Monday, April 30, 2012

Bugtussle (Fannin County) - November 2010 photos

Every ghost town in Texas is a little bit different. Sometimes the locals will offer you a friendly wave as they pass you by. Occasionally they will eye you with suspicion - at one ghost town, a guy toting a shotgun explained to me that the handful of residents of his town were being targeted by burglars because of their remote location. And then there's Bugtussle.

Located in southeastern Fannin County, Bugtussle is situated at the junction of State Highway 34 and Farm Road 1550, five miles north of Ladonia and 10 miles south of Honey Grove. Don't look for any highway signs announcing your arrival at Bugtussle; when I visited in the autumn of 2010, this is the only sign I could find:

Photobucket Street sign at Bugtussle Boulevard and Milton Place

When I snapped a photo of the street sign, it turns out that the sign was right next to one of the few occupied houses at the ghost town, and the homeowner came out to check on me and see if everything was all right, since he was off to run a few errands anyway. The man, whom I understand teaches at a school in Ladonia, pointed out the crumbling general store just across the street:

Photobucket Side view of Bugtussle's famous general store, once known as Judge Fink Groceries

The teacher explained that there really should be a sign above the front door to identify the town, but every time the locals put up a sign, someone always comes around and steals it as a souvenir of their visit. Turns out the same thing's been happening to their highway signs; at least 70 Bugtussle highway signs have been reported stolen throughout the town's history.

Before he left, the teacher asked me if I was in the market for some farm equipment; he had a few wares in the front of his house for sale. I'm a city boy, so I didn't have much of a place to put them, but I thanked him for the offer. As he left me to explore the town, the teacher smiled and said, "Welcome to Bugtussle!"

Bugtussle as a town exudes the same sort of charm, which is remarkable considering how relatively little history there seems to be for the community. Here's what I know so far: Bugtussle (also spelled Bug Tussle) was founded in the early 1890s as a farming community named Truss in honor of John Truss, a settler who made the site his new home. Truss established a post office in 1893, but it shut down after only one year of operation. Some time after that, the community changed its name to Bugtussle, and there are three competing stories as to how this happened. The most popular of these tales revolves around a church's ice cream social held on the townsite that was ruined by an invasion of tumble bugs, but apparently some folks got a kick out of watching the tumble bugs wrestle with each other - "tussle," if you will.

Photobucket Bugtussle home across the street from the general store slowly being reclaimed by Nature

During the Great Depression, Judge James Bates Fink established a Justice of the Peace court in the store (hence the name "Judge Fink Groceries"), where he performed marriages for any couple that showed up at Bugtussle wanting to tie the knot. Judge Fink reportedly charged only a dollar for his services, and he may have married thousands of couples in the little general store as word spread that Judge Fink performed the cheapest marriages in Fannin County. The fact that husband and wife could boast to friends and relations that they got married in a town called "Bugtussle" appeared to be the icing on the wedding cake.

Population figures for most of Bugtussle's history are scarce. By 1962, there were only six people living at the town, but then the David Graham Hall Foundation stepped in to rescue what was left of the town center with a 15-year lease on Bugtussle. In 1966, the population of Bugtussle jumped to 30 and stayed there for about two decades. The Hall Foundation also enabled the townfolk to start producing and selling souvenirs bearing a logo that said MADE IN BUG TUSSLE, TEXAS. A tradition was also started where an impromptu parade of antique cars would gather once a year at the Judge Fink store before heading north to Honey Grove for lunch; this parade has been going on for at least 42 years. By 1990, however, the population dropped down to 15, where it has apparently hovered ever since.

Photobucket A once-handsome two-story house about a mile north of downtown Bugtussle

Getting back to Judge Fink's iconic grocery store for a moment, it used to be the place where kids could grab a cold bottle of Dr. Pepper or Royal Crown Cola while Dad gassed up the family car. Today, this is what the inside of the store looks like:

Photobucket Wares on display at the Bugtussle general store

Bugtussle November 2010 #3 "What'cha readin' for?"

