Friday, October 11, 2013

Where have I been?

Hey, folks - I need to level with you. I've been unemployed since Memorial Day, and my search for gainful and permanent employment has been unsuccessful to date. I appreciate being called in for a few interviews, but it would be nice if just once an interview blossomed into a job offer. That said, without the funds to explore ghost towns, my activities have been severely curtailed as of late.

I appreciate everyone's patience with the recent dry spell on photos. What I really need to do is delve into my archives and post some pictures of Texas ghost towns that I've visited in the past but haven't gotten around to telling you about. Maybe this weekend I'll be able to do something along those lines, but please bear with me. Gotta submit a few more resumes first.

Thanks to all of you for continuing to check in on this site. One way or another, I'm going to bring you some new content soon.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Yet another West Texas community facing extinction due to lack of water

As I said once upon a time, a sure-fire way to transform a community into a ghost town is to deprive it of fresh water. Now it appears that the Irion County town of Barnhart has run out of water due to factors that include prolonged drought, climate change, agricultural overuse, and now the widely-criticized practice of fracking by the oil industry, which uses a tremendous amount of water to process a single oil well. This is a very dire situation for Barnhart, and I hope the people are able to save their town in the end.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sounds of The Grove now available on Mixcloud

For those of you who recall my trip to The Grove in August 2010, I made some field recordings of the town back in March while exploring The Grove with Jayme Carr. The recordings are now available as part of another audio ghost town essay on Mixcloud, complete with another helping of evocative music to help set the mood. Texas artists are represented in this cloudcast, including a live performance by Chuck Allen during the last night that the Cocklebur Saloon was open for business in The Grove.

Click here to listen on Mixcloud if you'd like to check it out. The entire piece runs for just under 45 minutes.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Caddo (Stephens County) - May 2013 photos

Happy Mother's Day, everyone! This photo essay is my long-distance gift to my mom, who lives in East Texas. I love you!

Almost a hundred years ago, the Stephens County town of Caddo was growing with the promise of new industry and wealth. Today, it is one of those places I can travel to if I need to get away from all the sounds of mankind and the civilization we have created. Located on the at the intersection of US Highway 180 and State Park Road 33 about 10 miles east of Breckenridge, Caddo is peaceful, quiet, and a shell of its former self.

I would have liked to share a photo of the historical marker of Caddo with you, but the marker has somehow gone missing, so I gathered pieces of the town's history from the Texas State Historical Association as well as conversations with some of the town's residents. (Thanks for the eggs, guys!)

The town was established sometime in the late 1870s on what used to be a Caddo campsite - hence the name - and soon the settlement started growing steadily, with 60 residents in 1880, 75 in 1890, and 149 in 1900. At this point, Caddo featured at least two churches as well as a school and a post office.

Caddo May 2013 #1 photo DSC03233_zps05773938.jpg
The Caddo Mercantile building located "at the Y" formed by US 180 and Loop 252 on the southeastern edge of town

Caddo May 2013 #2 photo DSC03237_zps5c0f95fb.jpg
An old house at Caddo, apparently abandoned

Caddo May 2013 #3 photo DSC03244_zpsc9d68190.jpg
A "ghost church" at Caddo with pews still remaining inside, now apparently used for farm storage

While World War I raged in Europe, wildcatters were combing through various Texas sites in search of promising oil wells. One such entrepreneur hit paydirt in May 1916 in the vicinity of Caddo, drilling a 2,740-foot well on the farmland of W.L. Carey that produced a modest amount of oil. Soon, more oil wells began to spring up around Stephens County, with Texas Pacific Coal & Oil Company drilling its own well in the Caddo region as well - potentially bad news for the nearby Erath County town of Thurber, a company town of 10,000 that depended on bituminous coal mining and brickmaking to stay alive. Caddo was the first town to reap the benefits of the oil boom, and the town's population quickly swelled to 1,000 by 1920.

Caddo May 2013 #4 photo DSC03243_zps9d71b17f.jpg
Stone foundations for a defunct Ford Motor Company dealership in Caddo from the 1930s - note the front steps to the right

Caddo May 2013 #5 photo DSC03240_zpsd749a68a.jpg
The Caddo Post Office, still in operation

Caddo May 2013 #6 photo DSC03230_zps390122df.jpg
A former church in Caddo, now a community center and headquarters for the Caddo VFD

There were other oil discoveries in nearby Breckenridge as well as Ranger, and both towns started to grow dramatically, which may have contributed to Caddo's eventual decline. Still, Caddo managed to maintain a healthy population of 600 until 1940; during World War II and the postwar era, the population plummeted and never recovered. Today, a maximum of 40 residents call Caddo home.

