deterioration

Catarina

Catarina Hotel

 The name Catarina has been associated with the area since at least 1778; legend holds that it is the name of a Mexican woman killed by Indians on or near the site.  Today, tractor-trailers hauling oilfield equipment and pickups carrying workers barely slow down as they pass through what was once the town of Catarina.  The Catarina Hotel sits forlornly on a sweeping curve of U.S. Highway 83 as it enters the town.

The town was established after Asher Richardson, a rancher, decided to build a railway link from Artesia Wells to his planned town of Asherton. In return for an easement through the nearby Taft-Catarina Ranch, Richardson agreed to allow the ranch to establish a railroad depot, with cattle-shipping pens, on his railroad. By 1910, when the Asherton and Gulf Railway began operations, these cattle pens had become the nucleus of a small community built by Joseph F. Green, the manager of the ranch. Green moved the ranch headquarters to the depot and added a bunkhouse, a commissary, a hotel, a post office, and a small schoolhouse. By 1915 the little town had twenty-five residents and had become famous in the area for the Taft House, an expensive mansion that Charles Taft, the owner of the ranch, supposedly built with oversized bathtubs to accommodate his brother, President William Howard Taft.

Catarina Farms, a development project, built roads, sidewalks, and a waterworks and an impressive new hotel and installed electric power and a telephone exchange. Agent Charles Ladd imported entire orchards of fruit-laden citrus trees to impress prospective investors with the area’s agricultural possibilities. By 1929 Catarina had between 1,000 and 2,500 residents, a bank, at least two groceries, a lumber company, and a bakery. Short supplies of water, marketing problems, and the Great Depression hurt the town. By 1931 the population had dropped to 592, and many of its businesses had been forced to close. In 1943 Catarina had 403 residents and seven businesses; in 1956 it had 380 residents and three businesses. By 1969 some of the town’s most picturesque old buildings had been abandoned, and the population was 160. Catarina is on U.S. Highway 83 ten miles southeast of Asherton in southern Dimmit County.

REFERENCES:  John Leffler, “CATARINA, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnc25), accessed May 08, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Fowlerton

Fowlerton School

Driving on State Highway 97 east of Cotulla, TX there is nothing to identify what was the town of Fowlerton, other than a non-descript post office, a few mobile homes, and the standard highway city-limits sign.  Once upon a time though, it was a thriving town of 2,000 people.  On my recent visit, I was able to locate the remains of the old school (above) and a small church.  The school building has elements of the early International Style – specifically the corner window, the unadorned brick wall, and the thin porch roof supported by equally thin columns.  Given the more typical rural vernacular architecture of that time, this school would have been seen a very modern.

The Fowler Brothers Land Company (James and Charles) founded and developed the town in the early twentieth century in an ambitious attempt to develop a 100,000-acre tract that had once belonged to the Dull Ranch. They induced the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railway to extend its lines into the planned town, built two dams to provide water for irrigation and a new hotel, and laid 200 miles of public roads. They also built a cotton gin, installed an expensive water system, and conducted an aggressive advertising campaign to attract settlers and investors.

The land surrounding the townsite was divided into tracts of ten to 160 acres; for $25 dollars down and $10 a month an aspiring farmer could buy farmland and a receive a complimentary town lot. Land seekers (some called them “land suckers”) responded by moving to Fowlerton by the hundreds. By October 1911, when the SAU&G made its first trip into Fowlerton, the town already had two hotels, three general stores, a bank, twenty-five miles of streets, a telephone system, and 1,200 residents. By 1914 Fowlerton’s population was estimated at 2,000, and that year the town became the home of a summer normal school.

After 1917, however, the town rapidly declined; most of the farmers had suffered financial reverses due to a draught, low commodity prices, and marketing problems. Meanwhile, the Fowler brothers were targeted by a number of lawsuits accusing them of fraudulent marketing practices. The town thereafter “literally seemed to fall apart,” according to a former resident. By 1925 Fowlerton’s population had dropped to 600, and by 1931 only six businesses were reported there. By 1949 the community had 300 residents and four businesses and by 1964 200 people and two businesses. In 1972 the population was 100. In 1986 one newspaper called Fowlerton a “near-ghost town.”

REFERENCES:  John Leffler, “FOWLERTON, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hlf27), accessed May 08, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Shafter

Shafter Silver Mine

The history of Shafter is closely tied to silver mining. There is evidence that the Spaniards prospected for valuable ores in the area during the early 1600s, but Shafter became a mining town only after September 1880, when John W. Spencer, a freighter turned prospector, found silver ore there. Spencer showed an ore sample to Col. William R. Shafter (later General), commander of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Davis, who had it assayed. In June 1882 Shafter and his partners (two Army friends John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi) leased some of their acreage to a California mining group which, in late summer 1883, organized the Presidio Mining Company and contracted individually with Shafter, Wilhelmi, and Spencer to buy their interests. Each received 5,000 shares of company stock and $1,600 cash. At the same time the manager of the company, William Noyes, found silver deposits on the acreage, valued at $45 per ton. The silver deposits found by Noyes were on one of the two sections owned by Bullis’s wife, and Bullis refused to sell. He claimed that the two sections had been bought by his wife with inherited family money and were not his or his partners’ property. He secured a court injunction to stop mining on that section, but the company continued work in the other sections. When the injunction expired in the spring of 1884, the Presidio Mining Company resumed operations in the productive Bullis section. The company hired more workmen and installed milling machinery.
A post office was opened in Shafter in 1885. Though the Bullises sued to retain their interest in the land and a lower court ruled in their favor, the Presidio Mining Company won a decision in 1887 before the Texas Supreme Court. Freed from litigation, the company stepped up its operations as Noyes hired nearly 300 men to work the mine. Workers in the Presidio Mine at Shafter came from several ethnic groups and geographical areas. Mexican citizens and black Americans found better-paying jobs there, and miners from California worked at Shafter until they left to prospect for Alaskan gold in 1897. Shafter miners lived in company houses, shopped at the company store, and received medical care from the company doctor. Just after 1900, Shafter had a population of 110 and two saloons, a dance hall, and a school. During the 1920s and 1930s the Shafter mine closed and reopened several times. In 1928 the Presidio Mining Company sold the mine to the American Metal Company, but there was little change to the mining operation. In 1942, with increased production costs and a shortage of miners, the mine closed again, but by 1943 Shafter had a population of 1,500; at that time it also had twelve businesses that served the military population that was stationed at two bases in the county. After Marfa Army Air Field and Fort D. A. Russell closed, the population of Shafter declined, reaching twenty by 1949. Though from the 1950s through the 1980s several attempts were made to reopen the Presidio Mine at Shafter, the town and the mines remained deserted.

