How could a city invest a fortune in a “high-rise” that’s only about forty feet tall? This building’s tale should appear in the dictionary as the definition of “hoodwinked.”
In 1912, a large petroleum reservoir was discovered west of the city of Burkburnett, a small town just outside of Wichita Falls. Of course everyone was pretty happy about the financial windfall that ensued, but it also brought more people and businesses to town that wasn’t prepared to house them. People were so desperate that they were even conducting business in tents pitched on street corners. What Wichita Falls needed was more office space!
There was a one story building on the corner of Seventh and LaSalle Streets built by Augustus Newby in 1906 that was ideally located near the downtown railway depot. One of its tenants, J. D. McMahon, had a construction firm in there and say what he thought was a shining opportunity.
In 1919 he proposed to build a high-rise annex next to the Newby Building that would provide multiple floors of space for commerce to the boomtown. Sounds like a great idea, right? That’s what the city leaders thought, too.
McMahon drew up impressive looking blueprints (though he wasn’t an architect) and showed them to potential investors, who forked over $200,000 in capital for the building’s construction. That’s the equivalent of $2.8 million in today’s money!
He proceeded with the construction of the skyscraper, but used his own construction crew to control and oversee the project.
Locals evidently turned their attention elsewhere as the building was being raised, because it was almost completed before they noticed that something was wrong. Their high-rise tower wasn’t what they had envisioned. Instead of the 480-foot structure thy expected; McMahon had built a 480-inch building.
The brick embarrassment was only eighteen feet deep, ten feet wide and each of the four floors had only 118 square feet of space on each of the four floors.
It’s been referred to as a glorified elevator shaft, which is especially ironic since the crew originally hired to install an elevator backed out of the project. The only way to access the upper floors was by an external ladder (until an interior staircase was built years later).
Infuriated investors took McMahon to court, sure that they would find justice for the con. But they had one more surprise in store.
Even though the judge was sympathetic to their complaints, he had to rule in favor of McMahon. What none of the financers had noticed in their excitement and rush to sign off on the project is that the blueprint listed the building’s dimensions in inches – not feet. It was build to the specifications proposed – 480” not 480’. Oh, the different an apostrophe makes!
The narrow stairs that were built a few years later took up twenty-five percent of the interior space, making it even smaller.
How could the situation possibly be worse? McMahon had never gotten permission from the property’s owner, who lived in Oklahoma, to build on the lot!
Needless to say, the Newby-McMahon Building was quite an embarrassment for local officials. The oil boom ended shortly after the building was completed, and it was boarded up and fell into disrepair.
Once the economy regained its footing, several small businesses operated in the snug spaces of the structure, including a barbershop and restaurants. It is now home to an antique shop on the bottom floor, and artist studios above.
Luckily, the building has survived several potentially fatal events including a fire, a 2003 tornado, and attempts by locals to have it demolished.
Wichita’s City County granted $25,000 in funds for the building’s restoration in 2005. Now, it’s true that that’s as much as it cost to build it in the first place – but that was a different time. Now the people of this Texas town have a reminder of the oil boom, a curiosity of visitors and something to point to and tell an amazing tale.
It might be difficult to spot from a distance because there’s more “sky” than “scraper,” but it’s worth stopping by to see this scam-tastic little piece of Texas history.
When I hear the name Lady Bird Johnson, I immediately think of wildflowers. She was, after all, a visionary environmentalist who focused on protecting and preserving North America’s native plants, including Texas wildflowers.
But did you know that Texas native Lady Bird Johnson grew up in a haunted house?
High on a hill 2 ½ miles outside of Karnack, Texas an isolated white mansion surrounded by trees, fields and bayous houses a special place in Texas history — as well as its very own ghost.
The imposing, 17-room plantation style mansion known as the Brick House was built in 1843 by Cephus Andrews. It was also the site of a tragedy.
In 1861 during a violent thunderstorm, Andrews’ 19-year-old daughter Eunice, known as “Oonie,” sat in her bedroom beside a fireplace. Lightning struck the chimney and raced downward striking the young girl and consuming her in flames.
