Lost, Texas by Bronson Dorsey

Lost, Texas

My friend Jane is just the coolest friend ever.  Today, this present arrived on my doorstep with a note that said, “Saw this and thought of you!  It’s not New Deal but thought you might enjoy it.”

Oh yeah.  I discovered Bronson Dorsey through his blog Lost, Texas, and have seen a few of his pictures–some places I know from my first 53 years living in Texas, and many that I might have heard of, but never visited, and plenty that I never heard of or visited.  That is the thing about Texas–it is just a big ole place.

I well know plenty of the places Dorsey writes about: Archer City, Big Spring, Cisco, Eliasville, Scranton, Strawn, Colorado City, and Post.  Others, not so much, but I have certainly heard of them and read of them, and driven through them.  This is going to be a curl-up-in-bed-Saturday-morning-road-trip across one of the most diverse, varied, and incredibly beautiful places in the United States: Lost, Texas.



Posted in landscape architecture, Texas | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

J. Riely Gordon’s Wise County, Texas Courthouse

Clock tower

J. Riely Gordon’s 1895-1897 courthouse in Decatur replaced one that burned in 1895.  Fire had also consumed the 1881 courthouse and it burned to the ground destroying all records.  Both fires were thought to be arson.  Of the 1881 fire, the newspapers reported:

The firing of the court-house was of incendiary origin.  There is no insurance on anything.  Individually the losses on furniture, books, etc., will amount to considerable.  The question of a new court-house has been warmly discussed of late, and it is supposed this means was adopted to decide the matter.  (The Dallas Daily Herald, Nov. 29, 1881, p. 1)

Wise County Courthouse

Rosalie Gregg, writing for the Wise County Historical Society, reported the courthouse cost $110,000.  The stone was pre-cut, numbered, and shipped from Burnet County Texas.  The exterior is pink granite and the interior is Vermont marble.

The clock was purchased from E. Howard and Company.  John A. White was the contractor.

James Riely Gordon designed 18 Texas courthouses, 12 of which remain (254 Texas Courthouses).  His Angelina County Courthouse in Lufkin, Aransas County Courthouse in Rockport, Brazoria County Courthouse in Brazoria, Callahan County Courthouse in Baird, San Patricio County Courthouse in Sinton, and Van Zandt County Courthouse in Canton have all been demolished.  Gordon’s work is most known for his Richardsonian Romanesque courthouses.


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Majestic Theatre of Decatur TX

Majestic marquis side elevation

Decatur, TX has a great town square–one of my favorite things in visiting new places.  I actually stopped off to photograph the New Deal post office and got caught up on the beautiful square.  As I was heading back to the car in the sweltering triple digit heat, I glanced over to see the Majestic sign.  It turns out that it is a replica made in 2016.  The building is no longer in use as a theatre, but it still has a fascinating history.

The original Majestic was established in 1908 and located off the square on N. Trinity. Willie Cooper was the phonograph player, Will Terrell the singer, and the “moving picture machine” was operated by Edward Blythe (Decatur Wise County Messenger, Dec. 17, 1908, p. 5).

The Majestic moving picture show continues to draw big crowds. The program is completely changed 3 times a week, with special mattinee [sic] Saturday afternoons. Admission only 10 cents. (Decatur Wise County Messenger, Jan. 28, 1909, p. 5)

The Majestic moved to North State Street in 1914 and featured “electric lights and fans as well as state of the art Edison and Powers projectors…” (Decatur Town Square Newsletter, March 2018).  Following a fire in 1917 that destroyed some of the block, the Majestic re-opened in the current location at least by 1919.

Rebuilt Majestic after 1917 fire

Retrieved March 2018 Decatur Town Square Newsletter.

The 2016 item about the replicated sign and marquis indicated the Majestic was “around from 1917 through the 30s or 40s”.  The Majestic was operated as a theatre until 1950 when the stage, screen, cold air ducts, balcony, projection booth, insulation, and light fixtures were all removed to renovate for a new business, following a vacancy of several years.  It served as the local Eisenhower campaign headquarters in 1952, and the seats were sold in 1953.

