Focus on the Backroads » Photo Journeys

Focus on the Backroads bio picture

    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


Throughout the backroads of Texas are scattered one of our most valuable and ignored historic resources: HISTORIC TEXAS CEMETERIES.  Some are located in our major cities, some in small towns, some off major highways, and some are at the end of long dirt roads.  Many of these cemeteries are the only thing remaining of once very thriving communities.

These cemeteries are reminders of earlier settlers of the Lone Star State.  These folks built homes, churches, businesses, raised families, fought wars, and laid the foundation of what would become the state of Texas.

What makes a Texas cemetery historic?  Any cemetery 50 years or older that landmarks the presence of a family or community qualifies.

There are over 50,000 historic cemeteries in Texas, many of these have not been recored.  You can check out all the documented cemeteries to date by county by searching the Texas Historical Commission website – or of course you can  drive the backroads and turn every time you see a sign that points out a cemetery –  I might see you there.

Every cemetery has a story to tell.  Sometimes it is the history a family or settlement.   Many times you find the graves of famous Texans, soldiers that have fought in many of our wars, past Texas Rangers (not baseball players),   young mothers and children that died during child birth.  I  even found a marker that said “this stranger wandered into town and was shot” – wish I knew who that stranger was.

If you are truly interested in Texas History you might consider doing some research and selecting a few of these Historical Texas Cemeteries to visit.  Better yet, the next time you are traveling on a Texas backroad and see a sign that says CEMETERY with an arrow – take a view minutes and visit – if you are on the backroads you are not in that much of a hurry!

My walk through the cemetery was an acquaintance with local history……Christopher Wren

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Sometimes you find amazing things almost in your backyard – this is one of those times.

In 1894, Reverend JT Upchurch established the Berachah Rescue Society in Waco, Texas with the purpose of redeeming and aiding prostitutes and other fallen women.  In 1903, after being driven from Waco by angry fellow Methodist church members who opposed his aiding prostitutes, Upchurch and his wife Maggie Mae moved to Oak Cliff to continue their mission.  Soon after they purchased twenty-seven acres of land to establish the Berachah Home for homeless girls, usually these girls were pregnant.  It soon became known as Rescue Hill.

Girls came from Texas and the surrounding states to have their babies and learn to care for themselves and their babies.  Upchurch did not believe that mothers and children should not be separated so adoption was not an option until the mother had cared for her child for one year.

By 1928, the home had expanded to 67 acres.  On this land a hospital, nursery dormitory, dining room, print shop, handkerchief factory, chapel, office building, schoolhouse, 1,000 seat auditorium, barn, and a cemetery were built.  The girls worked at the print shop, the handkerchief factory, as teachers and did other task around the home.  Funding was provided by businessmen from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Upchurch published The Purity Journal to keep them informed about their mission work.

In the early 1930’s Reverend Upchurch’s health began to fail and in 1935 the home closed.  It was reopened in 1936 as an orphanage, the Berachah Child Institute, by Upchurch’s daughter, Allie Mae and her husband, Reverend Frank Wiese.  In 1942 the property was purchased by the Christian Missionary Alliance.

It is unknown how many girls had past through the doors of the Berachah Home.  It is also unknown how many children were born.  I wonder what became of the mothers and the children that were residents.  Reverend Upchurch and his wife dedicated their lives to an important cause, although they were ridiculed by many they continued on mission.

The University of Texas purchased the property in 1963 and still currently owns it.  The only remaining evidence of Rescue Hill is The Lost Cemetery of Infants.  

One has to assume since The Berachah Home was a home for unwed mothers that there were some complications with some births.  There are approximately 80 grave sites in the Cemetery.  Most are marked by a flat stone with either a first name or a number, such as Infant #1.  Last names were not included to protect the unwed mother’s anonymity.

I have lived in Arlington since 1975 and until about a week ago I was unaware of this fascinating piece of history.  While a student attending The University of Texas at Arlington,  I actually lived about 300 yards from this site.  Yesterday I visited The Lost Cemetery of Infants.  I was touched by what I found – simple graves of forgotten babies who had no past, present, or future.  I now wonder what happened to the hundreds of children that would leave the home to follow the backroads of their lives.

This site is special and I encourage people to visit Rescue Hill.  Not much there except a history of a lot of folks that were touch by the Reverend Upchurch and his family.  I have included a photograph of each of the markers at this cemetery (sorry a couple are out of focus).  Please take a minute to remember each and every one of them.

There is not a footprint to small to leave an imprint on this world……….unknown

LOST CEMETERY OF INFANTS   (Doug Russell Park – northwest corner)                                                                                                           801 West Mitchell Street  – Arlington, TX

past pictures from UT Arlington Archives

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Scattered throughout rural Texas there are hundreds of historic dance halls.  Some of these are still operating today while many are in disrepair.

