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 STATE FAIR OF TEXAS

On January 30,1886, a group of Dallas business leaders chartered a private corporation; The Dallas State Fair and Exposition, which was to become THE STATE FAIR OF TEXAS.  Immediately there were was a disagreement over where to locate the site – resulting in a split into two separate groups; on the Dallas State Fair and the other The Texas State Fair and Exposition.  They opened within a day of each other both with exhibit facilities and a racetrack.  Both events attracted large crowds that exceeded 100,000 but revenues for the fairs did not meet expenses; the two groups merged in 1887 becoming the Texas State Fair and Dallas Expostition.

Thousands would visit the fair every year to see the exhibits and women competed for prizes in baking, preserving, and needlework.  There were also appearances by such notables as John Philip Sousa, William Jennings Bryan, and Booker T. Washington.  President William Howard Taft visited there fair in 1909.  In the early 1900s car races and stunt flying shows became the top attractions.  Over 1,000,000 people visited the fair in 1916.  In 1918 the fair was cancelled because of World War I and was converted into a temporary army camp.

The 1920s brought development to the fair grounds.  The Music Hall was completed in 1925 and staged many Broadway shows for the first time in Texas.  In 1930 the racetrack was razed to permit construction of a 46,000 seat stadium that would be know as the The Cotton Bowl.  Texas and OU played the first Red River Rivalry at the stadium in 1932.  The first Cotton Bowl Classic was played there in 1937.

Some other historical State Fair of Texas dates:

  • 1952 Big Tex made his first appearance as the official fair greeting – since that time he has greeted millions of visitor to the state fair
  • 1956 the Trailblazer monorail began operating at Fair Park .  It was the first commercial operated monorail system in the US
  • 1956 Elvis Presley performed at the Cotton Bowl
  • 1960 the Dallas Texas of the AFL and the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL played their first seasons in the Cotton Bowl
  • 1964 the monorail closed and was replaced by the Swiss Sky Ride
  • 1985 the Texas Star opens and was the largest ferris wheel in North America
  • 2010 fairgoers spent over $37 million – a new fair record
  • 2012 Big Tex caught fire all the remains on his frame was his right arm
  • 2013 the new Big Tex was unveiled the day before the fair opened

Through all the years and The State Fair of Texas is still considered  to be one of the most attended and best state fairs in America.

Howdy Folks, and welcome to the STATE FAIR OF TEXAS………Big Tex

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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

Ruth LovingFebruary 24, 2019 - 11:49 pm

A friend and I visited the Scottsville, Texas cemetery today, 2/24/2019 and found it so interesting. Checking your site with all the info made it even more interesting and answered a lot of questions we had. Thank you.
Ruth Loving
Longview, TX

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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

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