The front of the building will be modernized. (Wise County Messenger, Jul 22, 1954, p. 7)

Although the Wise County Tax Appraisal indicated the year built was 1937, that is clearly not the year of construction.  You can readily determine the building above is the same as the photographs, albeit with the “modernized” storefront.  It was repainted in 1929.  In 1935, Mrs. Blythe sold the theatre and it was remodeled and then re-opened in 1935 following installation of new equipment .

North State Street

North State Street c. 1920s retrieved from decaturmainstreet.com

The c. 1920s photograph also shows the building.  The automobile models and presence of horses and buggies on the unpaved square indicate an earlier date for the building than 1937.  The buildings currently retain the same basic building style as pictured above, as does most of the downtown Decatur Square.

Posted in Historic Downtowns, Texas | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Former First National Bank of Itta Bena

First National Bank side and front

William Gatlin and Susan Tietz (2009) completed the nomination form for the Itta Bena Historic District, National Register of Historic Places, and indicated the former First National Bank Building would be among buildings eligible on its own.  The 1918-1919 Neo-Classical bank building is an interesting combination of stucco, scored stucco, exposed brick, Corinthian capitals and pilasters.  It features an ashlar facade, a type of masonry where large individual square-cut stones are used to face a wall or portion of a building.

Imposing two-story Neo-Classical former bank has a flat front parapet with a slightly projecting dentiled pediment centered over flanking engaged segmented columns topped with Corinthian capitals, and a wide dentiled cornice along the center of the front facade.  Under the gable is a tripartite 15-light leaded window over a bracketed, dentiled entablature with a centered date panel which reads ‘1919.’  Double-leaf wood single-light doors are topped with a single transom and sheltered by a canvas awining.  Flanking this are matching tripartite 15-light leaded windows with colored glass panels in the center pane, then matching pilasters at the corners.  Three bay-w-d-w-facade is executed in scored stucco; the north elevation has exposed brick and south elevation is clad in stucco.  Both side elevations contain five openings that match in size and profile the front windows, but have been in-filled with wood. 

First National Bank 2

The building currently is home to 1919 Antiques.  C. P. Bradford of the First National Bank was appointed to the executive committee of the Leflore County War Savings Committee when the county banks were approved to sell War Stamps (Commonwealth, 02 January 1918, p. 5).  The bank reported earnings for 1918 were at 54% (Itta Bena has Prosperous Year, Daily Commonwealth, 15 January 1919, p. 1).  U. Ray was president in 1926, but by 1930, First Savings Bank of Itta Bena had purchased First National Bank.  The resulting merger saw Dr. C. C. Moore elected President of the new board of the renamed First Savings Bank and Trust Company (Banks Merge at Itta Bena, Greenwood Commonwealth, 04 January 1930, p. 8).

Posted in Bank buildings, Historic Downtowns, Mississippi Delta Towns, Neo-Classical | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Early Brick Companies of Texas

brick border

While photographing the Palo Pinto County Courthouse, I was intrigued with a section of sidewalks bordered by bricks.  I recognized (of course!) Fort Worth and Thurber Brick Company, but the others were new to me: Globe, Palmer, and Standard.  Fort Worth Brick Company (Acme Brick) was established in 1908 with a capital stock of $30,000 by John R. Darnell, L. H. Sargent, and A. L. Davidson (“New Corporations”, The Houston Post, 26 September 1908, p. 5).

Thurber Brick

Thurber Brick began in 1897 using leftover non-commercial pea coal and deposits of shale clay.  Thurber was home to coal mining and manufacturing brick became an additional source of revenue using readily available ingredients.  The leftover coal was used to fire the kilns.  It was the largest and busiest plant west of the Mississippi at its peak, and had 800 workers making 80,000 bricks per day (Cox, M. 2010. Texas Tales. Texas Escapes).  The brick plant was about a half mile from Thurber, and ceased operations in 1931.  The triangle on the brick was the Union symbol for Brick, Tile, and Terra Cotta Workers Alliance, and featured the initials B, T, T in the points.

