herman Williams

Looking back at the photographs I took of Gilliland, while I am proud of the images I've been able to share with you, there were so many more images of the ghost town I could have captured. I've been looking forward to visiting Gilliland for a long time, and while the chances are remote that I will ever set foot in the townsite again, if I ever do, I will definitely have to grab more photos of this small but proud town nestled in the Rolling Plains, just southeast of the Panhandle. Sometimes, the best stories come out of the smallest towns, and in the case of towns such as Gilliland, it's not just a matter of what the town has built - but also what it has left behind.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

From the Rolling Plains to downtown Dallas in 4 1/2 hours

Yesterday, I pushed all the way into Knox County during my first ghost town expedition in months, and after seeing some impressive sights and taking lots of photos, I raced all the way back to Dallas to catch a performance of Avenue Q with some old friends of mine, walking through the front door with only a couple of minutes to spare.

I did mention photos, right? I'll be sharing them with you sometime this week, and they will definitely be worth the wait. Can't do it today, though - too many errands, and I'm still feeling exhausted. The leg cramp that woke me up this morning didn't help. Please bear with me; the photos are coming really soon. I have some catching up to do on this site.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

If you're staying home on the night of November 15...

The folks at the Discovery Channel are unveiling a series called Ghost Town Gold on Thursday, November 15. I intend to catch the debut while waiting patiently for my first opportunity to hit the ghost town trail once again. Sorry about the delay in updating the blog, but life has intervened in the form of work, politics, more work, Halloween, and catching up with old friends.

No word on whether Ghost Town Gold will visit any Texas sites, but if you plan on heading out to an abandoned townsite with metal detector in hand, make sure you're not digging on private property and keep mindful of all applicable laws, please. We're ghost town enthusiasts, not Visigoths.

You can read more about the Discovery Channel series here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How a Navarro County ghost town keeps the spirit alive

A recent article available on mySA covers the ghost town of Pelham, formed by freed slaves in 1866. Once boasting a population of 350, the community has dwindled down to between 40 and 50 residents. But once every year, the town holds a homecoming that draws in people from all over Texas. Click the link to learn more.

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's October the WHAT?!?

I apologize profusely for neglecting the blog for almost a month. Things have been rather busy in my neck of the woods. But I noticed that there aren't any guesses for the mystery photo that I posted last month, so I'll post a photo essay of the ghost town in question this coming weekend. It will definitely be worth the wait - and now that temperatures are dropping, worth the trip!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mystery Photo! Mystery Photo!

For a little change of pace tonight, I'm going to post a photo taken at a ghost town somewhere in Texas and then see if you can tell me where this particular landmark is located.

Trying to Google this photo won't do you any good, so don't even try it. I know that little trick, too. :)

Funds are a bit tight, so I'm afraid the winner only gets bragging rights - but hey, it shows you're a true fan of Texas ghost towns. Good luck!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Corn Hill (Williamson County) - April 2011 photos

If you're heading down Interstate 35 in the vicinity of Jarrell, see if you can cast your gaze eastward on the southern edge of town - you just might see a few remnants of a fading town known as Corn Hill.

Photobucket Historical marker for Corn Hill

As far as Texas ghost towns go, Corn Hill (also spelled Cornhill) enjoyed a relatively tranquil life, free of the lawlessness of Helena or the industrialism of Thurber. In its latter days, Corn Hill also served as the birthplace of Texas Governor Preston Smith (1912-2003). The site was originally settled in 1852 by John E. King, who would later serve as County Judge for Williamson County from 1858 until 1860. King built a house and planted a cornfield on top of a small hill, which is how Corn Hill got its name. By 1855, the small farming community that sprung up around King's hilltop farm served as the first stop on a stagecoach line connecting Georgetown to Fort Gates in Coryell County, and Corn Hill had established its own post office that same year.

Corn Hill April 2011 #3
A collapsed concrete building at Corn Hill

The town's growth was fairly slow until Corn Hill opened its first store in 1869 and its first cotton gin in 1871, capable of producing three bales of cotton per day. By 1884, Corn Hill boasted a multicultural population of 250 that included Czechs, Slovaks, Moravians, Germans, and Austrians as well as other settlers from Arkansas and Tennessee. At that time, Corn Hill also featured two mills, two (some say three) cotton gins, four churches, a Masonic lodge, a blacksmith's shop, a school (on land donated by Judge King), and the Express, Corn Hill's weekly newspaper. In 1886, the school outgrew its original building and moved into a new two-story facility with four rooms, an auditorium, and a bell tower; the new schoolhouse also provided meeting space for churches. The population grew to 350 by 1896, and by this time Corn Hill also featured a hotel that was actually a converted two-story house built by John Wesley Shaver, although Mr. and Mrs. John D. Black actually operated the hotel beginning in 1889.

