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Lost, Texas

Vanishing Texas Architectural Heritage

Denison

M.K.T Railroad Depot

The North Texas town of Denison owes its existence to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (alternately MKT or Katy) and William B. Munson, Sr. Having failed to persuade the city of Sherman to attract the railroad, Munson purchased land on the MKT right-of-way several miles to the northwest of Sherman, with the railroad’s commitment to establish its North Texas hub. There, in 1872, Munson platted a new town, which he named Denison, after MKT vice president George Denison. The railroad’s impact was immediate, creating a boomtown. Many of Denison’s 3,000 inhabitants in 1873 were transients, moving there to work for the railroad facilities or to provide services to the others. Main Street in Denison became the location for legitimate businesses like Waples-Platter Grocery Company, which initially provided provisions to the railroad workers, later becoming one of the largest wholesale grocers in the Southwest. One block south of Main Street lay Skiddy Street, where the town’s gambling halls and brothels were located, segregated in a de facto zoning effort. Francis Skiddy, the MKT railroad official after whom the street was named, was no doubt relieved when the street was renamed Chestnut Street in 1880. This, however, did not change the nature of the street’s businesses.

Fortunately, Denison’s citizens were not all depraved. In February 1873, the state’s first free public school opened in the town while respectable citizens formed fraternal organizations and literary clubs. The fertile land in North Texas supported ranchers as well as cotton, corn and wheat farmers, who in turn became important customers for the railroads. During the 1890s, Denison became the region’s commercial center, as five railway companies laid tracks through the town. Passenger and freight depots were built for the MKT, the Texas and Pacific, and the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf railroads within blocks of each other. The MKT building (above) was designed by Henry T. Phelps of San Antonio and opened in 1909. The concourse is expressed as a giant arched portal willed with glass, set between piers defined by paired pilasters, and crowned by an entablature and parapet. This imposing central block is flanked on either side by lower wings, each two stories in height, its service functions are on the main floor and railroad offices are on the upper, acting as a mezzanine overlooking the central concourse. The MTK’s service yards and roundhouse were located several blocks south of the depot.

Ernst Martin Kohl Building

Ernst Martin Kohl, born in Weimar, Germany in 1857, served as a captain in the German Navy before coming to the United States in the 1880s. After arriving in Denison in 1885, the industrious Mr. Kohl opened a grocery store and saloon in 1893 on a corner across the tracks from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot. Kohl built his family’s residence above the store around 1910, adding three floors. As railroad passenger traffic increased after the Great Depression, Kohl moved his family out and converted the building to the Traveler’s Hotel . Denison has maintained its economic vitality over the years paired with Sherman, its larger neighbor to the south. The Ernst Martin Kohl Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 (ID# 76002035).

By the mid-1920s Denison had just over 17,000 residents and 400 businesses, including four banks. It also had two high schools, nine grade schools, and numerous churches. In 1936 Denison had 13,850 residents and 460 businesses. By the end of World War II the number of residents was just short of 16,000. The population was 26,000 in 1966, when businesses numbered just under 600. In 1989 Denison had a reported 24,234 residents and 427 businesses. In 1990 the population was 21,505, and in 2000 it was 22,773. Denison was the birthplace of the thirty-fourth president of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower. The home he was born in in 1890 has been returned to its original appearance and sits in the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, a three-acre area that includes a museum.

REFERENCE:  David Minor, “DENISON, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/HED04), accessed October 19, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. L. Tuffly Ellis, “The Revolutionizing of the Texas Cotton Trade,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 73 (April 1970). Graham Landrum and Allen Smith, Grayson County (Fort Worth, 1960; 2d ed., Fort Worth: Historical Publishers, 1967).

LOCATION:  Denison is on U.S. highways 75 and 69 seven miles north of Sherman in northeastern Grayson County.

Calvert

Robertson County Jail

The earliest white settler in the area was Joseph Harlan, whose 1837 land grant lay five miles south of what is now the site of Calvert. In 1850 Robert Calvert, for whom the town was named, established a plantation west of the townsite. Calvert and other area farmers urged the Houston and Texas Central Railway to build through the area; the railroad arrived in 1868. A group of investors purchased land at the townsite and platted the community in January of that year, and by February merchants from nearby communities such as Sterling and Owensville were moving to the new town. A post office also opened at the community in 1868. The first trains arrived there in 1869. Calvert incorporated with an aldermanic form of government in 1870. In 1870, as part of the Reconstruction political maneuvering in Robertson County, Calvert replaced Owensville as county seat. Early that year the town was briefly occupied by federal troops; that year also the first school was founded in the community. The Republican party in the county drew much of its strength from black voters on the plantations in the Calvert area, and for a number of years the party was able to elect blacks from Calvert to county and state office. As a rail center and as county seat, Calvert prospered, and in 1871 the town claimed to have the largest cotton gin in the world. In 1873 a severe yellow fever epidemic killed many in the community.

After being designated the county seat for Robertson County in 1870 (the county’s fourth location), St. Louis architect W.T. Ingraham designed a Gothic Revival Style courthouse, jail and carriage house.  Construction of the jail and carriage house was completed in 1875. However, before the courthouse could be constructed, the county seat was moved to the town of Franklin.