Palmer Pressed Brick Company operated out of Palmer, Texas.

The Palmer brick plant was started in motion Monday morning.  Only a few brick were made Monday, owing to the breaking of some part of the press machinery, but it is only a temporary brake [sic], and was soon made ready by the blacksmith’s tools.  About 4,000 brick were made Monday, and they were beauties, as pretty as can be made by any plant in the state.  The second dry pan has not arrived yet, hence only one press is in operation, but it is turning out about 20,000 brick a day.  The first kiln is being built of green brick.  It will be quite a while before a kiln can be turned out ready for market.  So far everything looks very promising.–Palmer Rustler. (The Waxahachie Daily Light, August 16, 1902)

Standard Brick Company was also located in Palmer.  It was chartered with capital stock of $30,000 by Luke Harrison, J. R. Beck, and J. B. Elgan in 1910 (Houston Post, 03 June 1910, p. 5). Globe Press Brick Company was located in Ferris, Texas, and organized by T. J. Weatherford, W. E. Weatherford, and John V. Muntz with capital stock of $30,000 in 1904 (El Paso Herald, 22 November 1904).

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Morrow Grocery: Meats Feeds


Morrow Grocery on Main Street, Graford, Texas, was established in 1903 according to their Facebook page.  They operated a meat market in conjunction with the grocery store–you know, the way we bought meat before butchers were phased out of many grocery stores.  They also sold feed–the kind for livestock.  Horace Morrow was born in 1896 in Arkansas, and died in 1975.

According to the Palo Pinto County tax appraisal, the commercial buildings were constructed in 1940.  A family obituary indicated Horace started the store in 1944.  It is not clear to me how the 1903 date is connected, since Horace would have been 7 at the time.

The building, with its pressed tin ceiling, was flooded in 2015 when the city sewer backflowed 3,000 gallons of raw sewage into the store.  The current owners have been repairing and rebuilding since then.  According to the Facebook page, the Texas Municipal League declined to pay the cost of damage, and the insurance company denied the claim because they asserted the city was responsible.

A new business recently opened in the commercial building next door to Morrow’s–Bellino’s Italian Ristorante.  That building also has a pressed tin ceiling, but the tax roll does not indicate the date of construction.  While Graford, population just over 600, seems like an unlikely location for a restaurant of this caliber (check out their Facebook page!), it is always nice to see investment into historic buildings, and especially, in the communities.

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First National Bank of Graford

Graford downtown block

Graford is a small town in Palo Pinto County, Texas, with a estimated current population of 601 persons.  The town name comes from Graham and Weatherford–a fact I never knew before today (Handbook of Texas Online, Claudia Hazlewood, “GRAFORD, TX,” accessed July 09, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hlg31).
George R. Bevers surveyed a homestead in 1854 and a year later, built a home.  The first business was Ansell Russell and Willis Mills’ store.

FNB side and front elevation

Postal service was established by 1895.  By 1907, the town had several dry goods stores, a hardware and implement store, two blacksmiths, a meat market, restaurant, hotel, bank, and drugstore, and was serviced by train travel.  The first mention I find of the bank is the First State Bank in 1909.  In 1923, it was converted to the First National Bank.  The canopy is a late-day addition, and it appears windows have been modernized.  The building still features a canted entrance and the barred teller windows are visible through the front window.

teller window

First National Bank 2

Several stores in the town were destroyed by fire in 1925, including the Masonic Hall, the Harrison Sanitarium, and the old post office building.  Businesses included Lamar Drug Store and McQueen’s market.