Legend has it that Oonie’s spirit has never left the home. Stories have been passed down through the years of eerie noises, ghostly apparitions, misplaced objects and other odd occurrences…all attributed to poor Oonie.
In 1902 the Andrews family sold their home and thousands of acres of cotton to the wealthiest man in town, Thomas Jefferson Taylor. He also owned two cotton gins, a fishing business and two country stores emblazoned with boastful signs stating “T. J. Taylor—Dealer in Everything.”
Taylor and his wife Minnie had two sons, and in 1912 added their only daughter Claudia Alta Taylor. Her nursemaid took one look at the dark-haired baby and said she was “as purty as a lady bird.” The endearing nickname followed her throughout her life.
When Lady Bird was 5, the Brick House witnessed a second tragedy. Her mother fell down the staircase of the home and died a few days later from complications of a miscarriage caused by the accident.
Lady Bird, whose brothers were away at school (and weren’t even told about their mother’s death for almost a year), remained in the home and was raised by her maternal aunt Effie who came from Alabama to live at the home.
When asked about the Brick House’s ghost in later years, Lady Bird would say that she often had a feeling of apprehension and unease in the home. She spent most of her indoor time in her room, which was just down the hall from Oonie’s room that servants repeated warned her to stay away from…as they did. The sounds of the old house, including wind whipped through the sills of the floor to ceiling windows must have added to the spooky atmosphere.
Her aunt Effie believed that Minnie’s ghost visited her at night to instruct her about caring for Lady Bird, washing windows and taking care of other forgotten household chores.
In her 80’s Lady Bird told her biographer, “I would not, even now, at this age, feel comfortable being alone in that house myself.”
Luckily young Lady Bird was able to spend most of her time outdoors strolling through the woods and fields where she developed her love of nature’s beauty. So it’s perhaps indirectly thanks in part to the ghost of forever-young Oonie that Texas enjoys wildflowers along its highways each spring.
The home still stands as a national historic landmark, and is privately owned. I wonder if Oonie still provides caretaking instructions to them.
Starting off a new year usually begins with lofty goals quickly filling up our calendars. But it’s probably the ideal time to make a decision to slow down and enjoy the ride.
When I was growing up, family car trips looked a lot different than they do today. The journey and taking in the sights of the places we traveled through were just as important and fun as the places we were going to.
While a modern day family is more likely to think of Bucee’s when someone mentions a rest stop, (we had our version of that too back in the day, in the form of Stuckey’s) the roadside rest stops were something entirely different.
Families didn’t scurry out of the car and head in different directions with the goal of loading up their arms with snacks and souvenirs.
Instead small clusters of roadside rest stops, basically roofed spots with picnic tables, dotted the sides of the two-lane blacktop highways and offered travelers a place to get out of their car and stretch their legs, let the kids run off some excess energy, and unload their hamper of food Mom had packed that morning to enjoy a family picnic while taking in a view.
Texas is lucky to still have a wide variety of these mid-century rest stops, so it might come as a surprise that other states have taken to demolishing theirs. Along Texas highways you might spot some shaped like teepees, with wagon-wheel sides, retro-curved roofs or just simple, functional designs. They bring back great memories of time spent on family vacations, and rank right up there with folded maps from gas stations on the nostalgia scale.
I’ve never gotten over my love of road trips, which is a mystery to some of my friends who would rather fly somewhere that’s only a couple of hundred miles away. But I’ve noticed with all of the challenges in the past few months that many Americans are rediscovering the love of road trips, whether they are going across the state or across the country.
And, yes, I’ll make the time to take a few minutes at lovely spots I find like this one, because they’re just as enjoyable when I’m traveling by myself.
Take it from me, and rush less the next time you’re driving along to a destination. If you see a nice roadside rest area, take the opportunity to pause for a few minutes, enjoy a drink or snack and the view. It can put a whole new perspective on your trip.
Well, actually it’s pretty easy to catch up with THIS gingerbread man.