Carriage House

Robert A. Brown, a local merchant, investor, and banker, purchased the building in 1885 and converted it into a private residence. All of the jail cells were removed and shipped to Franklin to be reused in the new jail. The building has changed hands and been repurposed  several times. It is currently being used as a bed and breakfast – the Holland House.

In 1878 Calvert was a thriving community with some fifty-two businesses. The next year the town of Morgan became county seat, but Calvert continued to prosper as a commercial center. By 1884 Calvert had an estimated 3,000 inhabitants, with Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic churches, public schools, two banks, an opera house, and the weekly Courier. Around 1900 the community was a major cotton center, with a number of gins, cotton compresses, and cottonseed oil mills. In 1899 the town was damaged by floods, and two years later a fire destroyed much of its business district. Calvert’s population was reported as 3,322 in 1900, but thereafter it began to decline. The community had 2,579 residents in 1910, 2,099 in the mid-1920s, 2,366 in 1940, 2,561 in 1950, 2,073 in 1960, and 1,950 in the mid-1960s. In 1968 many former residents of the town visited to help its citizens celebrate Calvert’s centennial. The population stood at 1,426 in 2000.

REFERENCE: J. W. Baker, History of Robertson County, Texas (Franklin, Texas: Robertson County Historical Survey Committee, 1970). National Register of Historic Places Inventory (Ref. #70000759), 1970.

LOCATION: Calvert is at the intersection of State Highway 6 and Farm roads 1644 and 979, on the Southern Pacific line nine miles north of Hearne in west central Robertson County.

Belle Plain

Belle Plain College Classroom Building

The town of Belle Plain, established on former state school land in 1876, was most likely named after Katie Belle Magee, the first child born in the town. The residents of this small town expected it to be as large and prosperous as Abilene, selecting it as the first county seat of Callahan County in 1877. By 1884 it attained its largest population of 400 and boasted  several stores and saloons, as well as two fraternal lodges, 11 lawyers, and four physicians. Yet, despite its small size, Belle Plain initially served as the regional supply center for nearby farms and ranches.

Belle Plain College was established in 1881 by the Northwest Conference of the Methodist Church on ten acres of donated land. The college built two buildings – a girls’ dormitory in 1881 and a three-story classroom structure in 1885. The classroom building  was designed in the Second Empire style, featuring a mansard roof, dormers, and a central tower topped by a cupola.

A modest house for the college president was also constructed on the property. While the college taught the standard curriculum of the time, it was best known for its music program. At its peak enrollment of more than 300 students, Belle Plain College had 15 grand pianos, a brass band, and an orchestra. Because the college only received operating funds from the local school district, it was forced to mortgage its buildings to pay for classroom furnishings and musical instruments.

Despite its initial prosperity, Belle Plain began its decline in 1880, after Texas and Pacific Railway bypassed the town – instead choosing nearby Baird for its station. Three years later, Baird became the county seat, resulting in the gradual loss of population and businesses in Belle Plain. A hard winter in 1885 and a drought in 1886-87 proved to be more than the town could overcome. By 1892 the combined impacts of nature, the loss of the railroad and county seat, and reduced funding, Belle Plain College closed its doors, bringing an end to the once-promising town of Belle Plain.

 

REFERENCE: Larry Wolz, “BELLE PLAIN, TX (CALLAHAN COUNTY),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvb35), accessed July 02, 2014. T. Lindsay Baker, Ghost Towns of Texas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986).

LOCATION: Belle Plain is 28 miles east southeast of Abilene on FM-471. The college ruins are on private property. Please do not trespass.

Snyder – Update

Santa Fe Railroad Depot

In 1911 the Santa Fe Railroad opened a passenger and freight depot in Snyder – one of four Santa Fe depots designed by Kansas City architect, Louis S. Curtis, in the Art Moderne style. The identical depots were built within two years of each other in Sweetwater, Post and Lubbock. The buildings’ reinforced-concrete frame featured an exterior of white, glazed terracotta in various shapes.

Glazed terracotta, used as an architectural material for centuries, provided designers a modular, easily-repeated and inexpensive method to clad and adorn their buildings in a variety of styles and with an almost-unlimited color palette. Louis Curtis used terracotta quite effectively on the four Santa Fe depots. The building corners were built in multiple planes with curved profiles, square corners and other adornment. Even the town names and Santa Fe Railroad logos were terracotta.

Of the four depots designed by Curtis, only two are standing – the Snyder depot and one it Post, Texas, which has been restored and is used by the Post Chamber of Commerce. So it is disappointing to report that efforts to relocate and restore the Snyder depot have apparently failed. The building’s owner, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, needs the property for another use and plans to raze the depot.

 

Original Post

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I drove by this old, restored Sinclair Gas Station.  Not only is it one of the quaintest gas stations I’ve ever seen, it dredged up a lot of old memories from my childhood when my Dad worked for Sinclair Oil & Gas.  Snyder is the county seat of Scurry County and sits at the junction of U.S. highways 84 and 180, eighty-seven miles southeast of Lubbock.

