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What is: view from the edge of the parking lot for viewing the Marfa Lights.

What was: An unexplained phenomena that dates back to the 19th century. James Bunnell states, “you might just see mysterious orbs of light suddenly appear above desert foliage. These balls of light may remain stationary as they pulse on and off with intensity varying from dim to almost blinding brilliance. Then again, these ghostly lights may dart across the desert…or perform splits and mergers. Light colors are usually yellow-orange but other hues, including green, blue and red are also seen. Marfa Mystery Lights (MLs) usually fly above desert vegetation but below background mesas.”(Source: Wikipedia).

Reports of the lights have come from Cowboys, Ranchers, Native Americans, high school sweethearts and famous meteorologists. Even James Dean was apparently obsessed by them when he was in Marfa shooting the movie “Giant” The source of the mystery lights is still a point of contention. Cynics will tell you that this so-called paranormal phenomenon is just the atmospheric reflections of cars and campfires at night. The mystics will tell you that’s hooey — “What roads?” there were none in the 1800s. As for a cowboys campfire, there were not a large number to reflect and even fewer today. The truth is we just don’t know even though they have been documented and studying by scientists.

What is: Often abandoned, standing taller than the local courthouse, grain elevators in small town across Texas and the United States.

What was: Whether they hold corn, milo, soybeans, or sunflower seeds, all grain elevators are basically big storage tanks. The number of operating grain elevators peaked around 1984 at around 1500 members in the Texas association. Today there are fewer than than 500 in Texas.

The small-town, family-owned elevators are going the way of the independent grocers. Kids aren’t interested in continuing the business, so they’re either selling out or shutting the doors. Many of the concrete cathedrals of the plains were built after World War II to store government-owned grain. Like the cotton gins of Mississippi, delivering product to the elevators was a social time, as all the local farmers got together to compare notes and share stories.

What is: Robinson Grain Co., Conway TX. The Handbook of Texas reports Conway had a population of 175 in 1969 but only 50 people in 1970. In 2016 the population was recorded as three

What was: Grain elevators were invented by Joseph Dart and Robert Dunbar in 1842 in Buffalo, New York. They created the grain elevators to help with the problem of unloading and storing grain that was being transported through the Erie Canal. Grain Elevators in Conway TX date back to about 1914 and these ones are beside the abandoned railway roadbed of the Chicago, RockIsland and Gulf Railway.

A grain elevator is a facility for agriculture designed to stockpile or store grain. Bucket elevators are used to lift grain to a and then it can fall through spouts and/or conveyors into one or more bins, silos, or tanks in a facility. It can then be emptied from bins, tanks, and silos, and conveyed, blended, and weighted into trucks, railroad cars, or barges for shipment. Concrete silos are better than wood or metal bins because the thick walls insulate the grain from extreme weather

In 1994, this facility was privately owned and was considered a small regional grain elevator. There were 6 locations in the area with a capacity of 4.5 million bushels of storage. It was part of the Texas Grain and Feed Association representing 900 grain, feed and processing firms at that time. Today that organization supports some 400 member companies ranging from sizable producers to medium and small-scale family-owned companies such as feed producers and grain marketing businesses. Ben Boerner, Texas Grain and Feed president noted, “The small-town, family-owned elevators are going the way of the independent grocers,” Boerner says. “The kids aren’t interested in continuing the business, so they’re either selling out or shutting the doors.” (Source: https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2008-02-08/589092/)

What is: a Texaco gas station with a white Pontiac out front, the ghost town of Glenrio, TX

What was: The Texaco station was built by Joseph (Joe) Brownlee in 1950 on Route 66 at a time when Glenrio, TX was often bumper to bumper with traffic. Interstate 40 opened in 1973 and by 1975, Glenrio was on its way to becoming a ghost town as everything closed up.

Roxann Bownlee, daughter of Joe, grew up helping her father at the gas station.  It was a family enterprise.  In 1970, Roxann married Larry Lee Travis.  With the decline of business in Glenrio, Larry rented the Standard Service Station near Adrian, Texas and each day drove the 25 miles to Adrian in his white Pontiac.

At the time, a group of gas, shop and service station owners had banded together as a vigilante force to patrol the streets of Vega and Adrian.  On March 7th a 23-year-old Texan called Lewis Steven Powell entered the Standard Service Station. No-one knows what happened in those few minutes, whether Larry – proud of his hard work – refused to hand over his takings, but Powell made him kneel down and shot him in the back of the head before robbing the till.

Larry never came home, but his Pontiac Catalina did, and it keeps silent sentinel in Glenrio. Roxann still lives in the house behind with family and dogs, one of the few remaining resident of Glenrio.

What is: the railroad running through the abandoned rail yard towards the mountains.

What was: Transportation across Texas was originally hindered by impassable roads across large expanses of land often damaged by unpredictable weather. Shallow rivers and desert prohibited major water routes across the State. The railroad changed that. For about 160 years the trains have rolled across the large state of Texas. Freight trains, a mile and half long or more, roll right on by the small towns, around the mountains and pass through the countryside. The railroad was not just a path to economic development, but also settlement. The early steam locomotives needed water every thirty miles and so across great swaths of Texas, there was a small town every 30 miles. Wherever the train went, a community built up and commerce bloomed. Short lines connected to larger cities connecting people and commerce throughout the State. The longer rail lines went across the country and connected to both coasts and the midwest.

What is: Marathon Texas, The train doesnt stop anymore and the corral and cattle chute are empty. A dusty little ranch town is being turned into a new tourist destination.

