Focus on the Backroads » Photo Journeys

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  • FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS

    There is approximately 50,000 miles of Interstate Highway in the United States.....filled with cars traveling at an average of 75 miles an hour. Several years ago I began driving the BACKROADS throughout Texas and the surrounding states - discover many fascinating places and people. While traveling "off the beaten path" I have tried to capture the spirit of these forgotten roads in photographs.

    After sharing some of these journeys with folks I have met I've been encouraged to document my travels.........I invite you to FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS!

    "To often......I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen"
    Louis L'Amour

FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS: THE BAKER HOTEL – MINERAL WELLS TEXAS

The vision to build the Baker Hotel began in 1922 when the good folks of Mineral Wells, Texas raised $150,000 in an effort to build a large hotel/resort owned by  local shareholders.  The vision began over the concern that outsiders were profiting off the growing fame of the area’s mineral water.  They recruited the help of Theodore Brasher Baker, a Texas hotel magnate who had designed and built many grand hotels including the Baker Hotel in Dallas and the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth.  With the help of Architect Wyatt Hedricks the hotel design was based on the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which was famous for its water and baths.

Construction began in 1926.  During a trip to California Baker stayed in a Hotel with a swimming pool and decided the Baker Hotel need one out front.  An Olympic size pool filled with the curing mineral waters was to become the first swimming pool built at a hotel in Texas.

The hotel was completed in 1929.  Total cost for the project was $1,250,000.00.  It rose fourteen stories, had 450 guest rooms, two ballrooms, a beauty shop, a bowling alley, a gymnasium and of course an outdoor swimming pool.  It was the first skyscraper to be built outside of a major metropolitan area.  The hotel opened to the public on November 9, 1929.  Although at the time Mineral Wells had a population of only 6,000 people the Baker Hotel became a major convention facility.  It could accommodate  2,500 attendees.  Some notable guest at the time included Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Dorthy Lamour, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, The Three Stooges, Mary Martin, Helen Keller, Jack Dempsey, Marlene Dietrich, LBJ, and many others.  It is rumored that even Bonnie and Clyde may have spent time at the Baker.

In 1934 Theodore Baker filed for bankruptcy and passed control the hotel to Earl Baker, his nephew.  The hotel thrived  during the 1930s but suffered ups and downs throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.  Earl Baker announced that he would be closing the Baker after his 70th birthday and he officially did so on April 30, 1963.  It was re-opened in 1965 when a group of local investors leased the structure from the Baker family.  In 1972 the Baker closed it doors for the last time.

There are currently plans to restore the Baker Hotel to it’s previous glory.  Visit http://www.thebakerhotel.com

 

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FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS: ST OLAF KIRKE (The Rock Church)

Norwegian settlers began settling in Bosque County in 1854.  Most of their time was spent clearing the land, building homes, harvesting crops, and providing for everyday life.  Most of these settlers were Lutheran and Sundays were days of rest and gathering to worship in their homes.  In 1886 St Oafs Kirke (The Rock Church) was built.  Rocks were hauled by church members from the surrounding mountains.  The church was built on land that was purchased for $25.00.

Services began while the church during the construction although it had only dirt floors and planks placed on kegs were used for pews.  In 1895, St Olaf Kirke was dedicated now with wood floors, pews, a wood stove, gas lights, stained glass windows, and pump organ.  In 1897, the Ladies Aid Organization purchased the Swedish bell which still hangs in the bell tower.  Today the simple rustic charm of this church still exist.

St Olafs Kirke is now used for special services at Easter, Christmas Eve, and other planned events.  It is also available for wedding, baptisms and funerals.

St Olaf Kirke is yet another reminder of the strong community spirit that existed as folks  from other countries settled in Texas.  This historical church is worth a drive down the backroads!

 

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FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS: SCOTTSVILLE CEMETERY – SCOTTSVILLE, TEXAS

In June of 1840 William Thomas Scott, his wife Mary Rose, and other members of their family settled in this area of East Texas.  Scott established five cotton plantations, including his residence, Scottsville Plantation, which was constructed by slaves.  His home was a replica of  a mansion in Mississippi owned by Jefferson Davis.  Scottsville was granted a post office in 1869 and the population grew to about 300.  Scott served in the House of Representatives of the last Congress of the Republic of Texas and later he became a Senator of the first legislature after statehood.  He died in 1887 and is bury next to Mary Rose in the Scottsville Cemetery.

The Scottsville/Youree Cemetery is named for Peter Youree, a captain in the Confederate Army.  Youree later became a banker and eventually built the first skyscraper in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Scottsville Cemetery is the oldest private cemetery in Texas located four miles east of Marshall, Texas.  The cemetery is filled with amazing artistic monuments.  At the entrance  of the cemetery is a Confederate monument.  During the Civil War the Scott Plantation provided provisions for the Confederate troops.  There are seven names, of family members who were involved in the war, inscribed on the pedestal.

In 1904 a church was build at the cemetery by the family of William Scott Youree after he was killed in Mexico.  The Weeping Angel marks his grave.  The monument was created by sculptor Frank Teich and is named Grief.  The ten foot statue is carved from Carrera marble and cost $40,000.00 in 1904.

