This Must Be the Place!
TEXOLA, Beckham Co.
Gary B Speck
Every Ghost Town is unique. Each town or site has its own personality. Some places have been erased from the map, while others hang out the touristy glitz in a loud, boastful and self-assertive way. Then there’re others that aren’t afraid to display their uniqueness to the world in their own quiet, unassuming way. Texola, Oklahoma is one of the later. Zipping east from Texas to Oklahoma on I-40, we hit the transition from one state to another, as well as from the West to the Midwest. Crossing the 100th Meridian at the state line happens in a non-eventful blink.
Just east of the state line and less than a mile to the south, a tall water tower breaks up the great flatness of western Oklahoma. Trees and rooftops call out to the curious, and since 1975, this faded town has had to rely on the curious. PRE I-40 it was a major stop on Route 66, but when the Interstate opened, bypassing the town, it died faster than an unwatered lawn in the desert.
Because this town sits practically right on the imaginary line called the 100th Meridian as well as the state line, confusion reigned until it was firmly planted. Residents changed their addresses from Texas to Oklahoma Territory and back on a regular basis, all without even having to move their houses. After eight surveys, the surveyors dragging their chains and transits through the countryside finally determined exactly where the state/territorial line/100th Meridian actually was. Texola WAS in Oklahoma.
When we arrived in town, the first building we spotted was a bar with a wonderful, verbal, black on yellow mural painted on the side. It aptly describes this unique, nearly dead town”
“There’s no other place
like this place
anywhere near this place
so this must be the place.”
The Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad (a subsidiary of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway – CRI&P) established Texola around 1901 or 1902. A post office opened in the budding railroad town in December 1901, and by the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907, both the town and post office had had tried out a number of name combinations to celebrate its unique position. TEXOKLA and TEXOMA didn’t work, and when they tried TEXOLA it seemed to fit perfectly. Texola grew quickly and incorporated. In 1910, 361 folks lived here, but that decreased slightly to 298 in time for the 1920 enumeration.
When US Highway 66 came through in 1928, it skirted the southern edge of downtown, about 1˝ blocks south of the railroad. Traveler amenities popped up along the new highway, which ran perpendicular to the main business block, Grand Avenue. Texola was at its prime and saw its population nearly double to 581 in 1930. However, the 1930s and the Great Depression were not kind. Even though Texola sat on Route 66, the population started slipping; not just because of the economy, but also because of two larger towns located nearby. Erick sits just seven miles east, while Shamrock, Texas is plopped down 14 miles to the west. As they were larger, they were able to offer the traveler more. In 1930, Erick tallied 2231 folks, while Shamrock tipped the pop-o-meter at 3778.
As time rolled further from 1930, Texola’s population continued to decline. By 1990 it reached 45, and by 2000 that had actually increased – to 47. In 2010, the downward spiral continued, with only 36 folks counted. In that census, Erick still tallied a tad over 1000, while Shamrock came in just shy of 2000. Both continue sucking what little bit of remaining life remained in poor little Texola.
During the 1920s-early 1930s, Texola looked far different than it does today. Its businesses included a 300-seat auditorium, bank, blacksmith, four churches, corn & grist mill, four cotton gins, gas stations, a couple of general stores, a hardware store, three hotels, a tiny jail, livery, meat market, a weekly newspaper (Texola Herald), a ten-acre park, the post office, railroad station and two restaurants. Cotton and corn raised in the area was shipped regularly to market via the CRI&P Railroad.
Our visit to Texola on June 21, 2012 was not pre-planned. It was another of my famously random, let’s-see-what’s-there type stops. We were only a little over a half-hour east of our previous stop at Alanreed, Texas and hadn’t even got settled into our driving routine when the Ghost Town Express took on a mind of its own and pointed its nose down the offramp at EXIT 176, onto TX-30 Spur onto the eastbound service road paralleling the freeway. About a mile later, the spur road widened, swung to the southeast and opened up into a wide, divided four-lane, that until 1975, served thousands of vehicles daily. Once graced with billboards and US 66 signposts, it is now decorated only with native greenery, faded signage and no traffic. Just west of Texola we crossed the state line into a truly dead town filled with dead buildings.
