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The ghost towns of Texas: 5 abandoned Texas towns to check out on your next road trip

Terlingua
Terlingua (Pixabay)

Whether these less-than-bustling locales are your ultimate destination or merely a pit stop on your Texas road trip, here’s a look at five of the state’s ghost towns.

Terlingua

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Location: Brewster County

Area: 11 mi²

Population: 58 (2010)

Fast facts: 1) Its name from Terlinagua Creek (three tongues) nearby was coined by Mexican cowherders. 2) Terlingua became famous for its annual chili cook-off and in 1967 was named the “Chili Capitol of the World” by the Chili Appreciation Society. 3) In 1922, 40 percent of the quicksilver mined in the United States came from Terlingua.

About: Located near Big Bend, Terlingua is a census-designated place in southwestern Brewster County. In it’s heyday Terlingua was a bustling mining town where some 2,000 inhabitants, give or take, enjoyed access to modern facilities including a company-owned commissary and hotel, a school, telephone service (albeit erratic), a dependable water supply, a company doctor, and three-times-a-week mail delivery. Founded by Chicago industrialist Howard E. Perry, The Chisos Mining Company, was established at Terlingua in 1903. Over the next several decades the company prospered, becoming one of the nation’s leading producers of quicksilver. Quicksilver production peaked during World War I and by 1922, 40 percent of the quicksilver mined in the United States came from Terlingua. But production began to decline steadily during the 1930s and on October 1, 1942, the Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy. A successor firm ceased operations at the end of World War II when most of the population dispersed, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Nowadays, visitors to Terlingua will find Terlingua Trading Company Gift Shop, lodging options including Big Bend Holiday Hotel, and a handful of restaurants and bars including the Starlight Theatre.

Toyah

Location: Reeves County

Area: 1.6 mi²

Population: 90 (2010)

Fast facts: 1) Toyah is the oldest townsite in Reeves County. 2) Its name is derived from a native American word that means flowing water, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

About: The community began as a trading post for the large area ranches, according to the Texas State Historical Association. In 1933, Toyah was incorporated and its businesses rose to twenty. In 1881 the first train arrived in Toyah, and a post office was established. Toyah reported a population of 771 in 1910, and the town soon became a major cattle-shipping point along a railroad. However, Toyah later lost its shipping business to a new point on the same railroad line called Toyahvale, which was situated closer to the ranches of the area. Toyah’s population remained above 1000 until the Great Depression hit in 1929, according to the Texas State Historical Association. And at one point during its history, Toyah had four churches, four stores, two banks, two hotels, two lumberyards, and a drugstore. Toyah was incorporated in 1933. By 2010, it’s population had fallen to 90 people.

The Grove

Location: Coryell County

Population: 65 (2000)

Fast fact: The ghost town now is the subject of a documentary titled “The Grove, Texas.” The film covers the history of the ghost town and tracks the efforts of its former owner to preserve it and ultimately sell it.

About: The Grove is an unincorporated community on Farm Road 1114 just off State Highway 36, sixteen miles southeast of Gatesville in eastern Coryell County. The Grove was established around1859 and named for the grove of live oak trees in which the area is situated, according to the Texas State Historical Association. By the mid-1880s the community had three general stores, two groceries, and a population of 150. In 1900 The Grove was one of the most prosperous towns in Coryell County. The community began declining in the 1940s; it was bypassed by State Highway 36, some area farmers were forced to relocate when Fort Hood was established, and others lost land when the Belton dam was built in 1953, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Nowadays, visitors to The Grove will find several of the town’s early buildings still standing, some even restored.

Independence

Location: Washington County

Population: 140 (2000)

Fast facts: 1) Sam Houston and his family lived in Independence in the 1850s. 2) Judge John P. Coles, Sam Houston, Jr., Moses Austin Bryan, T. T. Clay, and other prominent Texas citizens are buried at the town’s Old Independence Cemetery and Margaret M. L. Houston and her mother are interred at the Houston-Lea Family Cemetery. 3) It is the first site of of Baylor University and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. 4) The town possesses the state’s oldest Baptist Church, continuously in service since 1839.

About: Independence is an unincorporated community some twelve miles northeast of Brenham in Washington County. Flashback to its heyday in 1845 and the town was considered the wealthiest community in Texas and a Baptist stronghold, according to the town. Founded in 1835, the the community prospered and within a decade became a significant religious and educational center for the Republic of Texas, according to the Texas State Historical Association. In 1846 Baylor University began operating as a coeducational school with twenty-four pupils and by the 1850s the town also had a hotel, a stagecoach depot, a jail, a Masonic lodge, a cemetery, and a small commercial district, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Independence was incorporated in 1952. The Santa Fe railroad wanted to serve Independence, but city leaders and Baylor administrators refused to grant the right-of-way. By the 1880s most of the railway lines in the area had bypassed Independence, and much of the trade was going to competing towns, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Because students had difficulty finding transportation to the city, Baylor officials relocated Baylor Female College (now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor) to Belton and Baylor University to Waco, in 1885, further contributing to the city’s decline, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Nowadays, visitors to Independence will find numerous historical sites, including the Independence Baptist Church, the Texas Baptist Historical Center, the home of Judge Coles, Baylor College Park, Old Independence Cemetery and the Margaret Houston House and Houston-Lea Family Cemetery. An array of self-guided and guided walking tours, biking tours and driving tours are available.

Lobo

Location: Culberson County

Population: 15

Fast fact: In the early 2000s, several individuals purchased the ghost town and began rebuilding it. Lobo is now a private property and not intended for settlement or long term visits, according to the ghost town’s website.

About: The site that would come to be known as Lobo is situated near Van Horn Wells, the only dependable water source for miles around. The wells became a stop on mail routes and later a railroad drilled a water well and built a depot and cattle loading pens in the area, according to the Texas State Historical Association. In 1907 a post office had been opened in the area, named for the wolves that had formerly roamed nearby, and by 1909, a townsite was laid out at Lobo; promoters advertised artesian wells and a large hotel, among other amenities, but when the purchasers arrived they discovered that they had been duped. Through legal action, however, they forced the promoters to build a hotel, drill wells, and generally live up to their promises, according to the Texas State Historical Association. By the mid 1960s, the town has a population of some 90 residents and a gin. During this tim, the water table began dropping dramatically and the cost of keeping the irrigation pumps going skyrocketed. The cotton gin ultimately shut down, lading to the city’s decline, according to the Texas State Historical Association. In 1991 Lobo was abandoned by its last residents.

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Sources: United States Census Bureau, Texas State Historical Association, Visit Big Bend, Independence, Texas website, Lobo, Texas website


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