There is one actual business that I know of that's based in Bugtussle. Jan Allen, who moved to Bugtussle with husband Lee a few years ago, brews up a little something in her kitchen called Bugtussle Burn Texas Salsa that I discovered at ZestFest 2012 in Irving. If Jan doesn't mind the shameless plug, I fell in love with the salsa at first bite, and now I always keep a jar handy at home. She has apparently been refining her salsa recipe for some 30 years, and the quality comes through in every bite. Bugtussle Burn is made with a little brown sugar and apple cider vinegar that impart an unusual sweetness to the salsa, and if you're not sure a salsa can pull off a little sweetness, try a bite and see for yourself. It only takes one bite. Don't say I didn't warn you. Just have your wallet or checkbook ready.

My travels keep pushing me into new corners of Texas I've never set foot in before, but I hope to find an excuse to revisit Bugtussle sometime real soon. Bugtussle is a prime example of why we need to preserve small towns in Texas - the world would be just a little bit poorer without it.

Bugtussle November 2010 #1 "Until we meet again..."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

This is how I roll...

I get up on Sunday morning, watch the weather reports to see if I'll have to deal with rain, and then I'm on the road before 10am, heading up towards the Red River, braving the occasional drizzle. I start driving through northeastern Cooke County, heading towards the ghost town of Dexter with the layout of the town ruins firmly embedded in my head. Once I show up at Dexter, I plow through the woods and brave all manner of insects and arachnids to find some ruins no longer visible from the road, and I feel like a kid in a candy store. After finding practically everything there is to find at Dexter, I head off to Gainesville for a late lunch/early supper that will constitute my one square meal of the day, and then it's back to Dallas County to put in a few hours of overtime. (Hey, I have to pay for the gas somehow...)

It's 11pm on Sunday night, and the rain has picked up again, and I'm typing this in my car. Why am I not home yet? Isn't there a Firefly marathon on Science right now? Mal Reynolds intrigues me, bless his grumpy, chaotic good heart. And is there anyone who doesn't have a little crush on Kaylee, the engineer? But I digress. And I'm tired. And I'll have to share the Dexter photos with you soon - just not tonight.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Everything I know (about Belcherville) is wrong

Unfortunately, I do not receive instant notification whenever someone comments on my ghost town exploits in this blog. I do review my posts from time to time and truly appreciate all of the feedback I've received so far. One of the responses, however, was from a former resident of the Montague County ghost town of Belcherville; she informed me that some of the details in my report last October were either incorrect or needed a little extra information. So I've gone into that blog entry and made a few changes which you can read by clicking here.

Thanks, sisy - hope I got it right this time. :)

Friday, April 6, 2012

The streak has ended...

Dagnabbit. I knew it had to end sooner or later - especially with gas prices reaching blasphemous levels - but I did not visit a Texas ghost town last month.

Regular readers of the blog probably know that ever since May 2010, I have averaged at least one trip to a new ghost town every month. One month I'm checking out the smokestack at Thurber, the next month I'm being swallowed by quicksand at Lake Whitney searching for Towash. And the month after that, you might catch me watching a show at Luckenbach or bumping into the neighborhood watch at Gunsight. But for 22 months, I always visited a new site somewhere in Texas. (Yes, I paid another visit to La Reunion last month, but that doesn't count.)

Just because the streak is over, however, doesn't mean that I'm throwing in the towel. There's still a lot of Texas for me to explore, and I have lots of photos I still need to share with you. And I promised Jan of Bugtussle Burn a quick plug on my blog - it really is darn good salsa, concocted in the little Fannin County ghost town of the same name. Honest. Go get some. Don't forget the chips. And yes, I visited Bugtussle a while back - need to share those photos with you as well.

My best wishes to all of you for a happy and peaceful Easter or Passover - or both!