Caddo May 2013 #7 photo DSC03241_zps728ebb53.jpg
Crumpled ruins of a house off Loop 252 in Caddo

Caddo May 2013 #8 photo DSC03247_zpsfc385f22.jpg
Stone walls from a crumbling building on a county road in Caddo

Caddo May 2013 #9 photo DSC03226_zpsed497d17.jpg
A cross-section of graves at Caddo Cemetery - lots of Confederate flags planted to honor those born before or during the Civil War

Caddo May 2013 #10 photo DSC03221_zpscc650d71.jpg
Resting place of C.M. and Millie Hamil

Caddo May 2013 #11 photo DSC03223_zps09ba7316.jpg
Grave marker for L. Shoffit

Caddo May 2013 #12 photo DSC03227_zps1f26a6ba.jpg
Masonic tombstone for John H. Patton

Caddo May 2013 #13 photo DSC03225_zps52bad7a6.jpg
Memorial for Delta Oil & Gas wildcatter Sammy Rogers

Aside from the post office, which continues operation to this day, the only other business in Caddo appears to be oilwell operations by Delta Oil & Gas, based out of Breckenridge. The Caddo Mercantile building, once a convenient source of gas and groceries for the town, has been closed for some time, and the current property owner is looking to sell the building (current asking price: $119,000). Some of the folks at Caddo say a lot of the town's history is sealed up in the mercantile building, but for now it remains off limits. They're also hoping to bring in a few more people from the surrounding area to make Caddo their new home, especially with some new uncertainty over the future of commerce and development in Breckenridge. Caddo is a quiet little ghost town today, but given its location and the circumstances of nearby communities, the folks I met at Caddo told me it could all change before I knew it - signs of life and opportunity still persist in the heart of Caddo today.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A long-overdue update on Bankersmith

Sorry about the delay in posting, folks, but those 50-hour workweeks tend to sap you of your free time. I did want to share with you, however, this article from the San Antonio Express-News concerning last year's alleged purchase of the Hill Country ghost town of Bankersmith by Bikinis magnate Doug Guller. Among other developments, it appears that there are remains of the town itself, including the old post office and general store. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Daniel Kalder visits Peyton Colony (Blanco County)

Author and ghost town afficionado Daniel Kalder has posted a terrific video documenting his recent visit to Peyton Colony in Blanco County, founded by freed slaves who called the site home for generations. Check it out! (And yes, I've been there, too, although I need to go back someday.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ireland (Coryell County/Hamilton County) - March 2013 photos

A lot of communities in Texas became ghost towns because railroad tracks were never laid anywhere in the vicinity of these sites. Ireland, however, is an example of a town that gained a railroad, then lost it.

Ireland, which straddles the Coryell/Hamilton county line about 16 miles northwest of Gatesville, got its start as the rural community of Hamco, which took its name from the first letters of each county. In 1911, however, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company (better known as the Cotton Belt Railway) ran a line between Gatesville and Hamilton that ran right through Hamco, which blossomed into an actual town through the work of the Mid-Texas Improvement Company. The locals then petitioned for a post office to be named in honor of John Ireland, a former Texas governor. The post office was granted, and Ireland was born in earnest.

Ireland March 2013 #1 photo DSC03177_zpse1b75999.jpg The handsome train depot at Ireland, now on private farmland

Ireland March 2013 #2 photo DSC03178_zps68d3c8c7.jpg A closer look at the depot

The new town attracted cotton farmers who were eager to sell their crops to European nations, where World War I drove up prices for agricultural commodities. Ireland's population swelled to 400 by 1921, when a two-story brick schoolhouse was built on the county line to replace its previous wooden frame schoolhouse. In addition to the school, Ireland now boasted a bank (also two stories) with $20,000 of capital stock and a chamber of commerce as well as three churches, three general stores, a drug store, a restaurant, and several other businesses.

Ireland March 2013 #3 photo DSC03186_zps8133147e.jpg A general store in downtown Ireland

Ireland March 2013 #4 photo DSC03188_zpse3821b0b.jpg Another general store that converted into a gas station

Unfortunately for Ireland, agricultural prices collapsed in 1921, making it harder for farmers to realize a profit on their crops. Then the Great Depression hit in 1929, and Ireland's downward spiral was now unstoppable. Families who couldn't sell their land often had it foreclosed by the banks. The Cotton Belt Railway stopped passenger service to Ireland in 1936, finally pulling up its tracks in 1942. By the end of World War II, only 40 residents remained.

