Vanishing Texas Vernacular Architecture

Archive for April, 2011


Jordan Coal Yard - Marfa

Marfa exists on (at least) two planes.  One is the small town in the high-desert of  Southwest Texas - its history rich with commerce, art, and government.  The other plane on which Marfa exists is more ephemeral…almost a state of mind.  The first one is fortunately still tangible, albeit not what it used to be.  But the first time you go to Marfa you’re not sure which one you’ll experience. Fortunately when I was there last summer it was not ephemeral…except for the “Marfa Lights”.

For a photographer, Marfa is a playground. There is no shortage of things and places to shoot.  And the early morning and evening light is wonderful.  I found the Jordan Coal Yard (above) during a midday walkabout and made a point of being there early the next morning.  I still haven’t found information on the life of the Jordan Coal Yard, so if you know please share.  Another site where is like to shoot is Fort D. A. Russell, the WW I & WW II army post just outside of town.  More than half of the former base is now home to the Chinati Foundation.  But it’s the other part, dotted with the remains of barracks and other buildings, that is more fun for this photographer.

Quite a few old buildings in Marfa have been re-purposed - most notably those purchased by Donald Judd.   Many others have either been preserved or restored to their former glory.  The Hotel Paisano falls into this category.  This cream and white stucco Spanish-Colonial style building housed the stars and crew of the movie, Giant, when it was shot in 1955.  Its courtyard is a pleasant place for morning coffee or happy hour.  Throughout the town a remnants and relics of Marfa’s history.

You can see other images from Marfa on my website.


Katemcy Church

Located near Katemcy Creek off  U.S. Hwy. 87 about halfway between Brady and Mason, the community of Katemcy (and the creek) was named after a Comanche chief named Ketemoczy who signed a treaty with John O. Meusebach in 1847 near the town’s current location.  Meusebach was the founder of Fredericksburg and notable for his success in making peace with the Comanches.

Lured by cheap land and plentiful water, settlers arrived and built a community along the creek.  By the early 1800s, the town was well established and included a sawmill, gristmill, and cotton gin built by brothers John, Elias, and Alfred Cowan, the latter of whom ran the general store and served as the town’s first postmaster.  The church pictured above was either the Friendship Baptist Church or the Methodist Church (confirmation needed).  At its peak in the early 1920s, Katemcy was an active community on the San Antonio-San Angelo highway.  Its population of nearly 150 was supported by two blacksmith shops, two general stores, two doctors, three churches, and a school with three teachers.

Largely an agricultural community, Katemcy began to decline in 1925 due in part to two economic impacts.  The increased use of tractors on Central Texas farms enabled the farming of larger tracts of land and resulted in higher yields per acre.  This led to decreased reliance on small-acreage tenant farmers.  Additionally, as consolidated school districts were created, small-town schools became less necessary and were ultimately closed.

Read more about Katemcy in The Texas Handbook Online and at

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kathryn Burford Eilers, A History of Mason County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1939). Mason County Historical Book (Mason, Texas: Mason County Historical Commission, 1976). Mason County News, June 19, 1958. Stella Gipson Polk, Mason and Mason County: A History (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1966; rev. ed., Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1980).


Sharp General Store

Located in rural Central Texas, Sharp is one of those “blink your eye and you miss” places.  And I almost did.  The community grew up around a Presbyterian church that was built in the 1870s and was named after William Frank Sharp, a physician in nearby Davila.  In 1895-96, a General Store (above) was built by Daniel G. Davis, Sr., a Civil War veteran.  Davis and his descendants operated the store until 1985.  During its life, it was the area’s largest mercantile building and the main outlet for local produce.  The store also offered banking, public scales, and a place to socialize for the area’s residents.

A local school district, comprised of the communities of Lilac, Duncan, and Oakville, was established in 1931.  Along Farm Road 487, there are the remains of an old school building, built in 1939.  The cornerstones proclaim that funds to build the school were provided by the federal Administration of Public Works under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Also included on the cornerstones are names of the Board of Trustees, the Architect (J.E. Johnson), and the Contractor (J.R. Blackmore & Sons).  The brick school has an almost Bauhaus look typical of the 1930s, except for the main entry which is embellished with pilasters, lintel, and frieze made of local limestone.  Additionally, there is an out-of-place split-pediment false window made of limestone on a building projection located at either end of the building.  Architectural license I suppose.  While the exterior of the building remains in decent condition, the roof has collapsed in several large areas, exposing the interiors to the elements.  Looking through the windows one can see the sky in many places.

You can see more photos of the Sharp School on my website.  Information for this post came from:

REFERENCES:  Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “SHARP, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 30, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.


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