Sunday, April 19, 2020

2018-05-28: Ghost Towns, Old Schoolhouses, Cemeteries, Geocaching Through West Texas

Welcome back everyone. On today's drive from Killeen to Fort Stockton, Texas, my Geocaching adventure takes me to a few ghost towns, abandoned school buildings, some cemeteries, and a cool abandoned outdoor stadium. So let's get started...

Heading west on US-190, I drove through to Brady before turning north on US-283. My first stop was a quick roadside geocache (GC2ED5W).

A few more miles up the road is the small town of Lohn, Texas. The first settlers in the area were the William F. Lohn family in 1879. In 1881 they were joined by other German families. Boi Albert Cornils immigrated as a young adult to this area in 1884 wed another young immigrant, Bertha Lembke. The couple settled on ranchland east of Lohn and reared five children.

Morgan Stacy built a store at the community site and ran the post office when it was granted in 1890. In 1892 the community had a flour mill and gin, a general store, and a Baptist church. The first school was a one-room structure built in 1893. In 1896, the Cornils deeded five acres for a free public school adjacent to a community burial ground on their property. Several unmarked graves predate the first recorded burial, that of Heinrich Rudolph (d. 1883).

Separated about a mile apart, there are two cemeteries; the Lohn Family Cemetery (GC7QD68) and the Lohn (Community) Cemetery (GC7QD61). There weren't any geocaches hidden in either cemetery. So of course I had to remedy that situation.

New businesses were built from around 1910 through the 1920's, and the number of residents increased from seventy-five in 1914 to a high of 360 in 1931. The Lohn population was 250 in the 1940's and 1950's, but it fell to 100 in the mid-1960's. In 1988 two businesses and 149 residents were reported there; the population of Lohn was still estimated at 149 in 2000. The first photo below is an abandoned gas station followed by one of the abandoned houses.

A few miles west down Ranch Road 504 is Pear Valley, Texas and my next few geocaches. It began about 1908 as a widely scattered settlement called Saddle Creek. When the post office opened in 1910, the name was changed to Pear Valley. The population remained stable at forty-five from the 1930's to the 1960's. In 1964 it fell to twenty. Two churches and two businesses appeared on the 1987 county highway map, and the town reported thirty-seven residents in 1990. The remains of the school, built in 1935 (GC48A5, GC11BB1), General Store building, and the cemetery (GC5ADBJ) are about all that remain.

My next stop and geocache (GC11BB2) was in the ghost town of Salt Gap, Texas. Located at the intersection of County FM 503 and FM 504, it had a population of just 25 in 1990. Named for the local creek of the same name, the town had a post office in operation from 1905 to 1913 - the year it closed. It reopened in the 1920's and closed for good several years later. The population high-water mark was 60 people in the late 1930's. The town never developed past the store and school stage, but it remained a viable community in 2006 and still appears on the county map. Not much to see here but the signs announcing its existence and a few buildings at the intersection.

A few miles around the corner from there was another ghost town that really had my interest. The early settlers of Doole, Texas (GC11BAX) wanted to name their town in honor of a prominent family in the area, the Gansel Family, therefore this farming and ranching community was originally known as Gansel, Texas. Residents decided to establish a post office in approximately 1911 and ask the postmaster at Brady, Texas for advice. The postal service in Washington D.C. said that the name Gansel was unacceptable, so the settlers named their post office and town after David Doole, Jr., the postmaster at Brady. These are just a few of the many photos I took in Doole.

The Old Doole Baptist Church

Gray's Machine Shop which handled all the auto and tractor repairs, welding, and blacksmith.

Old House with Porch Swing

This was to me the most fascinating part. A lot of towns have old buildings. But how about the school sports stadium where the bleachers were built into the side of the hill! Kinda like ones I saw of the ancient ruins in Athens, Greece. Even had the old ticket booth standing and still in decent shape. There's even an old rusty 1957 Plymouth sitting in the mesquite where the parking lot probably was. Darned if I forgot to take a photo of it though. This ghost town is definitely one of the must see on a roadtrip through Central/West Texas!

Continuing slowly westbound, I arrive in Millersview in Concho County and my next two geocaches (GC11BBB, GC5ADC4). Named for Edward D. Miller, who co-founded the town with one Henry Barr. Previous settlement had been scattered along Mustang Creek - some seven miles NE of present day Millersview. The town was granted a post office in 1903.