In 2006, the organizer of Smithville Texas’ annual Festival of Lights event baked up a delicious plan to take their celebration to the next level – by baking the world’s largest gingerbread cookie!
Mixing together 750 pounds of flour, 49 gallons of molasses and 72 dozen (separated!) eggs, they created a Texas-sized gingerbread man. They n immense cookie sheet baked the 1,307 pound fellow on an immense cookie sheet over a dump truck load of charcoal (take THAT Food Network!) and then raised him with a crane to the 65 degree angle required by the folks at Guinness World Records for consideration.
The staff at Guinness officially recognized the spied feat in the 2009 edition of their record book.
Now . . . how to memorialize the achievement? The Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Smithville had the cookie sheet used to bake the gigantic gingerbread man converted into an enormous, 20-foot tall metal replica of the cookie, and the townspeople affectionately dubbed him “Smitty.”
He stands in the town park making sure visitors can celebrate the spirit of Christmas all year long. Heads up, though, even though he towers over the park, he’s a bit hidden from the street by the trees in the park so you’ll have to get out of you car to see him in all his gingerbread-y glory.
If you need a little (or a LOT) of Christmas right now . . . have I got the place for you!
Because every day is Christmas in one special place in Columbus, Texas. It’s the Santa Claus Museum. C’mon – you know if ANYONE deserves his own museum, it’s the guy in red. And you won’t even have to travel to the North Pole because this one is the only Santa Claus museum in the South.
This totally charming museum doesn’t have ten or twenty Santa Clauses. It has almost 3,000! All things Claus, including dolls, dishes, ornaments, music boxes, needlework, photos, artwork, magazine covers, cooking molds, promotional advertising pieces, department store displays, even Santa-themed wine – from all over the world. And no matter what your age is, you’re sure to find at least one that looks familiar from when you were a kid.
Don’t expect all Hallmark style plastic St. Nicks though. Here you can find versions made from cast iron, china, basket weave, com shucks, bottle glass, paper, fabric, dough, and wood as well.
Now I’ll admit that some of the Santas are adorable, some exquisite, but – um – (sorry Santa) some are a bit creepy. But that makes it all the more fun.
An almost life-sized Santa Claus, formerly displayed in the Priesmeyer Department Store in Garwood during the 1950s is one of the most popular Santas in the collection.
The festive museum began with the Santa collection of Mary Ellen Hopkins, and opened in 1990 in her honor after her family donated the jolly assortment of treasures to the Columbus Historical Preservation Trust. The building was donated by Laura Ann Rau, and the museum is operated by the CHPT.
Since the founding of the museum, it has expanded with the 2019 additions of the Luman Collection and the Hubenak Collection. Who knew there were so many Santa aficionados?
Luckily, the Jolly Old Elf himself is also there to add to his Christmas wishes list, but beware – he’ll already know if you’ve been naughty or nice.
Add a road trip to Columbus to your holiday schedule to see this little museum. I promise Yule love it.
Santa Claus Museum, 604 Washington St.
Columbus, TX 78934
Fridays & Saturdays from December 1-19, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Of course it’s always best to call ahead to confirm.
January through November it’s open by appointment only. To set one up, contact the Chamber of Commerce to schedule your visit.
You can find more details at their website HERE.
A state as big as Texas is bound to have a lot of ghost stories. . . luckily for us!
The first tale I’ll share this October is probably one of the most famous to native Texans, and takes place in Bailey’s Prairie.
If you happen to be motoring south on Highway 35 and see a bouncing orange glow . . . it’s probably Old Brit Bailey in search of his jug of whiskey!
James Briton “Brit” Bailey was more than a real person. He was a real character. Known for his eccentric personality, love of drink and penchant for brawls, life was never dull in his presence. At six feet tall (quite a height for the time), was an imposing figure with his jet-black hair and broad brimmed hat.
“Brit” was born in North Carolina on August 1, 1779 in North Carolina. After fighting in the War of 1812 the pioneer came to Texas in 1818 with his second wife, Dot, six children and his slaves, settling in what came to be known as Brazoria County. Several years later Stephen F. Austin would arrive with the “Old Three Hundred” to settle parcels of land in the area.