Photobucket Remains of the Shaver Hotel, now on private property

Corn Hill's zenith appears to have been in 1909, when the town's population grew to an estimated 500. Many farmers in the town were taking an increased interest in the pro-agrarian People's Party, of whom William Jennings Bryan (prosecutor for the Scopes Trial of 1925) was one of its brightest luminaries. Corn Hill was also developing its own waterworks and telephone company by this time, and the Corn Hill College graduated a class of 36 students in 1909.

Corn Hill April 2011 #4 Deteriorating house at Corn Hill, now the site of a Verizon communications tower

The only problem was that Corn Hill failed to secure a railroad through its vicinity. In 1909, the Bartlett and Western Railway bypassed Corn Hill, and a new town called Jarrell was established on the line by developers from the towns of Temple and Bartlett. Over the next decade, many of the residents of Corn Hill migrated over to the new townsite. When Jarrell established its own post office in 1912, it was simply because Corn Hill's post office had been moved to Jarrell. A steam engine was used to move many of the other buildings from Corn Hill to Jarrell during this period, and the Corn Hill College graduated its last crop of students in 1915.

Corn Hill April 2011 #5 A once-lovely abandoned house in Corn Hill on County Road 312

Corn Hill April 2011 #6 Say hello to my little friend

Corn Hill April 2011 #7 Collapsing interior of the County Road 312 house

Unfortunately for the town of Jarrell, it did not fare much better than the small farming town it had just depopulated. The cotton industry declined, the Great Depression struck, and the Bartlett and Western Railway went out of business. By 1933, Jarrell had been reduced to a population of 200. A handful of determined holdouts remained at what little remained of Corn Hill, but most of the original population had already moved to Jarrell or Georgetown, while some other townfolk moved eastward in an attempt to preserve their community. New Corn Hill was established sometime around 1913 on FM 1105, approximately two miles east of "Old" Corn Hill. New Corn Hill today appears to have dispersed into a possible ghost town itself, although it still features a Moravian Hall and the beautiful and historic Holy Trinity Catholic Church. One of these days, I need to arrange another trip down to Williamson County to photograph New Corn Hill for you.

Corn Hill April 2011 #8 Cornhill Cemetery, just outside Jarrell city limits

Photobucket Resting place for the gravestone of James G. Wilkinson, one of the heroes of the Battle of San Jacinto - but his body is actually buried in Austin

Today, the town of Jarrell has rebounded from its early brush with disaster, not to mention a devastating 1997 tornado that killed 27 people in Jarrell and destroyed numerous homes and structures. According to the 2010 Census, Jarrell currently boasts a population of 984, and its boundaries are starting to swallow much of what remains of Corn Hill. The Shaver Hotel is the only remaining historic structure at the former townsite, although there are also a few other abandoned and dilapidated houses as well as a few that are still occupied. The town cemetery, however, lies just outside of Jarrell city limits and a mile east of the old townsite, and it serves as the final resting place for many of those who worked and toiled to preserve their town and their way of life.

Corn Hill April 2011 #10 Tombstone for E.M. Donnell, Citizen of the Republic of Texas

Corn Hill April 2011 #11 The grave marker of J.H. Biles records his birth date, his death date, and the date he became a Mason

For those who are interested, the Williamson County Historical Commission has published some old photos of Corn Hill online as well as a more detailed history of the community. I highly recommend it for the amount of detail that is presented on the life and death of this humble yet progressive Williamson County town.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Not in the mood for heatstroke

It was about a year ago that I was hiking around the shores of dwindling Lake Whitney in search of remnants of the ghost town of Towash, back when it felt like Texas was only five feet away from the Sun. Yes, I would like to visit a few more sites before the year ends - and I did get to visit the remnants of Elizabethtown in southwest Denton County, practically in the shadow of Texas Motor Speedway - but maybe when the average high drops abot 10 degrees or so. Hope all of you are doing well!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Austin restaurant magnate purchases abandoned Kendall County settlement on Craigslist

I'm not sure that the Kendall County community of Bankersmith ever became a full-fledged "town" - it peaked in the 1920s with a population of 50 - but Bankersmith had already declined into oblivion by 1935, when the San Antonio, Fredericksburg, and Northern Railroad finally decommissioned the tracks leading through the settlement. Today, whatever is left of Bankersmith (if anything) resides on private property that has just been sold on Craigslist to Doug Guller, the Austin millionaire who founded ATX Brands, which operates several restaurants and taverns, including the Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill franchise.