In 1914 the town had a population of 160. From 300 people in 1931, it was reduced by two thirds by 1933 but somehow managed to rise to 250 as the Depression was winding down. The Millersview school had eight teachers in 1940 to teach both elementary and high school grades. High school classes were suspended in 1958 although elementary classes continued until the school closed sometime before 1989. The population was 175 in 1963, declining thereafter to 70 by 1970 - an estimate that stayed in place for thirty years. Students from Millersville now attend classes in Eden. The school itself is now degrading, but the people have restored the gymnasium (built in 1939) and continue to use it as a community center.

The community is reportedly the only town in the United States using the name Millersview.

Also in Millersview is the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. They have erected a monument and marker in 1998 honoring the Mission San Clemente. The mission was established in 1684 by Spanish missionaries for the purpose of sharing the Catholic faith with Indians in the area. In 1984 mass was celebrated at this location to commemorate the founding of the mission 300 years ago. A congregation of more than 3,000 joined many of the Texas Bishops in the Liturgy.

My next geocache was a roadside cache on FM 765 on the way to the ghost town of Eola, Texas. The Eola Museum cache (GC10V2A) is at the corner of a dirt road leading to the Barrow Ranch. Earnest and Dorthy Barrow founded the Museum in 1976 to house their extensive collection of memorabilia from the early days of Concho County. It has since grown to include items from all over the world, collected by the Barrows and many other donors. As a gift in perpetuity to the public, the Museum is owned and operated as a non-profit foundation by a Board of Directors.

Four large buildings house the collections that range from delicate crystal to a magnificent pipe organ. Visitors can step back into history as they view many different antiques. Some of the largest collections contain thousands of cat figurines, hundreds of Hummel and Goebel figurines as well as thousands of arrowheads and other Indian artifacts. There are also gems, minerals, cars, farm equipment, medical and dental equipment, windmills, and seashells of all types.

I didn't have the time to drive down the road to see the museum. Maybe another day I just might.

Another side road so that I don't have to backtrack, and I arrive at Henderson Chapel, Texas (GC1DZFX). Henderson Chapel, also known as Hendersons Chapel and as Henderson, was near a tributary of Kickapoo Creek. In 1936 Henderson Chapel had a business and a school. In 1940 its school, which encompassed grades one through seven, had an average daily attendance of twenty. By 1955 the community's school had been consolidated with the Eola school district. The 1963 county highway map named the community, but showed no buildings at the site. The only thing I saw was this building which is barely standing and overtaken by trees.

Finally reaching Eola, Texas, the area was originally called Jordan. However it changed its name in 1902 when the first store was built and the town only had four families. Eola was created during a land boom when county school lands were put up for sale at fifty cents an acre in the 1890's. The sale attracted many Europeans – primarily Czechs.

A two-story schoolhouse was built in 1906. By 1914 Eola had a population of twenty-five which grew to 240 by 1931. In 1940 Eola had a population of 250 and was thriving. It reached its zenith in ’47 when 350 Eolans called the town home. Nine teachers taught elementary and high school classes.

Recently a carpenter from Washington moved in and has been restoring the old school building a little at a time. He also opened up a steak house on one end and is only open Friday and Saturday to help raise money for the restoration project. I thought I had taken a photo of the school, but I guess I didn't.

A few miles north of Eola is the Mereta-Eola Cemetery (GC1DZGE). Not a whole lot of history other than it serving the towns of Mereta to the west and Eola to the south. Still in use today with just under 100 burials listed, it dates back to the late 1800's.

My last two geocaches for the day are in Mereta, Texas (GC1ABHM, GC10V2C). Mereta, also known as Fisherville and as Lipan, was named by its postmaster in 1902 for twin sisters Meta and Reta Burns, had a gin, two stores, and a school in 1904, when a town plat was made. Its population fell from seventy-five in 1914 to thirty in 1925. In 1931 Mereta had three businesses and a school with three teachers; by 1934 the community's population was reported as ten, with four businesses. The 1936 county highway map showed two churches, two factories, a post office, a school, and scattered dwellings at the town site. By 1939 a store was operating at the local community center. The population of Mereta was estimated at seventy-five from the early 1940’s through the early 1990’s. The 1984 county highway map showed a church, a business, and a park.

