Reeves County, TX
FINDING TOYAH, TEXAS was a true moment of serendipity. I was heading home from my 10-day Texas ghost town tour and the weather was hot and extremely humid. So much so, that heavy ground fog greeted me about a half mile east of I-20’s EXIT 22, some 20 miles west of Pecos. I had TOYAH marked on my map as a town of 100, and did no research prior to visiting as I had not planned to visit it. But when I saw the exit I needed to get off the Interstate. I didn’t feel safe driving 80 MPH in the fog, nor going slower for fear of being rear-ended. Therefore, when I saw the exit, I bailed – right into The Twilight Zone!
Remember that old TV show? That’s about how I felt when the first ruins loomed out of the fog. What I saw in TOYAH made my little old ghost towner’s heart go pitty pat. This place is a true gem. In a little over an hour, I shot 110 photos (gotta love digital!) in the lifting fog. After doing some research when I got home, I’m happy I did get to stop. I really would have liked to visit here a decade ago, but…
Woulda-shoulda-couldas are like hindsight – 20-20. (There’s a lesson there!) Maybe this is the reason I’ve become so passionate about photographing and preserving the stories of these old towns. They are disappearing way too fast.
Officially in 2010, Toyah had a population of 90. Where they all were at the time of my visit, I have no idea. Only a few of the houses looked occupied. In 2000, only 47 of the 72 housing units were occupied, a 65% occupancy rating. In 2010 there were only 44 occupied out of 51. 21 housing units have “disappeared” off the census bureau listing. Population trends for Toyah are truly telling:
· 1910 – 771
· 1920 – 1100 (est)
· 1931 – 553
· 1940 – 464
· 1970 – 245
· 1980 – 165
· 1990 – 115
· 2000 – 100
· 2010 – 90.
There are three churches in town that appear to be still active: United Methodist, Catholic and a Baptist (built in 1903). There is also a City Hall that appears like it might still be active, although it was closed at the time of my EARLY Sunday morning visit. The City Hall occupies a former grammar school, complete with a tennis court and some playground equipment. Nearby is an abandoned City Hall that was housed in the former Toyah Christian Church. In 1991, this building also served as the Community Center.
Standing guard over the entire town is the hulking, empty high school building, now home only to hundreds of flying rats (pigeons)! To the east, across the street from the high school is the “Old” cemetery, which I didn’t see due to the fog and high weeds. Even if I would have seen it, I more than likely would not have ventured in unless there was a open path to it, as I felt a strong lack of desire to wander through prickly, wet weeds in my shorts.
In “Downtown Toyah”, the majestic brick buildings that still grace some websites are gone. A couple were demolished between 2000 and 2003, while another was seriously “remodeled” by a tornado in 2004. Where the hotel and store buildings were, is now a vacant, weed-strewn lot. Across the street, to the east, the tornado-damaged bank isn’t much more than stubby walls, a pile of bricks for sale and a stairwell to nowhere. An antique car sits near the rubble, unmoved by the damage caused when the twister slammed the former downtown core. The nearby fire station has a couple of fire trucks sitting outside. They look like they might be operable, but are not currently registered. A couple other unidentified structures look like they may have been stores and an automobile repair garage. Sidewalks are being enveloped by the encroaching greenery, three cemeteries are nearly forgotten, the street names are fading from concrete street posts, while scads of old houses mostly sit abandoned, now home only to the ever-present pigeons.
Throughout the rest of town, a general air of decay prevails, illustrated graphically by dead houses, dead stores, and dead signs. Adjacent to the Interstate, more abandoned buildings cluster, once attracting commerce from the Superslab. Crouching behind chain link fencing, an old adobe structure sits quietly, white-washed plaster peeling from the adobe block walls. Across the street to the east, a truck stop/garage and a restaurant/gas station gather only weeds and memories. Just to the east of that, a former gas station/garage now is home to a small trailer with a sign out front advertising “TiA
Toyah is a town long past its prime. Prosperity here has been left in the footprints of the past. This town began life as a ranch trading center before the railroad came through in 1881. Once it arrive, Toyah quickly added a post office and stage depot, as well as numerous railroad-related businesses. During the 1880s boom times mushroomed the population and Toyah’s streets were lined with banks, churches, hotels, restaurants, saloons, stores and other amenities befitting its position as a major cattle-shipping center and railroad town.
In 1894, a school was built and by 1910, the population reached 771. This was during the boom times in west Texas and it is said the population between 1914 and 1929 reached as high as 1100. When the Great Depression began, Toyah quickly faded as did its commerce. In 1931 the population had dropped to 553, and the number of active businesses reduced to 17. It has never recovered, the population continuing to decline.
As people left the fading town, buildings were abandoned and Main Street took on a wonderful (for us that love ghost towns) deserted air. On the Texas Escapes website, a pair of photos dated 1991 and 2000 show the once-picturesque buildings some of which were demolished sometime between 2000 and April 2003. The bank building with its majestic columns in the front is visible. Today, the bank is a pile of rubble, the victim of a tornado that slammed into Toyah during the evening of June 17, 2004. The columns remain – broken and forgotten, askew on the ground, mixed in with the detritus of a once-prosperous past life.
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