The first structure of note, The Hitching Post, sat along the south side of the former highway greeting us with “NO TRESPASSING” and “POSTED” signs. We pulled over onto the gravel parking area and seven eager explorers hit the ground, keeping a respectful distance away from the building. The rock wainscoting, corrugated, multi-hued tin canopy, rusty pole sign and the boarded windows gave off a vibe of non-use. BUT. Decorative lights and beer signs on the walls tried to refute that. I say tried, because the truth was painted on a faded sign on the upper parapet. A “Grand Opening” was going to occur on September 16 and 17. No year was indicated. However, in 2012, those dates were a Sunday and Monday – NOT the best nights for a bar grand opening. In 2011, those were a Friday and Saturday, so I think the grand opening didn’t last long. Unfortunately there was no one around to ask.
Just a few-score yards to the east, the “Watering Hole #2” did look active, the bright blue-muraled front of a beige, false-fronted, stucco building fronting a gravel parking lot with no weeds – a sure sign of either good groundskeeping (which I doubt) or activity. Because of our visitation time in the late morning, it was not physically open, and again, there was no one around to ask.
Leaving the ghost town barhopping behind, we reboarded the Ghost Town Express, and continued east into the center of what was once the main part of town. Empty buildings lie scattered along the road, while foundations and slabs punctuate the scenery remain where others once stood. This was once a good sized town, what remains is a real treat. We could see an old brick store building, a couple gas stations, automobile repair garages, a café, a roofless church, abandoned homes and a jail, as well as a handful of other unidentified buildings.
This is a town with more gaps than buildings, more memories than reality more quiet than sounds of a living community. There were no dogs barking. No kids playing under the shade trees sheltering windowless houses. No sound of uplifting praise music wafting from the glassless windows of the church’s roofless concrete shell. No clinks of coinage in the tills of the long-gone cash registers. No longer do the expansion joints on Route 66 reverberate with the sound of tires. No puttering engines from Ford Model A’s, Chevy Business Coupes and Dodge Brothers touring sedans are heard at once-busy gas stations and garages. No longer do the now-forgotten, grunting mechanics pry flattened tires off wood-spoked rims. The scattered remains of Texola are gripped in an eerie silence.
Where 1930s-era tourists once stopped to eat at the Longhorn Trading Post, top up the Tin Lizzie’s gas tank at the Texaco station, or pick up munchies from the grocery store, only dust, cobwebs and dead air remain. Bustling commerce has been silenced, replaced by dried weeds, unpainted wood and crumbling buildings. The CRI&P Railroad is gone, the pulled and scrapped sometime shortly after 1980 when the company folded. The post office was discontinued September 5, 2009, after a near-108 year run. Life as it was known here is pfft! The downward spiral is nearly complete. Only a tiny handful of folks remain to keep away the ghosts.
To the north, up Grand Avenue, I-40 can be accessed. On that road, just north of the one-time downtown, the empty-windowed hulk of a large brick building peeks through a thick copse of trees. Because of rain and with no safe and solid place to park, we just had to view it as we passed by. As we reentered the freeway, I said a fond goodbye to this wonderful little Oklahoma ghost. Like the sign says:
“There’s no other place
like this place
anywhere near this place
so this must be the place.”
This was our Ghost Town of the Month for February 2014.
· S-Ctr Sec 30, N-Ctr Sec 31, T9N, R26W, Indian Base Line & Meridian
· Latitude: 35.2192194 / 35° 13’ 09” N
· Longitude: -99.9912189 / 99° 59’ 28” W
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FIRST POSTED: February 08, 2014
LAST UPDATED: March 10, 2014
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