Vanishing Texas Vernacular Architecture

Archive for January, 2012


Grandfalls Masonic Temple

Grandfalls is at the intersection of State highways 11, 18, and 329, on the Pecos River in southeastern Ward County. It was named for its location on the upper, or grand, falls of the river. The area near the falls was an early campsite for travelers. The first settlers came in the late 1880s, attracted by the steady supply of water in the river and by the natural beauty of the countryside. Among them were the families of two brothers-in-law, R. I. Carr and J. T. Sweatt. These farmers built a brush dam above the lower, or great, falls near the site of the present State Highway 18 bridge and powered their cotton gin by the falls. On July 12, 1892, the Grandfalls school district was established, and a school building was constructed on the Carr farm. Mamie McFadden taught in the 1892–93 term. The building was also used for a union church consisting of seven denominations.

Grandfalls Gas Station

In 1894 a flood demolished the raceway that powered the cotton gin, formed a new river channel, and destroyed the dam at the lower falls. Some farmers left after the flood, but the Carr and Sweatt families rebuilt the brush dam and constructed new canals to extend irrigation. A post office was opened in 1897 with James G. Baker as postmaster. In the late 1890s a land-development company laid out the town, and the Texas and Pacific Railway advertised land for settlement. Hardware, feed, and lumber stores were built. A dry-goods and grocery store, a hotel, and a blacksmith shop also opened. In the 1890s a number of Scandinavian families moved to the community and established St. Gertrudis Catholic Church. One of them, Dr. Charlotte Bergman, founded a medical practice. Although women physicians were rare in West Texas in 1897, she was well received and was successful in fighting tuberculosis in the area.

After 1900 Grandfalls had a steady supply of drinking water, the First Baptist Church was organized, a new school building was built, and the community received telephone service. During the 1906–07 school term the town reported one school, 105 students, and two teachers. A bank was chartered in 1906. By 1914 it had merged with a Pecos bank. A severe drought hit the Pecos valley in 1916, and many settlers left Grandfalls. In 1925 the town had a population of 250. In 1928 oil was discovered in Shipley field, near Royalty, three miles north of Grandfalls. The boom increased the population of Grandfalls to 500 by 1929. During the boom the school in Grandfalls changed its name to Grandfalls-Royalty. By 1939 Grandfalls had a population of 600 and twenty businesses. The town incorporated in 1940. Throughout the 1940s it had a population of 653 and twenty businesses. The population was around 1,000 during the 1950s and 1960s. The number of businesses increased to seventy-two by 1961 but fell to twenty-five by 1970. During the 1970s and 1980s the population wavered between 557 and 981, and the number of businesses between seven and twenty-five. In 1990 Grandfalls was a small incorporated community; it had a post office, sixty-three businesses, and a population of 583.

REFERENCE:  Julia Cauble Smith, “GRANDFALLS, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online ( Published by the Texas State Historical Association.


The Little Dutchman

It’s impossible to see Tarzan on the Texas map and not drive there.  The name conjures up images that no one place could ever live up to, but I had to check anyway.  And while the town didn’t match the images in my imagination, it provided a Lost, Texas gem - The Little Dutchman, an abandoned store that was operating in the old Tarzan post office building as late as 1987 according to the Paris News. The building’s design looks to be Moderne, which would be consistent with the time frame in which it was built.

J. B. McNerlin was the first settler in the area, in the midst of the huge C. C. Slaughter, John Scarbauer, and Frank Orson Ranches.  In 1925 a two-room school was built, and soon after, Tant Lindsay built a store which, along with the school, formed the center of the farming and ranching community.  In 1927 Lindsay submitted a list of possible town names to the post office department.  Tant submitted a succession of suggested names for the town, when the post office was approved. Yet, most annoyingly, the postal department would veto each r10mination for one reason or another.  Finally, the exasperated Lindsay jotted down “15 or 20″ names.  He picked them at random from objects in the store, including a Tarzan book he happened to be reading.  He wrote to Washington: “We don’t Give a damn what you call this town.  Stop this dilly· dallying around.  We want some mail.  Take your choice from this list.”

Washington’s choice was Tarzan AND Lindsay was named the first postmaster.  Both Baptist and Church of Christ congregations met in the schoolhouse until they built their own buildings, the Baptists in 1937 and the Church of Christ after World War II.  The first gin in Tarzan, built in 1932, burned just four years later.  The turning point for the town came around 1938, when it was learned that a highway was to be built from Big Spring to Andrews and would pass through Tarzan.  J. T. Glaze promptly built a combination grocery and gas station.  After World War II local farmers organized the Tarzan Marketing Association.  The discovery of oil in Martin County in the 1950s led to the establishment of the Tarzan Hot Oil Company; oil production remains a major industry, and oil wells dot the surrounding area.  Throughout the postwar years Tarzan has served as an entry point into Martin County for Mexican braceros, seasonal workers usually employed in the cotton fields.

REFERENCES:  Noel Wiggins, “TARZAN, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (  Published by the Texas State Historical Association; Tolbert, Frank X. “Tant Founded City of Tarzan.” The Dallas Morning News 12 May 1962.


Orla Cafe & Grocery

Orla is far off the beaten path.  How far off, you might ask.  If you drive through Orla, you either work in the oil business or you are traveling between Pecos and Carlsbad, NM.  Distant though it may be, the trip to Orla was rewarding for this photographer.  There aren’t many locations in Lost, Texas where there are more than one or two extant abandoned buildings from multiple decades.  This was a delight to shoot.

Orla is on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe line, U.S. Highway 285, and Farm Road 652, five miles southeast of Red Bluff in northwestern Reeves County. The name is Spanish for “border” and refers to the countryside around the settlement. Orla was established as a section house on the Pecos River Railroad in 1890. A post office was opened there in 1906. By 1933 Orla reported the post office, a business, and a population of ten. Its population remained at ten until after World War II, but the number of businesses increased to two in 1943. The town grew between the late 1940s and the 1950s, the population to forty and then to sixty, and the number of businesses to three. In the mid-1960s Orla became a rural oil supply center. By the end of the decade its population had reached 250, and it had twelve businesses. From 1970 through 2000 its population was reported at 183, and it had variously anywhere from one to sixteen businesses. In 1990 Orla still supplied equipment for production in nearby Permian Basin oilfields.

See other photographs of Orla on my website.

REFERENCE:  Julia Cauble Smith, “ORLA, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online ( Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Orla Stores


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