That was it for today. Spent enough time on these little backroads and ghost towns. I still had 180 miles of driving before reaching Fort Stockton. Gotta get moving. Thanks for riding along and be sure to either Follow Me via the button on the right (if you're on you computer), and on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

2018-05-20: Exploring and Geocaching in the Historic Town of Mason, Texas

On this weeks long drive from Killeen to Fort Stockton, I spent most of the day exploring and geocaching in the historic town of Mason, Texas.

One of the first settlers in the area was William. S. Gamel in 1846. Fort Mason was established in 1851 and settlers were attracted by the protection that the fort provided from Indians. Germans moved into the area from Fredericksburg and even soldiers settled the town after their discharge. In 1858 the town received mail as well as the fort's supplies from San Antonio. The post office opened in town and the name was changed from Fort Mason to Mason that same year.

In the 1870's Mason County was the scene of a violent feud between German settlers and Anglo ranchers. Known as the "Hoo-Doo" War or the Mason County War - it was a nasty business of many killings with no one ever standing trial.

Mason became a stage stop after the war and it never did get a railroad - usually a very important milestone to a developing town. In 1923 Mason was the largest "city" in Texas without a railroad.

My first stop and geocache was at the Gooch Cemetery (GC1NVFD). There are over 2600 burials in the Old and New sections combined. I couldn't find any information on Benjamin Gooch other than he was born in 1790 in North Carolina. The inscription on his headstone reads: "Christian Patriot, Pioneer in Texas, Under Four Flags, 1834-1872." I can only assume that he was the initial donor of land used for the cemetery.

One burial of interest is that of Adolph Korn. Eleven-year-old Adolph Korn was tending sheep on New Year’s Day, 1870, when three Apache warriors came up to him on horseback. One of the warriors grabbed Adolph, hit him over the head with a gun barrel, pulled him onto his horse, and rode away. That was the last his family saw of him until three years later, when a band of Comanches, who had received the boy in a trade with his abductors, surrendered him to government authorities November 14, 1872, at Fort Sill, Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

He lived with the Comanches for only a few years but was "Indianized" by the experience. After being returned to his family, Adolph never again became completely comfortable with "white" civilization. He withdrew from his family and the community and lived in a cave for a number of years. His last years were spent with his sister Johanna spending most of his time outside, eating raw meat, sleeping outdoors, and avoiding contact with people.

And then there's Private Walton Tart. With the inscription of Texas PVT 636 TD BN and died December 12, 1944 at age 24, I can only assume he was killed in action though I could not find any additional information to verify that.

One more that caught my attention.
The next geocache brought me to the Seaquist Home and the Broad Street Bridge (GC1NVFK). Construction began on the Seaquist Home in 1887 by the Rev. Thomas Broad. In 1891, Banker E. M. Reynolds acquired and enlarged the house. The architect, Richard E. Grosse, also did the ornate stone cutting and woodcarving. Property was then sold to Oscar E. Seaquist in 1919, a Swedish immigrant, who finished the ornate house. This beautiful landmark still owned and occupied by his family. Exemplifying fine workmanship and materials, the house features a third-floor ballroom.

On the same street at the north corner of the property is the Broad Street Bridge. In 1914, the citizens of Mason petitioned the county commissioners court for a reliable means of crossing Comanche Creek, which separated north and south Mason. Initial construction bids were deemed too high and a second petition was presented in 1917. Because Mason had no railroad to transport large pre-fabricated building materials, the Alamo Construction Company crafted the bridge of reinforced concrete on site in 1918. Perhaps the last concrete truss bridge to remain in Texas, the Broad Street Bridge continued to support vehicular and pedestrian traffic in Mason until recently when bollards were installed to block cars from crossing.

Next up is a statue outside the Mason Library honoring its hometown author Fred Gibson (GC1195B). If you're as old as I am, you probably remember reading or watching the movie "Old Yeller" in grade school. The author Fred Gibson was born here in Mason, Texas.

Making my way back to the town square, I stop at the Mason County Jail. A good example of a small, nineteenth-century jail, this structure was built in 1894 from the brown sandstone available in the nearby hills. The ground floor of the county's third jail includes living quarters for the sheriff, while the jail cells are located on the second floor. The modified Romanesque revival building features a massive entry arch, segmental arches over the windows, and a central tower.