Ireland March 2013 #5 photo DSC03182_zpsc8797d58.jpg Foundations and vault of the bank in Ireland

Ireland March 2013 #6 photo DSC03179_zps206ffbbf.jpg A closer look at the vault

Ireland March 2013 #7 photo DSC03189_zpsc6ae5bbd.jpg Historical marker designating the location of the schoolhouse, which was finally demolished in 1984

Ireland March 2013 #8 photo DSC03199_zpsd999c01a.jpg Front steps and foundations of the school, now on private property (Thanks to Jamye Carr for discovering this)

Ireland March 2013 #9 photo DSC03197_zps0a3fd5ce.jpg Table inscribed with JUNIORS 31 just outside the school (Thanks again, Jamye)

Ireland March 2013 #10 photo DSC03195_zpsa3d717ac.jpg A water cistern (?) behind what may have been a gymnasium for the school

Ireland March 2013 #11 photo DSC03204_zpsef0dda3f.jpg A state marker at Ireland Cemetery

Ireland March 2013 #12 photo DSC03211_zps9b5caa3a.jpg This tree stands vigil over Ireland's dearly departed

Ireland March 2013 #13 photo DSC03206_zps9499b65a.jpg Various gravestones at Ireland Cemetery

Ireland March 2013 #14 photo DSC03209_zpse21f06a0.jpg Resting place of Ella Stewart, wife of W.R. Stewart

Ireland's post office managed to linger on until 1970, when it became a rural branch of the Gatesville service. The population grew to 60 in 1990 and stayed there for at least 10 years. A recent estimate says that there may now only be 20 people living at the townsite. One of the churches has also been converted into a private residence.

Today, Ireland is a quiet place, farmed and ranched by the few diehards who stayed behind, and friendly dogs play amongst the building foundations that straddle Farm Road 932 on the county line. Jamye and I truly enjoyed our visit to this once-promising Texas ghost town, built on cotton and the railroad, but doomed by outside forces beyond its control.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Exploring ghost towns - with a friend

Phew! I just got back in town from Coryell County, where I've been running around for the better part of Saturday with my friend Jamye Carr. We had a lot of fun exploring The Grove, which I visited before back in August of 2010, but this was Jamye's first time to visit this historic and picturesque Hill Country ghost town. And yes, the town well still has water in it to this day. We made sure to check closely this time.

Afterwards, we paid a visit to Ireland, which straddles both Coryell County and Hamilton County. We discovered the downtown area, the cemetery, and the remains of the historic school in Ireland. (It must have been historic - Texas erected a historical marker in its memory.)

I'm very happy that this was my first ghost town expedition with a running buddy, and we're already looking forward to our next expedition together. I will share my photos from Ireland soon, but as many of you know, I've been swamped with work and other commitments lately, and right now I'm just flat out tired. Going home to relax and adjust myself to Daylight Savings Time. Spring forward, remember?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Experience the sounds of a ghost town - without leaving your keyboard

I want to try something a little different, and I hope you enjoy it.

Last month, I took a microphone out to Gilliland in Knox County during my visit to the ghost town, and I made some field recordings while snapping pictures. When I got home, I did some research into music that suited the frame of mind that Gilliland put me in as explored the site, trying to capture just the right moods. I then mixed the music and field recordings together, boiled it down into a stereo mix, and voila! My first attempt at an audio ghost town essay.

Click here to listen on Mixcloud if you're interested in checking it out. The entire piece runs for a little under 50 minutes. Listen at home, at work, in your car, wherever you feel the need for some minimal, contemplative music.

As a shameless plug, the Mixcloud suite also features a performance by my good friend, Laura Ainsworth. Click here to visit Laura's website or to learn about her debut album, Keep It To Yourself. You can also click here to follow Laura's Twitter feed. The mix also includes performances by Stars of the Lid, Rafael Anton Irisarri, and many more.

I hope to do more of these in the future, and unlike this blog, the "Ghost Town Essays" might not be restricted to Texas sites. There are other fascinating abandoned towns all across the Southwest, and I would also love to set foot one day in the perpetually smoldering mining ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania - that would make for a compelling audio project.

Friday, January 11, 2013

UK television host scheduled to visit Texas ghost town

Ben Fogle, who has done extensive work for the BBC in the past, is now working on a series for the UK's Channel 5. Titled Where the Wild Men Are with Ben Fogle, the series will track Fogle as he visits some of the most remote places on Earth and interacts with locals. One of his destinations is reportedly a ghost town in Texas, but the identity of the town is unknown to me at present.

Click here for more information on the upcoming Channel 5 series.