Erath County, Texas
THURBER is located at Exit 367, along Interstate 20, midway between Abilene and Fort Worth, Texas. From the freeway, a few brick buildings, an old gas station pole sign and the magnificent smokestack can be seen, drawing visitors off the interstate and into the past.
Thurber was named after H.K. Thurber, a major investor in the coal company that established the company-owned town. This little ghost towns is one of those places that should be visited as it is readily accessible AND has a well documented history as well as tangible remains. Several books have been written about Thurber and it is featured in numerous aggregate ghost town books (including my latest book, GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & Today.) Another factor that makes Thurber unique is the fact its economy was based on three separate, but related industries, NOT just one. What eventually killed the town was time and changing needs.
Because of its diversification, Thurber lived much longer than most ghost towns of its era. It began life as a coal mining town, tapping into the only known bituminous coal deposit in Texas. Mining began around 1886 and the coal mines produced prolifically until they closed in 1921. Because of the claying soil in the area, brick manufacturing began in 1897, and Thurber soon had a huge, five-acre brick plant employing over 800 workers. The huge brick plant manufactured mostly paving bricks, shipping them all over the state. The plant remained active until 1933. It was the last economic gasp from the then dying town, and was torn down along with most of the town’s buildings in the mid 1930s. During the World War I era years from 1917 through about the time the coal mines closed, Thurber was on the eastern edge of the Ranger Oil Fields and benefitted from that location.
After Thurber finally kicked up its heels in the mid 1930s, its location along a major highway helped it from becoming a forgotten site. Later, after the Interstate freeway was built, an offramp was built here, to service the road to Mingus. Also, because Thurber is only about an hour’s drive west of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the site was never completely abandoned OR forgotten. The Tarleton State University’s W. K. Gordon Center for Industrial History of Texas, was established in town and that museum’s director is a man I consider the king of Texas ghost town history and a prolific writer of that history, Dr. T. Lindsay Baker. Today, Thurber is well-represented in print. Its subsequent fame has enabled the Smokestack Restaurant to thrive, and the site is popular with drive-by tourists interested in touching Texas’ not too distant past.
To say I enjoyed my pair of visits to Thurber would be an understatement. My original stop was eastbound, on my way to a convention in Arlington. My second was on my way home. As I ran out of daylight the first go around, I knew I’d return on my way home since I was returning via I-20. Thurber is well worth a visit if you are anywhere in the area. The site of this old ghost town has been compromised by I-20, which slices through the heart of the former downtown. However, much of interest still remains, including: a solid, brick store building whose north end houses one of Texas’ more famous restaurants, the Smokestack Restaurant; the 128’ tall brick smokestack from the former electrical generating plant built in 1908; the cemetery; a large wooden home; a more recent fire station; as well as lots of foundations and ruins. Along the former highway a tall sign advertises the Thurber Station Full Service Center. South of the Interstate is the aforementioned museum and just to the west of it, a small historic park housing the former bandstand, a miners cabin, St. Barbara’s Catholic Church and a railroad car.
A number of the ruins are identified and include the foundations for the Thurber Mining Office. The offices served the Texas and Pacific Coal Company, who also built a hotel next door called the Knox Hotel. It was built around 1895 and offered a first class place for visitors as well as serving as a home for mining company employees and officials. The hotel was named after William Knox Gordon who was the General Manager of the mining company. The hotel burned in 1907 and was replaced by the Plummer Hotel.
Thurber peaked between 1910 and 1920 and there are population estimates ranging as high as 10,000. In reality, it was probably about half that. In 1910, the census showed 3805 folks, and in 1920 - 3598.
South side of the Interstate, adjacent to the more recent W.K. Gordon museum and on the north slope of New York Hill is Thurber’s Historic Park. In the park are four structures of interest: a restored miner’s house, St. Barbara’s Catholic Church, an old railcar and the original bandstand that used to stand in the heart of town. As I wandered about the park watching a colorful sunset, I tried to imagine what the town looked like when the view below me was filled with the people and buildings of a rollicking, vibrant, coal mining town. A few days later I returned and explored a little further. However, as I headed home, my memories of this fascinating little ghost town in the heart of Texas remained as vibrant and exciting as the town once was.
This was our Ghost Town of the Month for October 2011.
· Latitude: 32.5073531 / 32° 30’ 26” N
· Longitude: -98.4172728 / 98° 25’ 02” W
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FIRST POSTED: September 01, 1998
LAST UPDATED: November 14, 2011
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