Guller's first order of business was to rename Bankersmith - the settlement is now known as Bikinis. Reportedly, there are big plans for this two-acre site in the works. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jonesville (Harrison County) - January 2011 photos

I need to make something perfectly clear before going any further. This is not a history and photo essay of the abandoned townsite of Jonesville in Angelina County that briefly served as county seat. That particular Jonesville has a colorful, rough-and-tumble history of its own, but I have yet to visit it, and my sources tell me not to expect much to remain of that former county seat except for an old Centennial Marker. On the other hand, this particular Jonesville is located in southeastern Harrison County on Farm Road 134, 16 miles east of Marshall and just two or three miles west of Waskom. To this day, I have yet to see anyone acknowledge this fading community as an authentic Texas ghost town, but I believe the photos and history of Jonesville speak for themselves.

Jonesville is the Texas town that stubbornly refuses to die. Apparently established sometime in the mid 1840s, Jonesville was originally known as Border, possibly because of its close proximity to the Texas-Louisiana border. Border established its own post office on January 18, 1847 - approximately six months before the first federal US postage stamps were issued in New York City. Two years later, the community and the post office renamed themselves Jonesville in honor of William Jones, who operated the first store in the town. When the Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks across Harrison County, Jonesville uprooted itself in 1868 and moved a mile south in order to situate itself on the Southern Pacific line, now part of Union Pacific Railroad. By 1884, Jonesville featured a steam-powered gristmill/cotton gin, two stores, the post office, and a population of 60.

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #1
Derelict cotton gin on the eastern edge of Jonesville

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #2
Silent train depot on what is now the Union Pacific line

Jonesville experienced a growth spurt, reaching a population of 275 in 1892. By then, the town added a saloon as well as Baptist and Methodist churches. In 1904, Jonesville also boasted five schoolhouses, three of which educated 233 black students while the remaining two schools educated 35 white students.

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #3
Former store in the heart of Jonesville

A peek inside the shuttered store

For reasons I have yet to determine, Jonesville began a slow and steady decline after 1904. The population dropped to 150 in 1933, 100 in 1950, and only 28 in 1972, where it has hovered ever since.

Abandoned building in Jonesville, possibly a school or church

Deserted house just west of the town center

The cemetery for Jonesville is located northeast of town center and is called Concord Cemetery. Back in the 1850s, a separate town named Concord stood at the site, and the cemetery is located where Concord's Methodist church and Masonic lodge once stood many years ago. Concord appears to have merged into Jonesville before the 20th century, and everyone from both communities simply used Concord Cemetery for burials. A word of caution: if you wish to visit Concord Cemetery for yourself, make sure you see the gate and an interesting historical marker before approaching the entrance; I walked towards what I originally thought was Concord Cemetery, but it turned out to be a private family cemetery that is guarded by a very aggressive dog.

Front gate to Concord Cemetery

Tombstone of Lizzie Lary, wife of Waskom's namesake, at Concord Cemetery

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #9
Winston family plot at Concord Cemetery

Aside from the post office, which has remained in continuous operation ever since 1847 despite threats to shut it down as a cost-cutting move by the US Postal Service, there is one other business in Jonesville that is still in operation - T.C. Lindsey & Company General Store, an authentic Texas treasure and a must-see if your travels take you to either Marshall or Waskom.

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #10
Front view of T.C. Lindsey & Company General Store

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #11
Sign for T.C. Lindsey

Remember how I said Jonesville's post office has been in business since 1847? So has T.C. Lindsey & Company. The store has been operated continuously by the Vaughan family since 1870, and co-owner Lelia Vaughan has been one of the post office's strongest defenders. Stepping into this general store feels like stepping back in time. Literally.

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #12
View inside T.C. Lindsey General Store (from the second floor)

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #13
Now-decommissioned post office window at T.C. Lindsey (the modern post office is located next door)

T.C. Lindsey & Company General Store has been used as a filming site for various movies and television shows, including two Disney projects (Bayou Boy and The Pond), and has even been showcased on the 60 Minutes news program by CBS. While the general store still offers many wares for sale from overalls to quilts, it also serves as a museum for many objects and goods from yesteryear. You simply have to see it for yourself.