Posted in Bank buildings, Historic Downtowns, Texas | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Palo Pinto County Courthouse

Palo Pinto County Courthouse Main entrance

Texas has some of the most imposing courthouses, and overall, have done a nice job of protecting them thanks to the Texas Historical Commission’s “nationally recognized and award-winning Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.”  Thus far, 67 full restorations have been funded.  Palo Pinto’s courthouse is one of the 102 eligible courthouses to participate in the program.  Another 74 have approved or pending approval plans and/or have received planning or emergency funding.

WPA plaque

Architects Preston M. Geren, Sr. and M. A. Howell designed the “Texas Renaissance” courthouse, partially constructed with or clad with some sandstone from the 1882 courthouse, quarried south of the town.  Although a number of courthouses in Texas indicate Texas Renaissance style, it has been hard to pin down exactly what is meant by that term.  It more aptly describes a period of renaissance in Texas than a unique style, as the courthouses built during that time period contained elements of Classical Revival and Renaissance Revival. Kelsey and Dyal offer this description:

Robinson refers to it as Texas Renaissance, and it occurred from 1900 until the WPA constructions of the Great Depression…These buildings reflected new styles such as Beaux-Arts, Renaissance and Classical Revival, and Mission Style.  In a display of pride, the county name and the Texas star often are prominently displayed on these buildings, and a heroic statement may be engraved on the frieze or over the entrance.  Domes, pediments with columns, colonnades, and red brick walls with white stone moldings are characteristic features. (Kelsey, Sr., M. P., & Dyal, D. H. (1993). The Courthouses of Texas. Texas A&M University Press)


Palo Pinto (“painted stick”) was originally named Golconda.  The name was changed in 1859, some 3 years after the town was established amidst the multi-colored hills and rocks along the Brazos that form Palo Pinto County.

In March 1940, 50 men employed by the Work Projects Administration razed the 58-year old courthouse constructed in 1882, removing the cupola and roof, and using cranes to lower the sandstone blocks for reuse.  Some of the stones weighed over 1,000 pounds according to the Stephenville Empire-Tribune (March 22, 1940, second section, p. 1).  These stones had been quarried from the nearby hills, and along with new stone from the same area, would be utilized in construction of the new courthouse.  Ralph Carroll was the WPA construction engineer for the project (“Plans speeded toward start of projects here.” Wichita Daily Times, February 16, 1941, p. 1).

Completed in 1942, the building was constructed of reinforced concrete, and “featured subtle classical detail and was clad with some of the sandstone from the old building” (Texas Historical Commission marker, 1986).  The cost of the new courthouse was $250,000.


Posted in Beaux Arts, Brazos River, Classical Revival, Courthouses, New Deal Administration, Renaissance Revival, Texas, Work Projects Administration | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Limestone Guard Wall, Kimberlin Mountain: Another WPA Find

SH 16 guard wall Kimberlin Mountain south

Growing up in Young County, Texas, this road was one of my dad’s favorites for a Sunday afternoon drive around Lake Possum Kingdom, or PK as we knew it.  On my recent trip to Texas, I discovered this guard wall around the edge of Kimberlin Mountain–so named for a nearby ranch–was constructed by the WPA.  I had run across a document from the Texas Highway Department about bridges, and when I read the section about a retaining wall constructed along the road below the dam, I had a good idea it was this road.  This section of the lake area is in Palo Pinto County.

PK bridge 4

Back in 2012, I had discovered the bridge over the Brazos River below the dam was a WPA construction, and recalled I had photographed the bridge many years earlier without knowing the significance.  The bridge, guard wall, 21 limestone culverts, and 27.75 miles of highway were also constructed after the Morris Sheppard Dam was completed.  Knowing the only retaining wall/guard wall I was aware of would have been this charming little overlook, I took a drive out my final week in Texas.

Kimberlin Mountain overlook

Dad would pull over and park in the pull-out to the edge, and we would talk about the beautiful valley below and the little ranch.  Sometimes he would make up stories about how it must have looked in the early years of settlement, and prior, when it was home or hunting grounds to Comanche and Kiowa.

