ruins

Kempner

Kempner School

Kempner is at the junction of U.S. Highway 190 and Ranch Road 2313, on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Lampasas River in southeastern Lampasas County. It moved a number of times during its early years of development. It was first settled in the early 1850s, when a number of families named Pickett moved to the area, which became known as Pickett Valley. The majority of the settlers were land and slave owners of prominence until the Civil War. The community was also briefly known as Brummersville during 1865. The Pickett cemetery is still located slightly west of Kempner. Around 1854 Dan W. Taylor moved to the area with a large herd of cattle and built a store for his men on Taylor Creek, two miles from the present townsite. He was an influential man in the community and was often consulted to settle local legal differences. A post office named Taylor’s Creek was established in his store in 1873. After Taylor’s death the community was named after a local landowner named Slaughter. The Taylor’s Creek post office was discontinued in 1878, and that same year a post office named Slaughtersville was established.

In 1882 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway was built through the area, two miles from the Taylor store, and the community’s center finally became fixed when the post office was moved to a frame building near the railroad tracks and renamed Kempner after Harris Kempner, a Galveston merchant and director of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe. The first postmaster at the new location was Johnnie Chance. The coming of the railroad caused the population to double. The first rock store in town was erected by Jo Brown. By 1884 Kempner had two steam gristmills and cotton gins, a church, a district school, and telegraph service, and by 1896 a hotel had been built. Telephone service was available by 1914. In 1918 a Mr. Rancier organized a bank in Kempner; this establishment later failed, and the stockholders lost their accounts.

The population of Kempner remained at an estimated 103 from 1904 to 1926. It rose briefly to 300 in 1927 but began to drop again in the 1930s, reaching 125 in 1933 and remaining at that level for a number of years. It began to rise again in the mid-1960s until it reached 420 in 1974, where it remained through 1990. Nine businesses were reported in 1986. By 2000 the population was 1,004 with fifty-four businesses. Annual festivals include the All-West Roundup and the Oktoberfest.

REFERENCE:  Alice J. Rhoades, “KEMPNER, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnk08), accessed January 22, 2016. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Salem

Salem School

Salem must have been a popular name in the late 1800s, as there are seventeen of them listed in the Handbook of Texas.  This Salem was a farming community in southern Bastrop County south of Rosanky and two miles from Jeddo.  Originally known as St. Philips Colony, Salem was populated by blacks freed during Reconstruction.  Since it was paired with the white community of Jeddo, it’s uncertain how many people lived in Salem.  St. Philip’s Church (denomination unknown) and a number of houses existed when the school was built.

The Salem School was two-room schoolhouse and had one teacher for the twenty-nine black students when it opened in the early 1880s.  In 1907, the Salem School, with over fifty students was merged with the Jeddo school district and later with the Smithville ISD.  All that remains today are the ruins of the school and the old cemetery.

REFERENCES:  Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “SALEM, TX (BASTROP COUNTY),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hrsvy), accessed April 18, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Paula Mitchell Marks, “JEDDO, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnj06), accessed April 18, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Scranton

Scranton Academy

Traveling from Tennessee in 1875 to seek better lives for their families, David C. Lane and brothers Joseph and Aaron Brown settled in the western part of Eastland County and established the community of Scranton – named after a surveyor employed by the Houston & Texas Central Railroad.  By 1880 the community had enough school-age children to build its own school.  That same year a cotton gin was constructed to help the local farmers prepare their crops for market.  Elisha E. Chunn, recently arrived from Alabama, opened Scranton’s first general store in 1891 – the same year that the town received a post office.

Scranton was prosperous enough after the turn of the 19th Century that the area’s farmers raised money through subscriptions to build a college preparatory school.  In 1903 Alabama educator, Orrin C. Britton helped open the Scranton Academy for high school students on a 12-acre site.  The academy included a two-story main building, separate boys and girls dormitories, a dining hall and athletic fields.  At its peak, the Scranton Academy had a student body of more than 350, with some students traveling from as far away as Fort Worth.  World War I devastated the school when its oldest male students enlisted in the military.  As a result, the school closed in 1917.

Meanwhile, as the town became a regional trade center during the 1910s, a dry goods store, hardware store, and two grocery stores opened in Scranton.  The Scranton Reporter started publication in 1911.  A boll weevil infestation in 1917 crippled the cotton industry, forcing most farmers to switch to peanuts as a cash crop.  Despite discovery of the Ranger oil field in 1917, the cumulative effects of the Great Depression sent most Scranton residents to the cities for jobs.  The population decline continued after World War II, effectively sealing Scranton’s fate.

Scranton School Gymnasium – This concrete-framed stone structure was built during the Depression with funding from the WPA.  Owned by the Scranton School District, it was the center of activity for the community.  The building was destroyed by fire in the 1960s.

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.