South Texas

Catarina

Catarina Hotel

 The name Catarina has been associated with the area since at least 1778; legend holds that it is the name of a Mexican woman killed by Indians on or near the site.  Today, tractor-trailers hauling oilfield equipment and pickups carrying workers barely slow down as they pass through what was once the town of Catarina.  The Catarina Hotel sits forlornly on a sweeping curve of U.S. Highway 83 as it enters the town.

The town was established after Asher Richardson, a rancher, decided to build a railway link from Artesia Wells to his planned town of Asherton. In return for an easement through the nearby Taft-Catarina Ranch, Richardson agreed to allow the ranch to establish a railroad depot, with cattle-shipping pens, on his railroad. By 1910, when the Asherton and Gulf Railway began operations, these cattle pens had become the nucleus of a small community built by Joseph F. Green, the manager of the ranch. Green moved the ranch headquarters to the depot and added a bunkhouse, a commissary, a hotel, a post office, and a small schoolhouse. By 1915 the little town had twenty-five residents and had become famous in the area for the Taft House, an expensive mansion that Charles Taft, the owner of the ranch, supposedly built with oversized bathtubs to accommodate his brother, President William Howard Taft.

Catarina Farms, a development project, built roads, sidewalks, and a waterworks and an impressive new hotel and installed electric power and a telephone exchange. Agent Charles Ladd imported entire orchards of fruit-laden citrus trees to impress prospective investors with the area’s agricultural possibilities. By 1929 Catarina had between 1,000 and 2,500 residents, a bank, at least two groceries, a lumber company, and a bakery. Short supplies of water, marketing problems, and the Great Depression hurt the town. By 1931 the population had dropped to 592, and many of its businesses had been forced to close. In 1943 Catarina had 403 residents and seven businesses; in 1956 it had 380 residents and three businesses. By 1969 some of the town’s most picturesque old buildings had been abandoned, and the population was 160. Catarina is on U.S. Highway 83 ten miles southeast of Asherton in southern Dimmit County.

REFERENCES:  John Leffler, “CATARINA, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnc25), accessed May 08, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Fowlerton

Fowlerton School

Driving on State Highway 97 east of Cotulla, TX there is nothing to identify what was the town of Fowlerton, other than a non-descript post office, a few mobile homes, and the standard highway city-limits sign.  Once upon a time though, it was a thriving town of 2,000 people.  On my recent visit, I was able to locate the remains of the old school (above) and a small church.  The school building has elements of the early International Style – specifically the corner window, the unadorned brick wall, and the thin porch roof supported by equally thin columns.  Given the more typical rural vernacular architecture of that time, this school would have been seen a very modern.

The Fowler Brothers Land Company (James and Charles) founded and developed the town in the early twentieth century in an ambitious attempt to develop a 100,000-acre tract that had once belonged to the Dull Ranch. They induced the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railway to extend its lines into the planned town, built two dams to provide water for irrigation and a new hotel, and laid 200 miles of public roads. They also built a cotton gin, installed an expensive water system, and conducted an aggressive advertising campaign to attract settlers and investors.

The land surrounding the townsite was divided into tracts of ten to 160 acres; for $25 dollars down and $10 a month an aspiring farmer could buy farmland and a receive a complimentary town lot. Land seekers (some called them “land suckers”) responded by moving to Fowlerton by the hundreds. By October 1911, when the SAU&G made its first trip into Fowlerton, the town already had two hotels, three general stores, a bank, twenty-five miles of streets, a telephone system, and 1,200 residents. By 1914 Fowlerton’s population was estimated at 2,000, and that year the town became the home of a summer normal school.

After 1917, however, the town rapidly declined; most of the farmers had suffered financial reverses due to a draught, low commodity prices, and marketing problems. Meanwhile, the Fowler brothers were targeted by a number of lawsuits accusing them of fraudulent marketing practices. The town thereafter “literally seemed to fall apart,” according to a former resident. By 1925 Fowlerton’s population had dropped to 600, and by 1931 only six businesses were reported there. By 1949 the community had 300 residents and four businesses and by 1964 200 people and two businesses. In 1972 the population was 100. In 1986 one newspaper called Fowlerton a “near-ghost town.”

REFERENCES:  John Leffler, “FOWLERTON, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hlf27), accessed May 08, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Wharton

Wharton, the county seat of Wharton County, is on the east bank of the lower Colorado River, forty-five miles from the Gulf of Mexico.  It was part of the Caney Run mail route established by the Republic of Texas in 1838.  The community was named after two leaders in the struggle for Texas independence, brothers John and William Wharton.  The plantation community was first settled in 1846 by some of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists, and a post office was established in 1847.  The first lieutenant governor of Texas, Albert Horton, was an early settler.  Land for the courthouse square was donated by William Kincheloe and surveyed by Virgil Stewart and William J. E. Heard.  Early settlers came from Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, and Mississippi. Jewish immigrants, arriving as early as the 1850s, established additional businesses and began the Congregation Shearith Israel, the only synagogue in a three-county area.  Other settlers in the community included Swiss, German, Mexican, and Czech immigrants and descendants of plantation slaves.