Snyder had its beginnings in 1878, when a buffalo hunter and trader, William Henry (Pete) Snyder, a native of Pennsylvania, built a trading post on the banks of Deep Creek.  Other hunters were attracted to the post, and a colony of buffalo-hide dwellings grew up around it.  These dwellings, as well as the occasionally dubious character of their inhabitants, gave the town its first names, “Hide Town,” and “Robber’s Roost.”  In 1882 Snyder drew up a town plan and invited immigration.  The first public school was established sometime that year.  In 1884, when Scurry County was organized, Synder’s settlement was chosen as the county seat.  By 1892 Snyder had a population of 600, two churches, two banks, a steam gin, a gristmill, and two weekly newspapers, the Scurry County Citizen and the Coming West.  Construction began on the Roscoe, Snyder and Pacific Railway in 1907, the same year that Snyder’s city charter was granted.  In 1911 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway laid tracks through Snyder.

By 1910, the first year census figures were recorded for Snyder, the town had a population of 2,514.  A women’s literary circle, the Altrurian Club, was formed in 1908, and eventually spawned eight more study clubs.  While the public school system was still developing, these clubs performed significant educational functions; later their focus changed to public service.  Snyder remained a farming and ranching community until 1948, when oil was discovered on the Canyon Reef formation north of town.  Within a year the population jumped from around 4,000 to over 12,000, a tent and trailer city sprang up on the town’s northern edge.  The boom was over by late 1951, and the population, which had peaked at around 16,000, stabilized at 11,000. Snyder was left an ugly city with many vacant or half-completed buildings.  During the 1960s city officials began refurbishing, and in 1964 a long-range planning committee improved opportunities for low-income citizens.  By 1968 in a contest cosponsored by the National Municipal League and Look Magazine, the city was named one of only eleven All-American cities in the United States.  Large industries located in Snyder during the late 1960s and the early 1970s, and its population began to rise again.

By 1960 Snyder had seven elementary schools, two junior highs, and a high school.  In 1969 a long string of failed attempts finally culminated in the approval of a proposal for a junior college, and in the fall of 1971 the new Western Texas College opened with 649 students.  In 1986 enrollment was over 1,000.  The Diamond M Foundation was established in 1950 by oilman and rancher Clarence T. McLaughlin to collect works of American artists.  The Diamond M Museum opened in 1964 and five years later doubled in size.  In1990 it housed over eighty bronzes and 200 paintings, including works by Andrew Wyeth and Peter Hurd, and is considered among the best collections in Texas.  In 1980 Snyder had a population of 12,705.  The Snyder Daily News has been published since 1950.  Oil has remained important to the city’s economy.  In the late 1960s Scurry County became the leading oil-producing county in Texas as the result of a locally developed method of injecting carbon dioxide into the formation to increase the pressure and thereby increase the yield.  In 1973 Scurry oil companies recovered their billionth barrel of oil.

RESOURCES:

Noel Wiggins, “SNYDER, TX (SCURRY COUNTY),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hes04), accessed March 14, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Kempner

Kempner School

Kempner is at the junction of U.S. Highway 190 and Ranch Road 2313, on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Lampasas River in southeastern Lampasas County. It moved a number of times during its early years of development. It was first settled in the early 1850s, when a number of families named Pickett moved to the area, which became known as Pickett Valley. The majority of the settlers were land and slave owners of prominence until the Civil War. The community was also briefly known as Brummersville during 1865. The Pickett cemetery is still located slightly west of Kempner. Around 1854 Dan W. Taylor moved to the area with a large herd of cattle and built a store for his men on Taylor Creek, two miles from the present townsite. He was an influential man in the community and was often consulted to settle local legal differences. A post office named Taylor’s Creek was established in his store in 1873. After Taylor’s death the community was named after a local landowner named Slaughter. The Taylor’s Creek post office was discontinued in 1878, and that same year a post office named Slaughtersville was established.

In 1882 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway was built through the area, two miles from the Taylor store, and the community’s center finally became fixed when the post office was moved to a frame building near the railroad tracks and renamed Kempner after Harris Kempner, a Galveston merchant and director of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe. The first postmaster at the new location was Johnnie Chance. The coming of the railroad caused the population to double. The first rock store in town was erected by Jo Brown. By 1884 Kempner had two steam gristmills and cotton gins, a church, a district school, and telegraph service, and by 1896 a hotel had been built. Telephone service was available by 1914. In 1918 a Mr. Rancier organized a bank in Kempner; this establishment later failed, and the stockholders lost their accounts.

The population of Kempner remained at an estimated 103 from 1904 to 1926. It rose briefly to 300 in 1927 but began to drop again in the 1930s, reaching 125 in 1933 and remaining at that level for a number of years. It began to rise again in the mid-1960s until it reached 420 in 1974, where it remained through 1990. Nine businesses were reported in 1986. By 2000 the population was 1,004 with fifty-four businesses. Annual festivals include the All-West Roundup and the Oktoberfest.

REFERENCE:  Alice J. Rhoades, “KEMPNER, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnk08), accessed January 22, 2016. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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