What was: Marathon was founded after the Southern Pacific railroad came through Texas in 1882 after threats of Comanche and Apache attacks were squelched in the region. Marathon was a major shipping center for cattle. One rancher ran as many as 25,000 head of cattle in the open range around Marathon. The train also picked up silver, zinc and quicksilver. Around World War I it also had a processing plant for a desert shrub that was used to make rubber. The town had its own newspaper, a bank, several mercantile stores, and a bustling main street. Until recently Marathon was a string of empty storefronts with tumbleweed blowing across the highway and the trains passing through.

 

What is: Terlingua Ghost Town, Texas.  Abandoned and crumbling adobe and rock houses from the mining town of Terlingua, TX. Today official population 58, an artists community and Texas’ most visited ghost town. They say “Stop by, sip a cool drink, enjoy the shade of our front porch, and hang out. You’ll go home with some stories to tell.” Home of the national chili cookoff that draws thousands every year.

What was: In the mid 1800s cinnabar was discovered here. It is the key element from which metal mercury is extracted. For a period of time in the early 1900s it was the largest area producing mercury in the United States and the company installed a 20 ton Scott furnance to advance its industrialization and productivity . Prior to the use of vehicles in the early 1930s, mule-drawn wagon trains delivered the quicksilver to the railroad at Alpine, Texas. The Chisos Mining Company ran the “large general store, provided a company doctor, operated the post office, the Chisos Hotel, a commissary, erratic telephone service, dependable water service, and a school. Later, it would also operate a gasoline station, a theater, and a confectionary shop. Growing to a population of close to 2000 people. It was estimated that by 1934 the company had sold over $12 million in mercury and one employee claimed the company averaged daily profits of $2,000 during the early war years.” (source: legendsofamerica.comhttps://www.legendsofamerica.com/tx-terlingua/). It closed in 1945 after World War II.

What is: The Nutty Brown Café cowboy neon sign. Driving from Austin on U.S. Highway 290 it was to be easy to recognize the neon cowboy with “Cafe” blazing in his lasso.

What was: The cowboy neon sign tells you that you have reached the Nutty Brown, “where fun is always the order of the day” and where musical acts play several nights a week.

In the 1930s Nutty Brown first opened as a bakery. In 1932 C. Allen Sears developed the mill, which by World War II was making enough low-starch cottonseed flour to bake four million loaves of bread annually . It eventually changed into the Nutty Brown Mill a confectionary and candy store, selling pecan pralines. At that time, the owners lived in this building; the family made candy in the morning and sold it during the day.

Then it became the Nutty Brown Café — a destination for the people of Central Texas. It was a unique local business with food and music. In the 1980s, a new owner wanted to build a zoo on the property and ran into zoning issues. The Nutty Brown building was instead used as a storefront with ever-changing merchandise, including clothes and antiques. In the ‘90s the property was also used as a hair salon and a car lot.

In 2000, the Nutty Brown Café became a restaurant with an outdoor patio and a small stage for artists to perform cover songs on the weekends. The back patio illuminated by string lights and a large raised concrete slab has hosted an array of both local and national icons including headliners like Merle Haggard and Kevin Fowler. Every concert was packed with people eager to experience this legendary Austin locale of good food and great music.

That small stage led to a larger stage and an ongoing music series, which featured local rock and country acts and attracted 700-800 people every Saturday for two years. It closed in the late 2010s and the concert venue will have a new home in Round Rock TX.

What is: a church and a few other buildings with a dirt road, west of Lajitas Texas on Texas Highway 170 (considered one of the most beautiful drives in America)

What was: Contrabando is a ghost town within the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The Contrabando consisted of an original adobe building called ‘La Casita’ and several later additions that became part of the Contrabando during its use as a movie set. The movie set was constructed in 1985 for the Roy Clark film Uphill all the Way. The site has been used as a set for nine movies including John Sayles’ 1996 movie Lone Star; as well as Dead Man’s Walk and Streets of Laredo, which were part of the Lonesome Dove miniseries based upon the novel by Larry McMurtry.

In September 2008, heavy rains and flooding occurred in Ojinaga, Mexico. The rain, and the ensuing release of water from local flood control structures, caused widespread flooding, and resulted in damage to the movie set buildings at the Contrabando. The original Casita was not damaged. In 2015, the buildings, except for the Casita, were removed for safety reasons.

What is: St Agnes Chapel, Terlingua, TX…the ghost town of Terlingua Texas, a small single and simple one room adobe church,  in some disrepair, with plain hard wooden benches, a worn pine floor, simple altar and stain glass windows. Apparently in 2016, the church got some repair work done to its adobe walls

 

What was: The ghost town of Terlingua is in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most rugged and hostile environments in Texas. The discovery of quicksilver in the mid-1880s turned Terlingua from a sleepy little village into a town of a thousand-plus residents. Cinnabar is a red stone from which using a chemical process, mercury is extracted.  By 1913, Terlingua had a dependable water supply, mail delivery, somewhat reliable telephone service, a hotel, and a physician. As the mining continued, by the 1930s, the town was home to 3,000 people and became the leading producer of mercury.  Slowly, however, the mines ran out of ore and closed and the town began its decline in the 1940s. In 2010 census there were 60 people officially living in the town.

In 1914, St. Agnes Church, also known as Chisos Mission, was established and became a focal point of the Terlingua mining town. The adobe building was constructed on a raised stone foundation on the side of a hill overlooking the town. The building has survived the ravages of time and remains an iconic symbol of the importance of faith in this remote place.

Itinerant priests held services at the church once a month and also officiated at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Church records indicate the priests adopted the Terlingua Cemetery. Although the burial ground is listed as St. Agnes Chisos Cemetery on church records, the official death records continued to list it as the Terlingua Cemetery. While the town was once segregated with Mexican families living east of the company store and Anglo families to the west, both Mexicans and Anglos were laid to rest in the same cemetery.