Vanishing Texas Vernacular Architecture

Archive for March, 2012

Newgulf

Newgulf triggers memories of my childhood growing up in Danciger, an oil-company town located rural Angelton County.  As an oil patch brat, I often accompanied my dad as he visited gas production facilities in the area.  Two vivid memories of New Gulf are the odor of sulfur that announced the plant’s proximity and the huge smokestacks that were visible for miles.  If I was paying attention, I would spot the smokestacks long before the odor assaulted us.  There is no particular architectural significance to the sulfur plant or to the smokestacks.  However the smokestacks were iconic landmarks.  I was delighted to see them still standing.  The company housing built by Texas Gulf Sulfur is similar to the housing built by Southern Production Co. for employees and families at the plant in Danciger.

Newgulf (New Gulf) is on top of the Boling Dome, reputed to be the largest known inland deposit of sulfur in the world, in the extreme eastern corner of Wharton County between the San Bernard River and Caney Creek in the Seth Ingram league. The company-owned town was established in 1928 for the employees of the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company (now Texasgulf).  While the town was under construction, a contest-open to employees only-was held to name it.  The winning entry was submitted by Marie Ertz, who worked at the Houston office.  Texas Gulf Sulphur’s first company town was named Gulf.  About 400 houses-with one, two, or three bedrooms-were constructed and were leased to employees.  The business section  of Newgulf consisted of a single four-lane avenue lined with stores.  At the town’s zenith it had as many as fifteen businesses, including a cafe, two dry-goods stores, two grocery stores, two pharmacies, a barbershop, a tailor and cleaning shop, a movie theater, and three garages.  Texas Gulf Sulphur also built a hospital, a library, a school, a post office, and a clubhouse with a nine-hole golf course.  In time the company constructed four churches - Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian - a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout clubhouse, and a guest lodge with two guest houses.  The population of Newgulf peaked in 1940 at 1,586.  Self-contained and semi-isolated, residents developed into a very close-knit community. Teamwork at the plant brought about camaraderie among Newgulf residents.

When Newgulf was founded, there were no paved roads in this part of the county, and the nearest town was Wharton, more than fifteen miles away.  Because of the oil and sulfur discoveries, during this same period the community of Boling emerged three miles to the west.  An independent school district was formed in 1928, and with cooperation from Texas Gulf Sulphur, three schools were built.  Newgulf and Iago each had an elementary school, and Boling had the high school, which served all three communities.  In 1959 the district established three separate campuses using these structures.  All elementary students are bussed to Newgulf, and junior high students, to Iago; the high school remains in Boling.  Newgulf began to decline in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  By 1956 the sulfur industry was producing more sulfur than it sold, foreign sulfur prices had dipped, and Texas Gulf Sulphur had begun constructing several new plants elsewhere; this, combined with the 1957 United States recession, led to layoffs of Newgulf employees.  The company began selling empty houses in 1961.  New mining techniques and machinery further reduced the need for onsite employees.  In 1980 and 1990 the town reported 963 residents.  By 1990 only 100 houses remained at Newgulf, and the businesses and their buildings were gone, as better roads allowed Newgulf residents to shop in nearby Boling and Wharton instead.  At that time the only remaining amenities in Newgulf were the clubhouse and its golf course, by then operated by the Newgulf Athletic Club members.  In 1993 the Newgulf post office closed, and the remaining residents and the Texas Gulf Sulphur offices were served by a rural route from Boling.  Though in 1995 a skeleton crew remained at the sulphur mine site, the town was only a shadow of its former self.  The golf course was still in operation, however, as was the Newgulf elementary school, which had been absorbed into the Boling Independent School District.

REFERENCES:  Merle R. Hudgins, “NEWGULF, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hln18). Published by the Texas State Historical Association;  TexasEscapes.com.