If you look closely you will find a small stone, actually the smallest in the cemetery.  It is the stone for Major Herman Kretz – 2nd Battalion.  Pennsylvania infantry US Army.  In fine print it states:  Barried Lot 3593 Arlington National Cemetery.  The only reason the the stone is there is because it is next to his wife’s tombstone.

A visit to the Scottsville Cemetery amazing!  It is one of the most beautiful cemeteries not only the state of Texas but in the United States.

A cemetery is a history of people – a perpetual record of yesterday and sanctuary of peace and quiet today.  A cemetery exists because every life is worth loving and remembering……..always.         Unknown

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FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS – BELLE PLAIN, TEXAS: A TEXAS GHOST TOWN

In 1875, Nelson Smith purchased land with plans to build a college and a town.  It is believed that the town’s name Belle Plain was in honor of Katie Belle Magee, the first child born in the town.  By the next had a population of 55 and three businesses. In 1877 Callahan County was established and Belle Plain was chosen as the country seat. Slowly the town grew and by 1880 there were over 300 folks there supporting a hotel, several stores, a court house and jail, saloons, two fraternal lodges, eleven lawyers, four doctors,  and a newspaper – The Callahan County Claredon..

Belle Plain College was located on 10 acres of land and opened in 1881, becoming fist colleges in West Texas.  The campus comprised of two building and was best know for their music program.  The school had fifteen pianos, a brass band, and an orchestra.  300 students was the highest enrollment.  Along with the music program the school offered science and liberal arts study courses.

Belle Plain’s troubles began when rail construction bypassed the town and instead the rail went through Baird, Texas which was six miles north.  The county seat was shortly moved to Baird.  the jail was disassembled and rebuilt in Baird (it still stands there today). Belle Plain, a town that at it’s peak had a population of about 1,000 soon became deserted.

The only thing that remains is the Belle Plain Cemetery which can be visited by the public.  There are several remains of the building from the college but these are now on private property.  (as you can tell by the pictures I went over the fence).

To visit Belle Plain take US 283 South from Baird, travel about 8 miles then go East on county road for about 1.5 miles.  There are signs that will direct you to the cemetery

Ted CatheyJuly 30, 2016 - 2:30 pm

I am very interested in the early history of Gentrys Mill in Hamilton county. My ancestors were born there and founded by Fredrick Browder Gentry who fought as a captain in the militia at San Jacinto. Was deeded four thousand acres along the Leon river and settled the country with a stage stop headed through.

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FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS: FORT GRIFFIN STATE HISTORICAL SITE

Located in the rolling hills  between the West Fork of the Trinity River and Clear Fork of the Brazos River Fort Griffin was considered on of the wildest places in the Old West.  On July 29, 1867 Fort Griffin was established by four companies of the Sixth Cavalry of the US Army to give settlers protection from Comanche and Kiowa raids.  The fort was first named Camp Wisdom and was later renamed Fort Griffin after Charles Griffin.  Griffin had been a Civil War Union General and was the military governor during the early years of Reconstuction.

When completed the fort would house up to six companies of soldiers.  Included were administration building, a hospital, officers’ quarters, numerous barracks, a guard house, a bakery, a powder magazine, five storehouses, four stables, a laundry, and a workshop.  Soon after the fort was complete a new settlement started at the bottom of the hill.  This settlement was first call The Bottom, The Flat or Hidetown and eventually would take the name of the fort.  Along with honest folks that  engaged in ranching, farming, buffalo hunting and other businesses many well know outlaws, gunfighters and hooligans arrived.  The town gained a reputation for lawlessness.  Some of these visitors included Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Big Nose Kate (famous lady gambler), Pat Garrett, Bat and Jim Masterson, and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin.   Soon the town was nicknamed “Babylon on the Brazos.

As more people arrive the indian attacks increased in the area.  In 1874 the Army defeated the Kiowas and Comanches at Pal Duro Canyon.  After the Red River War the area was flooded with more settlers and became a ranching and farming center.  On May 31, 1879 Capt JB Irvine from Company A, 22nd Infantry lowered the flag for the last time and relocated with the troops to Fort Clark.

On Januarey 1, 2008, Fort Griffin was transferred to the Texas Historical Commission.  Today there are the ruins that remain from the fort.  The visitors center is a must with exhibits and information about this historical site.  There are also campsites, hiking trails, and it is the home of the official Texas Longhorn Herd.

The history of Fort Griffin is commemorated each year in the Fort Griffin Fandangle, and outdoor musical.  The Fandangle, which has been in production is 1938 is staged in an acre-sized amphitheater with a cast of over 400 locals.  The six performances, that occur on the last two weekends in June, are attended by more than 10,000 people each year.  (I hate to say this BUT I have never attended – I will next year!)

Please visit the Fort Griffin website at www.visitfortgriffin.com.

“Mom, this is a cool place”………..little boy at the Fort Griffin Visitors Center

 

 

 

 

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