New Deal in Texas: Bunger PWA School House

front elevation 2

The Bunger school house is in Young County, just a few miles down the road from Graham, my home town.  It was completed in 1936 as PWA project W1255 and is rock veneer.  Miss Fannie Ragland was the county superintendent when the school was built.  The Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works funded the project.  The construction contract was awarded to Mont Groves of Olney, also in Young County.  Wichita Falls architects Voelcker and Dixon designed the school.

From appearances in June, the school is undergoing renovation, and I assume it is a private residence or will be at completion.  It appears that the north ell was converted to a garage/carport at some point since it mirrors the south ell and also has a finished interior.

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Keesler Bridge, Greenwood

Keesler Bridge

Keesler Bridge spans the Yazoo River from Fulton Street on the south side of the river to Grand Boulevard on the north side.  As part of his January-October 1986 survey of historic bridges in Mississippi, Jack D. Elliott, Jr. surveyed the swing through truss bridge constructed in 1925 by the Riley-Bailey Construction Company.  The bridge last turned to permit river traffic to pass in the 1950s according to the official Greenwood city site.

Keesler is adjacent to the Cotton Row District, a section of Greenwood that still boasts some of its brick paved streets.  Brick was authorized as the paving material for Greenwood streets at the January 1924 City Council meeting (Greenwood Daily Commonwealth, 02 Jan 1924, p. 1).

The year 1924 should be one of civic progress for Greenwood.  As the year is ushered in, it finds, unsightly and unsatisfactory wood block with which the business streets have been paved being replaced with enduring brick.

The year should see the beginning of construction work on a new bridge across the Yazoo river to replace the present structure with is both inadequate and unsafe. (The Greenwood Daily Commonwealth, 01 Jan 1924, p. 2)

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Take me back to dry west Texas

roof top

Labor Day weekend and the epiphany: There is a reason for ecosystems.  Not that the realization was the epiphany, but that being raised in the ecosystem of dry west Texas leaves one ill-prepared for moving to Mississippi and the ever-present reality of kudzu.

Kudzu was introduced into the U. S. at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.  From 1935 to the mid-1950s, farmers in the South were encouraged to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion…To successfully control kudzu, its extensive root system must be completely eradicated by cutting vines just above the ground and mowing every month for two growing seasons–all cut material must be destroyed. (The Nature Conservancy)

Since the kudzu grows up the side of the hill and then leaps over to trees, fence, and anything else in its path, and we do not have the equipment to mow a steep hillside, we are considerably disadvantaged here.

the rock

For the last two days, and the rest of today, I have been cutting vines, pulling out roots, dragging it off trees and fences, and late yesterday afternoon whilst taking a break, I said to Rand: “I think we should go back to Texas.  It was hot and dry, but you never had to deal with kudzu.”

There is a reason you do not find magnolia trees in west Texas and there is a reason you do not find mesquite trees in Mississippi.  What works in one ecosystem can be toxic in another.  Reminds me of the time I heard a pastor say, “You cannot move to the desert and then pray for rain.”  I wonder how many of the problems we deal with on a daily basis are human-created.  Unintended consequences.

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Tonk Valley Cemetery

While I was in Texas May-July, my cousins on mother’s side of the family came up for a week.  We went out to the family cemeteries for Sis and me to show them the family gravesites.  I have found cemeteries fascinating since I was a child and often went to them with both of my grandmothers–the official gravetenders.  As most folks know, women have always been designated the caretakers, and apparently, that is whether those needing care are dead or alive.

We were fascinated by the designs on the headstone of our great-great-great-great grandmother, Susan Brogdon Timmons.  Susan died in 1892.  The design on the top of one side seems to be a ribbon linking two palm leafs.    At the base of the stone is a series of 3 “comma-like” designs and a series of half-circles segmented into triangular pie-shapes with two half circle rays above each half-circle.  The University of Georgia Wilson Center DigiLab on gravestones and symbolism indicates 3 of anything usually represents the Trinity.  The half-circles may be a stylized rising sun, which was often depicted with “rays” above it, indicated rising.  Egyptian-like designs were also found in the Rural Cemetery Movement, although this was more of an extension of the use in Europe’s Egyptian Revival/Classical styles than directly from Egypt.

It is also of interest that graves are often marked with verse, which originated in the early Puritan and Colonial burial yards (Jessie Lie Farber, Early American Gravestones, 2003).  The example above is on an unmarked grave in the Tonk Valley Cemetery.

If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to heaven, and bring you home again.

There are numerous references to the poem’s first four lines in “memorial stones” but I could find nothing else about it.  This example seems to be a vernacular version, possible home-made.

Finally, the John L. Bias vernacular concrete marker intrigued me.  A folk grave marker is one

…having been created by hand who normally does not make grave markers as a profession. (Gordon Bond & Stephanie M. Hoagland, Made from My Own Hand: An Introduction to Concrete Grave Markers, 2014)

Bond and Hoagland’s research identified the majority of concrete vernacular markers dated between 1900 and 1950.  Economics often were behind the choice, and indeed, I have found a variety of vernacular concrete grave markers in African American cemeteries in Mississippi, and Hispanic grave markers in Texas.  John Bias was the son of Gideon Sylvester Bias and was born in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri.  Records indicate Gideon Sylvester Bias had Cherokee heritage, and indeed, 7 half-siblings of John Bias were living in Oklahoma at the time of their deaths and one half-sister’s married name was Five Killer.  Bias also had 8 full-siblings.

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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.



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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

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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