Jonesville HAR January 2011 #14
Various bottles from T.C. Lindsey's medicine collection, including some antique patent medicines

Jonesville, though it has shrunk over the years, is holding on to its post office, its general store, and its very identity as a town despite pressure from the outside. It may be a ghost town today, but Jonesville is one of the proudest and most spirited ghost towns in Texas, and I hope this community survives for at least another 165 years.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mankins (Archer County) - October 2011 photos

Mankins, which lies at the intersection of US highway 82/277 and Texas State Highway 25 approximately 20 miles southwest of Wichita Falls, is an interesting little community in that it has served not just as a ranch headquarters but also as the winter home for a travelling carnival show. Today, however, the site is all but abandoned with a population of only ten in 2000.

Photobucket Derelict house and gas station at Mankins in Archer County

Photobucket Car abandoned in the garage at the gas station, still awaiting another trip down the highway

The town got its semi-official start in 1886 when Sam Lazarus established a ranch just north of what is now the town center, bringing Tom Mankins down from Kansas to serve as the ranch foreman. In 1890, the Wichita Valley Railway laid tracks that connected the Lazarus Ranch with the line between Wichita Falls and Seymour. Charles Mangold of Dallas purchased the Lazarus Ranch in 1908 and built a general store and hotel on the main line of the railroad. Mangold had plans for the small community, which had been known as Lazarus Switch at the time. He started laying out streets and blocks in anticipation of farmers and others who would relocate to the town. Conflicting reports indicate that the community obtained its own post office in either 1909 or 1912; since there was already a Texas post office named Mangold, the name chosen for the postal facility was Mankins in honor of ranch foreman Tom Mankins, who now ran the general store.

Photobucket Former bank building (?) in Mankins

The town grew slowly but steadily, even with the discovery of oil in Archer County in the 1920s. Between 1923 and 1926, only three oil fields were established in the vicinity of Mankins with a total of 42 oil wells. Still, the oil fields yielded enough crude to support a population of 85 (1928 estimate) as well as a bank, a motion-picture theater, several restaurants and full-service gas stations, and a school system that educated 400 students from Mankins and surrounding farm communities. A tornado struck Mankins in 1938, destroying its two-story secondary school (which also doubled as a church and a community center). It was enough to drive the Methodists over to nearby Holliday, while the Baptists used the rebuilt school as their sanctuary until they salvaged an abandoned church in Bowman and moved it to Mankins in 1941.

Mankins also became the winter home for one Dick S. Dudley, a cowboy and bronco rider who got into the carnival business before being drafted into the Army during World War I. After serving overseas, Dudley came back to Mankins, where he and his wife Ruth expanded the travelling carnival business until they were performing shows in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The D.S. Dudley Show included various rides for kids of all ages, circus-type sideshows, and a host of exotic animals. Dudley's carnival enterprise employed as many as 250 people at one point. When winter approached, however, the Dudley family settled into their home at Mankins along with zebras, chimpanzees, an elephant, and various carnival workers, which inspired countless stories by travellers who journeyed through West Texas only to encounter these strange animals and unusual carnival folk out in the middle of ranch country.

Mankins October 2011 #4 Historical marker for the D.S. Dudley Show at the former winter headquarters in Mankins

Mankins October 2011 #5 Abandoned stone veneer house that apparently served as D.S. Dudley's winter home

Mankins October 2011 #6 Another house on the Dudley carnival grounds, possibly intended for Dudley's children

Mankins October 2011 #7 Rusting truck left over from the Dudley carnival, also waiting to head down the road once again

For a long time, Mankins suffered from a lack of potable groundwater, which required the railroad to haul drinking water to the community for decades. Agricultural consolidation in the 1940s depopulated the nearby farms that helped keep Mankins in business. Mankins schoolchildren took the bus to Holliday schools since 1947, and Mankins lost its post office in either 1958 or 1963. Although access to drinking water was improved, the town's growth was reportedly hampered by the Mangold estate, which still owned many of the undeveloped town lots and refused to sell them. The population, which once peaked in 1950 at 120 (not counting the migratory Dudley carnival), dropped to 45 in 1990 and only ten in 2000. By 2005, the Dudley carnival headquarters appear to have been abandoned as well. If the family's carnival business is still in operation, any information on its current whereabouts will be greatly appreciated.

Walking through what is left of Mankins gave me the sense of what once was and what could have been. The desolation and stillness of this most unusual West Texas ghost town gives only fleeting hints as to the sights and sounds of man and beast alike, whether on the Mangold Ranch or at the D.S. Dudley Show's former headquarters, that gave Mankins its distinct history and character.