My next geocache was at the Old Mason Grammar School (GC13165). Located near Gamel Springs on the grounds of Fort Mason and constructed in 1887. Builder August Brockmann used stones from the former Fort, which were originally quarried on this hill. The school served Mason until 1952, with curriculum including music and German. In the 1960's, the building was used as a library, museum, and youth center. Now it is just the museum and senior center.

Old wagon behind the old school.
German immigrant Anna Mebus (1843-1925) came to Texas in 1858 and married her merchant cousin, Karl Martin (1828-1879). After his death she continued to operate their Mason store and post office, and by the 1880s was handling the cash of area ranchers. In 1901 she helped establish and became president of The Commercial Bank, opened with $3,000 capital. Before a bank building was acquired in 1903, cash was taken home at night. Her sons, Charles (1861-1940) and Max (1863-1941), served as bank officers and helped coin the bank's motto, Safety-Service-Silence. The family operated the bank until 1958.

Sitting proud in the center of the square is the Mason County Courthouse. Constructed in 1909, this is the third courthouse to serve the people of Mason County. Commissioners Court probably met in other locations until the first courthouse was built in 1872. It burned in 1877 and was replaced that year by a second red sandstone building. That one caught fire in 1900. Designed by E. C. Hosford, this Beaux Arts style third courthouse features a center dome and clock tower, gable front porticoes, with two story Doric columns and rusticated stonework with contrasting stone lintels.

Now off to visit the towns namesake. Fort Mason (GC181Q3) is situated near a spring long used by Indians; built of stone quarried from post hill. The Fort helped protect Texas frontier from Indians. Colonel Robert E. Lee, stationed in Texas 2 years, commanded Fort Mason from February 1860 to February 1861. Here he made his decision as to his part in the Civil War, saying: "If the Union is dissolved,... I shall return to my native state and... save in defense... draw my sword on none". He left Fort Mason February 13, 1861. In wartime he remembered "the enemy never sees the backs of Texans".

The fort was abandoned in 1969. The native stone buildings, which once numbered 25 were spirited away (stone by stone) to reappear in town, transformed into residences. In the mid 1970's the pattern was reversed when local citizens rebuilt a former officer’s quarters from the well-used rock.

On my way out of town, I stopped at the Crosby Cemetery and my next geocache (GC1NVFP). The first burial ground for the citizens of Mason and Koocksville, this cemetery traces its history to the 1850's. The oldest documented burial is that of Kate Lemburg, who died in 1856. Also interred here is Mason County's first sheriff, Thomas Milligan (1810-1860). The Crosby family purchased the property surrounding the cemetery in 1866, and it has been known as Crosby Cemetery since that time. Those buried in the cemetery include members of the Crosby and other pioneer families. It stands as a reflection of the area's heritage.

My last geocache of the day was on the outskirts of Mason in what used to be the town of Koocksville (GC1195E). The towns namesake(s) were William and Minna Koock who opened a store in their log house just after the Civil War. Due to its proximity to Mason, the Koocks never saw the need to apply for a post office. Koock's store became a stop for cattle buyers from more western counties.

The log store/ residence was rebuilt as a large stone structure in 1883. The building's second floor served as a community center and a place to hold civic meetings. The town thrived after the Civil War and the new prosperity made Koock a banker as well as a storekeeper. Koock later built a large flour mill and gin on his property but it was torn down and the stone cannibalized to build the VFD building in Mason. Koockvsille did have its own school at one point.

A decline in cattle and sheep prices sent the town into a slump, but when William Koock was killed in a riding accident (1890) his family moved into Mason and eventually sold the businesses (1899). Without the driving force of William Koock, the town would've become a ghost, but it's nearness to Mason has caused it to evolve into part of that city.

While driving the rural backroads of Texas, you never know what you're gonna see.

Just one more stop to make. Last week I mentioned stopping by Gamel Cemetery. I also mentioned William Gamel at the start of this blog as one of the earliest settlers in Mason County, moving here from Georgia. This land was a part of his homestead and you'll find his grave among those here. The oldest known burial is from 1883.

You have to cross this creek to get to the cemetery. Last week it was dry. This week there was a little bit of water there. I did manage to hide a cache there too (GC7Q19Q).

That's it for this week. The rest of the drive was straight through to Fort Stockton and getting ready for work tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by.