Hackberry

Neuhaus General Store - Hackberry

A sixth-sense told me that driving down FM 532 would reveal a gem of a building.    I was more than gratified to find this well-preserved example of mid-Nineteenth Century Texas vernacular architecture.  The false front of the building was a commonly-used device in the design of commercial buildings of the mid-Nineteenth Century.  It implied a much taller building, the artifice of which was only revealed when the viewer turned the corner.  In all likelihood, the General Store was flanked by other buildings, which may have helped preserve the illusion.  I particularly like the additional architectural touches of  applied wooden louvers at the “attic level” and faux shuttered windows on the “second level”.  But the design element that most enhances this building is the three-part covered porch topped by a delicate wrought-iron railing.  I wish we knew what stood on either side of this building.

Hackberry is on Farm Road 532 eleven miles northeast of Hallettsville in northeastern Lavaca County.  It was settled in 1847 by L. E. Neuhaus on land he purchased from Stephen F. Austin.  Neuhaus farmed the property for several years before opening a steam sawmill-gristmill in 1853.  He added a cotton gin several years later.  A Methodist church was built in the community in 1861, and this building was also used as a school until it burned in 1896. Hackberry, named for a grove of hackberry trees near the Neuhaus home, received a post office in 1862.  In 1865 Neuhaus built a general store, which was rebuilt in 1880 as a large two-story building. In the 1860s substantial numbers of German immigrants settled in what had been a predominantly Anglo community.  By 1884 the town had an estimated population of 300, seven steam gristmill-cotton gins, two churches, a school, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, and a tin shop.  Successive new school buildings were put up in 1896, 1904, and 1928.  Hackberry had 119 inhabitants in 1900, and the post office closed in 1906.  By the 1930s Hackberry’s population had fallen to seventy-five, and in 1940 the community had a school, a cemetery, a business, and a number of scattered dwellings.   The school had been consolidated with that of Hallettsville by the 1960s, and in 1981 Hackberry had a few scattered homes.  It was still shown on state highway maps in 1992.

REFERENCES:  Mark Odintz, “HACKBERRY, TX (LAVACA COUNTY),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hrh03).  Published by the Texas State Historical Association;  Texas Escapes.com


Girvin

Girvin Service Station

I was first attracted to this “town” because  its name is the same as the last name of my four cousins in Florida.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I arrived and this building was the only thing left.  Not that there’s anything wrong with this old roadside bar.  Given Girvin’s history (below), there were no doubt countless birthdays, divorces, hirings, firings, and well-drilling successes celebrated there.  Maybe it’s fitting that the last building standing is the Girvin Saloon.

A community began there in the 1890s, when stock raisers moved into the region.  The town was eventually named for John H. Girvin, a local rancher. In 1912 the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railwaycompleted track construction from Mertzon to Girvin after crossing the Pecos River.  A post office was established at Girvin on January 31, 1913. The original townsite was located on both sides of the tracks, near the rail station.  Soon the town also had a store, a hotel, a saloon, and a lumberyard, and stock pens were built near the tracks. The first school was a small wooden building, but by the late 1920s or early 1930s the Girvin Independent School District had built a brick schoolhouse.  This, however, proved to be too small, and during the 1930–31 school year one class had to meet in a nearby lumberyard.  In 1924 Girvin had an estimated population of fifteen.  When oil production began in the nearby Yates and Trans-Pecos oilfields in the late 1920s, Girvin became a delivery point for equipment and supplies.  The oilfields also needed electrical power, so Girvin received electricity in 1929 after the construction of the Rio Pecos Power Plant across the Pecos River.  A salt works was built a mile west of town in 1931.  In 1933 a new highway from Fort Stockton to McCamey bypassed the original townsite, and Girvin immediately began to decline.  The community reported five businesses and a population of seventy-five in 1939.  In 1944 the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway, which by then owned the track through Girvin, razed the section of the Girvin depot used for freight; the passenger station was closed in 1955.  By 1963 the estimated population of Girvin had declined to thirty, with only two businesses reported, and by 1967 the original townsite was abandoned.  During the 1980s only a few residents and a number of abandoned buildings, including a two-story concrete filling station and garage, remained at the old location.

REFERENCES:  Glenn Justice, “GIRVIN, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook /online/articles/hng07).  Published by the Texas State Historical Association;  Texas Escapes


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