Sunday, January 8, 2012

HOAX GHOST TOWN: Nix (Kaufman County) - January 2012 photos

UPDATED DECEMBER 22, 2013 - Unless hard evidence for the alleged Kaufman County town of Nix is discovered, I am forced to concede that the story behind Nix appears to be a hoax. I am otherwise keeping this blog post intact, but the reader is asked to please treat the information contained herein as spurious. It's a shame that misinformation can drive people to waste time and energy chasing down something that never existed, and it looks like it was my turn to get snookered. My apologies for any inconvenience that has resulted from all this.

If you've been following this blog for a while, or if you've done a lot of research into Texas ghost towns, you've probably realized how frightfully easy it is for a town to vanish not only from the map, but also from recorded history. That's one of the reasons why I have wasted little time in posting photographs I have taken at the site of what used to be a Kaufman County town called Nix.

So far, I have found precious little information about this forgotten community; what little I did learn about Nix was unearthed by Michael Depolo of the site. Nix does not appear in either Rand McNally's 1895 US Atlas or their 1900 map of Texas railroads despite being incorporated in 1878, possibly because of the town's close proximity to Forney. The Texas State Historical Association doesn't even mention Nix on their normally helpful website, although they do discuss another ghost town called Nix in Lampasas County (which I have yet to visit). But if you head down US Highway 80/Interstate 20 into Kaufman County and exit at FM 460 (aka Clements Road) between Forney and the East Fork of the Trinity River, you should find a street sign that still carries the name of the old townsite to this day.

N.P. Nix Street, aka Kaufman County 225, aka FM 460, aka Clements Road

What used to be the town of Nix is now a set of barren fields north and south of Highway 80, bisected by FM 460. There's a Knox Truck Stop with an adjacent Subway at the northwest corner of the intersection, but the folks I talked to at the truck stop (now considered to sit on the outskirts of Forney) had no memory of any community called Nix.

What most of the townsite of Nix looks like today

According to Depolo's research, a local farmer named Nicholas P. Nix established a store just west of Forney in 1868, and for a while the story competed heavily for business with Haught's Store (now part of Mesquite) in neighboring Dallas County. Nix's Store was essentially a Reconstruction-era version of Carl's Corner - by 1872, 105 settlers had relocated to the area, and the Town of Nix was formally incorporated on December 20, 1878, with a population of 265, with Nicholas Nix serving as the town's first mayor. Nix reached its peak in 1885 with a population of 550 served by two general stores, a city hall, a bank, a hotel, a barber shop, a saloon, a school, a church, and a post office.

Neglected sidewalk and foundations for a building in Nix, adjacent to an abandoned well

Many up-and-coming towns met with a slow demise because they were bypassed by the railroad, and Nix was no exception - in 1890, the Texas and Pacific Railway Company chose to lay its tracks across Mesquite instead of Nix. By 1900, the population of Nix had dwindled to 248. And here is where the town's misfortunes really began.

Closeup view of the abandoned well in Nix - approach with extreme caution

In 1902, a fire raged through half of the town of Nix, destroying the school and many other buildings. A second fire in 1916 ravaged almost everything that was left over from the earlier blaze. By 1920, only 51 people resided at Nix. It was the last year that Nix was enumerated as a municipality.

Foundations of Nix almost completely obliterated by soil and foliage

Discarded and charred wood, quite possibly a castoff remnant of Nix

Supposedly, the Town of Nix had its own cemetery, but my understanding is that all of the graves were moved to as-yet-unidentified new location. Depolo claims to have found ruins of Nix to the south of Highway 80, but all of the ruins I have found so far have been to the north. A second expedition to Nix may be warranted for the near future. If you want to visit the townsite, you might want to go before too much time passes - real estate companies are offering much of the land for sale, so it could very well be that the last vestiges of Nix will vanish forever before you know it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kelsey (Upshur County) - November 2010 photos

Happy New Year, everybody!