Early crops included potatoes, cotton, corn, rice, and sugar cane, and commercial enterprises included cattle, molasses, and sugar.  At different times the community had a cotton oil mill, a sugar cane factory, gristmills, cotton gins, a milk-processing plant and dairy, an ice plant, and numerous other industries.  Oil and sulfur production in the outlying areas contribute to the town’s economy.   The population of Wharton was about 200 in the early 1880s.  The New York, Texas and Mexican Railway was the first railroad to arrive at Wharton in 1881, followed by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe in 1899.  These two railroads brought a new influx of settlers, increasing the population to 1,689 in 1900 and 2,346 in 1920. In 1888 the first opera house opened.

The city was incorporated in 1902, when most of the structures were of wood construction.   A major fire that year destroyed a number of buildings, convincing businessmen and the city government to use brick construction with fire walls for all buildings within the city limits and to construct a water system with fire hydrants.  On February 21, 1903, the Deaton Grocery Co. (photo above) was organized.   A free library was established in 1902 by the New Century Club and adopted by the city in 1904.  In 1935 the majority of this library’s inventory was given to the Wharton Public School.  The first public park was dedicated in 1913, and the Wharton Chamber of Commerce organized in 1919.  The city experienced its greatest growth during the 1930s, increasing from 2,261 in 1930 to 4,386 in 1940. Wharton Little Theatre was organized in 1932, and Wharton County Junior College was established in 1946.  The town’s population reached 5,734 in 1960 and 7,881 in 1970

REFERENCE:  Ray Spitzenberger, “WHARTON, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hfw01), accessed December 10, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Blessing

Blessing is west of the junction of State Highway 35 and Farm Road 616 and twenty miles west of Bay City in northwestern Matagorda County. The town was promoted by Jonathan Edwards Pierce, on whose land it was established. In 1903, when Pierce gave the right-of-way to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, the future of the unnamed settlement seemed assured.  A grateful Pierce hoped to designate the place “Thank God,” but the United States Postal Department rejected his proposal.  As a compromise, the place was named Blessing, and a post office opened in 1903, with James H. Logan as first postmaster.  Between 1903 and 1905 a library building was attached to the train station.  In 1905 the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway also built through Blessing.  D. A. Wheeler’s hotel soon followed.

On September 1, 1907, residents platted the townsite, and the townsite company made provisions for school and church sites.  In 1909 P. Ansley established a local newspaper. B y 1914 Blessing had 500 inhabitants, two churches, a bank, a hotel, a telephone connection, and a weekly newspaper, the Blessing News. In 1925 Blessing’s population was still recorded at 500. In 1931 the town had a population of 450 and twenty-two businesses.  During the 1937–38 school year, nine teachers instructed 251 white students in eleven grades, and two teachers instructed thirty-eight black students in seven grades.  By 1949 the Blessing district had been consolidated with the Tidehaven Independent School District.  In 1945 Blessing’s population had risen to 600, served by thirteen businesses. Though in 1966 the population was reported as 1,250; in 1968 it had dropped to 405. In 1990 the town had 571 residents and twelve businesses.

REFERENCE:  Stephen L. Hardin, “BLESSING, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hlb36), accessed December 10, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association

Markham

Markham is at the junction of Farm roads 1468 and 2431, six miles northwest of Bay City in northwestern Matagorda County.  The settlement was first called Cortes and from 1901 to 1903 had its own post office under that name.  Cortes, named for H. W. Cortes, president of the Moore-Cortes Canal Company, was on the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway between Markham and the Colorado River.  In 1903 the Moore-Cortes Canal Company boosted community development.  That same year residents altered the name of the town to Markham, after C. H. Markham, an engineer for the Southern Pacific lines.

The building pictured above appears to have been a bank during its prime.  The corner entrance suggests that it was located on an important (probably the most important) corner of the town.  Brickwork on the building is quite complex - forming quoins on the building corners, pilasters, capitals, and friezes.  It’s a shame that vegetation has been allowed to engulf this little gem of a building.

The post office was established under the new name in 1903 and was still in operation in the early 1990s.  By 1914 Markham had become a stop on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and had a population of 500. In 1925 its population was estimated at 400. Markham in 1936 had numerous dwellings and two schools, two churches, a factory, and about ten other businesses, including a hotel run by A. A. Moore.  By the 1930s Markham residents had established an independent school district.  During the school year 1937–38, eight teachers instructed 278 white students through grade eleven, and two teachers instructed thirty-six black students through grade seven.  The population of Markham was reported at 700 in 1943.  By 1949 its schools had been consolidated with the Tidehaven Independent School District. Markham constructed a public school complex in 1952.  In 1950 the community population had been reported as 300, and in 1965 it was 750, with seven businesses.  In 1970 the population was 603, which remained the reported estimate through the 1980s.

REFERENCE:  Stephen L. Hardin, “MARKHAM, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hlm29), accessed December 11, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.