Vanishing Texas Vernacular Architecture

Archive for March, 2011

Medicine Mound

H. H. Cole Building

The fact that anything still exists in Medicine Mound, Texas is testament to the determination of one women - Myna Potts.  The daughter of one of the original merchants in Medicine Mound, Ms. Potts has turned the Hicks-Cobb building (formerly a grocery store) into a cultural museum.  She has been a driving force in preserving what is left of the  existing buildings.  The H. H. Cole building, now in a severe state of decay, was once a combination bank, drug store, post office and gas station.  Rusted gasoline pumps and a collapsed metal awning hint at activities that once took place there.  A unique architectural feature of both buildings is the use of rounded stones on the facade.  The stones appear to be sedimentary and hand-chiseled rather than smooth river rocks, although I could be mistaken.  At any rate, the stones add an interesting texture to the buildings.

Named for the four conical hills nearby (dubbed medicine mounds by the Comanches), the community moved to its current location in 1908 when the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railroad was built nearby.  After a fire in 1932 destroyed most of the commercial buildings, Medicine Mound’s population declined to slightly over 200 by 1940.  Today the town proudly boasts a population of zero.

Medicine Mound is in central Hardeman County southwest of Chillicothe.  You can read more about Medicine Mound on the Texas Handbook Online and TexasEscapes.com.  More photographs are located on my website - www.bronsondorsey.com.


Pontotoc

San Fernando Academy

Pontotoc, like many other mid-Nineteenth Century Texas towns, aspired to greatness.   And like many similar towns, events conspired to prevent it from reaching its goal.  Located in Central Texas at what was the junction of roads from Llano and San Saba, the community of Pontotoc came to be somewhere between the mid-1850s and mid-1870s.  The town was named by M. Robert Kidd, proprietor of the first general store, for his home - Pontotoc, Mississippi.  By 1882, the San Fernando Academy had been established and provided impetus to the town’s growth.  This school, parts of which still lay in ruins, at one time had 200 students.  The Academy closed in 1890 and was later sold to the Pontotoc school district, which operated it until 1027.

Pontotoc’s economic basis was cotton, wool, cattle, and pecans.  In its heyday, the town had four stores, other businesses, a blacksmith, saddleries,  a newspaper, and two doctors.  Residents tried, in 1890, to create a new county, Mineral County, out of parts of  four adjacent counties with the intent of having Pontotoc as the county seat.  Citizens of Mason County petitioned the state to deny the Pontotoc application and it was defeated.

A typhoid fever epidemic nearly wiped out the town in 1887 - filling its cemetery.  Ultimately, the closing of San Fernando Academy and railroads bypassing the town spawned its decline.  Pontotoc has a brief resurgence between 1920 and 1940 caused in great part by a nearby mica mine.  A fire destroyed many of the town’s buildings in 1947 and Pontotoc never rebounded.

For more information on Pontotoc visit the Handbook of Texas Online and TexasEscapes.com.  More images of Pontotoc can be found here.


Morris Ranch

Morris Ranch Hotel

When I first heard the name Morris Ranch, a mid-1880s community didn’t spring to mind.  Nor did I expect to find multiple old buildings in various stages of decay and restoration.  The story of the Morris Ranch is fortunately well documented and it’s a story with a happy ending - at least in so far as the buildings are concerned.  Francis Morris, a broker from New York, purchased nearly 22,000 acres of land in Gillespie and Kerr counties in the early 1880s.  The price he paid was a mere 25 cents per acre.   Unfortunately he died in 1886 before he had an opportunity to see his land.

His son, John A. Morris, inherited the property and converted the ranch to a mecca for raising and training thoroughbred horses.  John built a hotel for ranch customers and guests, a post office, a school, a cotton gin, a general store and a flour mill.  In addition he built a training track, stables, and accommodations for jockeys.  In its heyday, the Morris Ranch approximately 200 mares and ten stallions.  Yearling colts were either sold or sent back east to Morris’ stables in Maryland.  One of the most notable trainers in residence at the ranch was Max Hirsch - a Hall of Fame Thoroughbred horse trainer.

In the late 1800s, laws were changed in New York State which adversely impacted the horse racing industry and sent it into decline.  The fate of Morris Ranch suffered as well.  In 1902, one of the Morris heirs, Clayton Morris, sold the horses and subdivided the ranch into tenant cotton farms.  In 1954, the post office and the general store were closed.  However, several buildings remain and have been preserved by their owners.  I don’t have complete information, but I believe the two buildings on the southwest corner of Morris Ranch Rd. and Morris-Tivydale Rd. are the hotel and general store.  Across the road to the east is what I believe are the remains of the flour mill.

The Morris Ranch School was built in 1983 and continued in operation until 1962 when it merged with the Fredericksburg school district.  The school building, which often doubled as a house of worship, was designed by Alfred Giles, who designed numerous courthouses throughout Central Texas.  The school building, on Morris Ranch Rd., is still standing and has been converted to a residence.  Unfortunately, it sits behind a high fence and gates, which prevents getting a good photograph from the road.  However, you can still see enough to appreciate its grand design.  I can only imagine how it looked when it was first built.

For more information, see a citation in Wikipedia, and articles in Texas Escapes and The Handbook of Texas Online.

For more images of the Morris Ranch, visit the Lost, Texas gallery here.


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