If you're a Latter-day Saint living in Texas, it might interest you to know that the first Mormon colony in the Lone Star State has become a ghost town. The East Texas community of Kelsey can be found in Upshur County seven miles west of Gilmer on FM 1795 about a mile and a half south of State Highway 154. To someone just passing through, Kelsey might look like a sleepy little rural community, but upon closer inspection, the town once billed as the "Zion of the South" starts to look a little ghosty.

Kelsey got its start in 1898 thanks to John and Jim Edgar, brothers from Alabama who tried to make a home with their fellow Mormons at the colony in Mesa, Arizona, but just couldn't take the desert climate. Jim made it back to Alabama, but for financial reasons, John rented a farm in Upshur County and hoped to use the profits from his crops to fund the rest of the trip home. John's harvest was so bountiful that he wrote Jim in Alabama and convinced him to relocate to the Texas farm. The two brothers purchased 140 acres of land in 1898 and a similar amount of acreage in 1900. Salt Lake City began to take notice of the Edgar enterprise, envisioning the settlement as a haven for Latter-day Saints who were experiencing persecution in other parts of America. Missionaries were dispatched to the Upshur County site, a log chapel was built by Mormon settlers, and the site received its own post office in 1902, named after nearby Kelsey Creek.

Kelsey November 2010 #1
Historical marker at Kelsey, with the last commercial store in town standing vacant in the background

Kelsey really started growing in 1904, when LDS authorities sent out a county surveyor to lay out an actual townsite on Jim Edgar's plot of land. By this time, even more Mormon settlers were migrating from all across America to the nascent Texas town - enough to attract a railroad line maintained by the Marshall and East Texas Railway in 1910. By 1911, Kelsey boasted five stores, three sawmills, two blacksmith shops, a gristmill, a shingle mill, and a cotton gin. These were joined in the following year by the Kelsey Academy, a two-story red brick schoolhouse operated by the missionaries and the first school in East Texas to feature a gymnasium.

Kelsey November 2010 #2
Kelsey Academy today, a de facto repository for town memorabilia

Kelsey's population grew to around 750 residents in 1917, and the town had its own business district with 14 commercial enterprises. That same year, however, the Marshall and East Texas Railway was abandoned; originally constructed as a logging line, it operated until the timber areas it served were logged out. The only problem was that Kelsey's farmers depended on that railroad line to ship their crops to market. The population continued to grow to around 800 in 1923, but many residents in Kelsey realized there was an increasing tolerance for Latter-day Saints throughout America, which meant a safe haven like Kelsey was no longer necessary for Texas Mormons. And so the colony began to deteriorate, especially when the Great Depression hit the nation.

Kelsey November 2010 #3
Crumbling remains of a small abandoned home or shed in Kelsey

The old log chapel had long given way to a more accommodating church, but today there is no operating church, LDS or otherwise, in the ghost town of Kelsey; the last church to serve the community has now become a private residence.

Kelsey November 2010 #5
Former Mormon church at Kelsey

With the consolidation of Kelsey's school system with the Gilmer Independent School District, Kelsey became a quiet little rural community where the remaining denizens developed fond memories for the town, including, in the words of one resident, "Quiet walks in the woods, swinging on the porch, chores, loooong school bus rides into Gilmer and a weekend drive to the town square." Most of the town's original buildings are long gone, although BSA Troop 311 has made a valiant effort to map out where the buildings were once located. Today, Kelsey has perhaps 50 residents remaining.

There are also two cemeteries at Kelsey, one of them reserved for the Sanders family.

Kelsey November 2010 #4
Family plots at Sanders Cemetery in Kelsey, next to Kelsey Academy

Kelsey November 2010 #6
Front gate to Kelsey Cemetery

Kelsey November 2010 #7
Budded on Earth to bloom in Heaven

Kelsey November 2010 #8
A rough tombstone inscribed with a black permanent marker

Handsome tombstone of Fred C. Slater

I hope you've enjoyed this set of photos from Kelsey, and I apologize that I haven't been that active on the blog lately - between the holidays and a cold, I've been preoccupied. But I'm already staking out more ghost town expeditions for 2012 so be on the lookout for more exciting adventures! More forgotten towns! More brushes with certain death! (On second thought, scratch that last one.) And my best wishes to all of you throughout the New Year.