REFERENCE: Julia Cauble Smith, “SHAFTER, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hns37), accessed March 17, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Mentone

Mentone Community Church

As the only town in Loving County, Mentone has been dubbed the Smallest County Seat in Texas.  The Community Church (above) is one of only five to six non-residential buildings in the town.  The church was moved to Mentone in 1930 after the Pecos River flooded nearby Porterville destroying the town.  This is the oldest building in Loving County.

James J. Wheat, St. (1871-1931) came to Loving County from Ward County in 1919 or 1829 after three crop failures and a stint as an irrigation project promoter in Grandfalls, TX.  Upon arrival he recognized the possibilities for oil production in the unexplored county bought several hundred acres of land as well as leasing mineral rights from local landowners for division into small drilling tracts.  He organized the Wheat Guarantee Company, selling shares to the public for $40 each in an effort to raise enough money to drill test wells.  With partner Bladen Ramsey, Wheat organized the Toyah-Bell Oil Company and leased acreage on the Russell ranch one mile east of the site of Mentone in southwestern Loving County.  Toyah-Bell, later renamed Ramsey Production Company, drilled two wildcats. Both wells were productive. Although the wells were plagued with problems, they attracted the attention of larger oil exploration companies. Wheat and Ramsey sold their interests in the wildcats to Hadlock Oil Company and Lockhart and Company, which developed Wheat field. J. J. Wheat’s discovery led to a long-producing field which yielded nearly 22,000,000 barrels of oil by 1989.

The town of Ramsey was laid out by Wheat and Ramsey in 1925, after they discovered oil nearby. The name was later changed to Mentone when the postal service rejected the name. The site remained unsettled until 1931, when a post office was authorized.  The actual town was preceded by two earlier settlements.  The first community, named Mentone by a French surveyor from Menton, France, was established in 1893 by a group of men who came to Loving County and formed the Loving Canal and Irrigation Company.  They organized Loving County, made their Mentone the county seat, and received a post office. Three years later they abandoned the town.  The post office closed, and the county was declared unorganized.  The second town was founded in 1905, when E. L. Stratton, head of the Stratton Land Company of Chicago, led a group of settlers to Loving County.  They called the town Juanita and later renamed it Porterville.  After the present Mentone was founded two miles to the northeast, most of the residents of Porterville moved to the new site.

The first business in Mentone was the Loving County Lumber Company, founded in 1930. In the spring of 1931 the county schoolhouse was moved from Porterville to Mentone, where it was replaced in 1935 by a brick building. By July 1931 Mentone had five cafes, five gasoline stations, two hotels, two drugstores, two recreation halls, two barbershops, a dance hall, a machine shop, and a dry cleaner. From March 1932 to September 1935 a weekly newspaper, the Mentone Monitor, was published. By October 27, 1933, Mentone reported a population of 600.

By the 1940s the population of Mentone had dropped to 150; only three businesses operated there in 1946. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the reported population remained at 110, and the number of businesses continued to decline. From 1972 until 1984 no business was open in Mentone. At the end of the 1980s about 100 people, employees of the county and of oil service companies, lived in Mentone, which had two businesses.

Mentone is on State Highway 302 twenty-five miles southwest of Kermit and twenty-five miles north of Pecos in southwestern Loving County.

REFERENCES:  Julia Cauble Smith, “MENTONE, TX,” Handbook of Texas online  (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnm33), accessed February 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Julia Cauble Smith, “WHEAT, JAMES JACKSON, SR.,” Handbook of Texas online  (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnm33), accessed February 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Enochs

Church – Enochs, TX

There’s not much left to see in Enochs, TX these days except the remains of a post office, store, cotton gins, and this pretty little church.  Buildings abandoned in the Texas Panhandle either get ravaged by storms or just quietly fall apart and Enochs has some of both.  I was particularly attracted to the church by its simple lines, unadorned facade, and pueblo-styled steeple.  Its setting in the middle of a field, a half-mile off the highway only accentuated its forlorn condition.  Enochs developed as a trading center for the surrounding farms and ranches beginning in the 1920s and reached a peak reported population of 250 in 1940, when it had five stores.  In the 1980 and 1990 censuses its population was estimated at 164, and the town had several businesses and a post office.  Enochs can be found at the junction of State Highway 214 and Farm Road 54, three miles from the Cochran County line in southern Bailey County.

REFERENCE:  “ENOCHS, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hle23), accessed December 15, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.