These halls were and continue to be an important part of our history and our TEXAS Heritage.  You will not find these halls off the Interstate Highways – you must detour onto some beautiful and scenic Texas back roads.   When you arrive at one of these halls you will immediate travel back in time and marvel at these historic wonders.

Fraternal orders, gun clubs, and agricultural groups built most of these halls.  Used by town folks as places to gather for both recreation and also as meeting places to discuss issues that were important to the community.

Unfortunately, the Texas Dance Halls are becoming an endangered species.  Some have been torn down over the years because of the expense of keeping them operating.  Others have been lost because of natural disasters such as floods and fire.  To many have just passed away because of old age and neglect.

Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc. is a non-profit group that is dedicated to SAVING TEXAS DANCE HALLS ONE TWO-STEP AT A TIME.   TDHP is committed to rescuing historic Texas dance halls, the authentic music, and culture that is still found in them by:

  • Developing informational programs to promote public awareness and use of Texas dance halls as living venues for community assembly, music and social dancing
  • Keeping an inventory of all traditional dance halls in Texas, including those that have been lost.
  • Documenting and publishing the history of Texas dance halls, individually and as a collection of resources, for the purpose of education and outreach.
  • Serving as a clearinghouse for information that can aid the preservation of Texas dance halls.
  • Providing assistance to list dance halls on the National Register of Historic Places or to complete grant applications for preservation projects.
  • Providing financial, technical, or organizational assistance for the restoration, rehabilitation and preservation of historic dance halls.

If you grew up in Texas there is a good chance that you have spent time at one of these historic halls… there is a very good chance that either your great-grandparents and/or your grandparents first met while dancing across the floor of a Texas dance hall.

Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc. and other like-minded organizations need help…SAVING THE HISTORIC DANCE HALLS.   Visit the TDHP web site at to learn more about the mission and the work that TDHP is doing.  Then please consider making a donation to help preserve these Texas Treasures.   If you agree that now is the time to preserve these historic halls please share this blog with your friends.

Remember………when the band starts to play every dance begins with the first step.


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During the 19th century a type of fiddle music began to emerge in Texas.  Other string instruments like banjos and guitars joined the fiddles.  Fiddle sessions sprung up everywhere from living rooms, porches, and also in local Texas Dancehalls.   The influence reflected the diverse population of the post Civil War Texas including, African-American, Appalachian, Cajun, Czech, German, Irish, Mexican, Polish, and Scottish.  What evolved was a wonder art known as TEXAS FIDDLING!

November 7th, thanks to Texas Folk Life and Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc., The 2nd Annual FESTIVAL OF TEXAS FIDDLING took place at La Bahia Turn Verein, in Burton, Texas.  This event brought together some of the best master fiddlest in Texas including; Brian Marshall, Ed Poulard, Howard Rains and Tricia Spencer, Mark Rubin (Upright Bass) and many other exceptional musicians.   These musicians not only played they discussed technics and the history of the many different forms of fiddle music.

That evening,  folks attending the festival were in for a treat… Hot Club of Cowtown, a western swing band, provided the music for an evening dance.

It was the perfect ending of a musical journey through an important part of our Texas history.

We should thank both Folk Life of Texas and Texas Dance Hall Preservation, and applaud these fine musicians for their efforts to keep Texas music and our historic dance hall preserved for generation to come

The festival was held at La Bahia Turn Verein, community/dance hall a beautiful historic building, which will be the subject of another blog entry – what an interesting history this old building has.

“The music comes from the fiddler’s heart, through his strings and straight into your heart.” Father John Angus Rankin, Cape Breton musician

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It is impossible to FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS without the music of the backroads.

The Ranch 95.9 and Masha Milam Music presented their annual Texas Country Music Festival, celebrating the radio stations birthday, which features some of todays biggest names in Texas country music.  RANCH BASH is an annual  one day music festival held this year at Panther Island on the banks of the Trinity River, just north of Downtown Fort Worth.  Past festivals have featured Stoney LaRue, Kevin Fowler Jack Ingram, Wade Bowan, Casey Donahew, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Josh Abbott, Reckless Kelly, Green River Ordinance, Bob Schneider, Cory Morrow, Roger Creager and many more.

This years line up was no disappointment!  Featured were many new and established artist.  Included were  Ransom Rhodes, Tyler and the Tribe, Stateboro Revue, Zane Williams, Shiny Ribs, Will Hoge, Uncle Lucius, Mike Ryan, Cody Jinks, and Reckless Kelly.  This line up proved once again that Texas is the music capital of the world!

Ranch Bash 2015 could not be stopped by the rain – it was moved into THE SHACK at Panther Island.  Ranch Bash was a fantastic event and the good news is if you were unable to attend – MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR NEXT YEAR.    Next year join us again as we celebrate the artist and their music that are the soundtrack of our travels down THE BACK ROADS.

Ranch Bash 2015 is summed up with a quote Arthur Freed……..Singing in the rain,  just singing in the rain;  What a wonderful feeling, I’m happy again!

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