SH 16 guard wall Kimberlin Mountain north

The rock was quarried from atop Kimberlin Mountain, and the guard wall is two feet tall with crenellations spaced every four feet the 1800 feet of the length of the wall.  There were originally 129 crenellations, and 88 of them remain in original condition, unaltered or undamaged.  Of the 21 stone culverts constructed along the route, 16 are still in original condition.  WPA also constructed ‘haul roads’ to transport supplies during the construction of the dam.  The 8.4 mile segment of the State Highway 16 corridor runs north-to-south, connecting SH 16 at SH 254 near Graford along the east side of Possum Kingdom to Brackeen Drive near Brad.

Kimberlin Mountain and southern crenellation

Posted in Brazos River, Bridges, landscape architecture, New Deal Administration, Texas, Works Progress Administration | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Texas in Retrospect

I am finally back in Mississippi, after 7 weeks in Texas with little phone signal, less Internet, and yet a whole lotta experiences tucked under my belt, even if not in Lottabusha County.  I left Mississippi on May 15, with Mama Scruffy, and yet unnamed kitties. Now frankly, they were somewhat traumatized by the trip, the stop off at my friends in Dallas, only to be loaded up again and transported into yet another strange environment in their short little lives.  As you can see from the picture though, they adjusted.

Mom and Sue-2 It was a roller coaster ride for seven weeks, and probably ran the gamut from the mundane and minimal to the super awesome.  Sunday dinner with Mother, cousin reunions, cemetery tramping, the just plain old hard physical labor were interspersed with the ordinary daily tasks.cakeMother celebrated her 91st birthday May 25. [Note: it is good to come from a long line of folks who live a long time in relatively good health; it bodes well for my future.]

Mother’s nieces whom she has not seen since for a long time came and spent a week with us.  Joining us were my two aunts (Mother’s brother’s wife and their son, and Daddy’s only sister with her sweet doggie Abby), my sister, and several of the friends and neighbors.  In the last 5 years, we have tried to celebrate the good things as well as survive the difficult ones, and making 91 and still fairly independent is definitely something to celebrate.Jane 2My long-time dear friend Jane from Dallas where she and her husband live now, who also graciously overnighted me, Mama Scruffy, and two kitties on the trip to Texas, came to help me with packing up and sorting out the house.  She also brought along fresh tomatoes in several varieties from their garden, and some of the most wonderful peaches ever from Ham’s Orchard in Tyler, Texas.  Now let me tell you, when friends share peaches and tomatoes, you know they are friends.  Mostly, it was just fun to hang out.  Minimalism was my go-to word, but it may have been a step below that at times, however, to enjoy a meal with my friend Jane, my sis Jane, and to cherish the times with those we love who help us celebrate, and shore us up when there is nothing to celebrate or at least seems like there is not is a treasure to cherish.Still lifeThere were certainly aspects that seemed very minimal, but also, moments that made me feel blessed and grounded.  It was difficult to keep up with all that was happening, because the rural area has poor cell phone reception most of the time.  That was both a blessing and a curse.  Sometimes, the time we spend with ourselves in moments of quiet thought is healing and produces growth.  Sometimes, it seemed a bit ironic that even though I was “roughing it” nonetheless I had bits and pieces of family, beauty, and the simple joy of a house that was cool, filled with loving memories, and even though spartan in the whole, brought me joy along with the difficult task of sorting out my parents’ lives as represented in material things.

It was healing and exasperatingly painful.  Joyful and sorrowful.  Filled with insight and filled with questions.  In a world filled with fear and anger for many, pain and sorrow for others, I felt myself both incredibly blessed for the opportunity to sort through all those conflicting emotions while feeling relatively secure and safe, and at the same time, knowing that was not and is not the case for so many more.  That is not said to negate the joy and wonder of the time there.  It is not said to wallow in sack cloth and ashes.  It is said to recognize that to she who is given much, much is expected.  We have work to do in order to provide those opportunities to each of us, as each of us deserve them.


Posted in Texas, Young County | Tagged , , | 5 Comments