Not one to pass up a fight or give ground on a cause he believed in, Brit was also a veteran of the Battle of Jones Creek in 1824, and the Battle of Velasco in 1832.
Locals love to share a story about the rowdy rancher that captures his personality. It seems that he shot at a traveling preacher’s feet to watch him dance. After the episode when the men were sharing a drink, the preacher took the opportunity to grab Brit’s gun and made the same demand. Roaring with delight, Brit jumped onto a table and energetically danced a jig while onlookers applauded.
His temper was as legendary as his humor, and one night he apparently set fire to all the buildings on his own property except the main house.
On December 6, 1832 Brit passed away quietly in his own bed from fever that many think may have been cholera.
Peculiar instructions in his will provided one more surprise for the community. He had requested to be buried standing up (now that took a deep hole!), facing west with his rifle over his shoulder, powder horn by his side, and a jug of whiskey.
Brit didn’t want anyone passing by his grave saying, “There lies Brit Bailey” and he figured if her was standing up….they couldn’t!
He was buried in a grove near his home and though all his instructions were followed, his jug whiskey was omitted from the coffin. His widow objected to that item, saying he had imbibed enough in his lifetime.
According to legend his ghost in the form of a strange light roams his old homestead at Bailey’s Prairie looking for the lost jug of whiskey. Many describe it as having an orange glow and bobbing around about four to six feet above the ground – the eight a lantern might be held on horseback.
Back when the story originated, it was said that Old Brit searched the prairie every seven years, but either people weren’t paying attention or he’s getting thirstier because now Bailey’s Light is seen on a regular basis.
Naysayers theorize the glow is caused by puffs of natural gas escaping from the ground, but you’ll be hard pressed to convince witnesses of that.
Bailey’s Prairie, Brit Bailey Boulevard (FM 521) and even a local chapter of the DAR are named for this unique figure in Texas history.
Texas State Historical Markers telling Brit’s story can be found just outside the gates of Munson Cemetery. Unfortunately, someone has vandalized the emblem off of Brit’s marker. (Hope that Brit chased them!)
Are you brave enough to search out Bailey’s Light on a dark night on the prairie?
Subject a real person: Confirmed
Location: Bailey’s Prairie, Brazoria County. Stretch of Highway 35 between Angleton and West Columbia
Apple pie, apple tarts, baked apples, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple cobbler, apple cakes, apple cookies, apple pandowdy, caramel apples, apple pancakes, apple bread pudding, fried apple pies, apple cider, Apple Brown Betty . . . is your mouth watering yet?
It might be time to set a course to Medina, the Apple Capital of Texas.
On the way home from Lost Maples State Natural Area (read more about this trip here), my friend and I made a stop at Love Creek Apple Orchards Cider Mill and Country Store to treat our tastebuds to some fall goodness.
This country store is popular stop for travelers in search of apples for snacking or baking. They offer 11 kinds, including Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, Jonagold and Pink Lady.
If you aren’t passing by during harvest season there are still plenty of yummy things to indulge in. Walk through the store to a covered courtyard area and order up tasty freshly made apple cider, an apple dumpling with a sugary crunch, a slice of apple pie or even apple ice cream. Of course they also have burgers, sandwiches, salads and quesadillas if you’re more “hungry” than “munchie.”
If you’re feelin’ saucy, there are plenty of options to bring home as well. (We did some early Christmas shopping. Shhh!) Store shelves are lined with jars of apple butter (my favorite!), apple pie filling, jams, jellies, and syrups, And…darn…you’re also encouraged to taste samples while you browse. Old-fashioned apple-y goodness!
Whether you’re looking for a fall photo opp or just to make some memories, the Apple Store Bakery and Cafe is a tasty way to start off the fall season.
Be sure to check their website for the Great Hill Country Pumpkin Patch where pumpkin painting, apple orchard tours, farm animal petting zoo, games, hayrides, hay maze, storytelling, scarecrow building and sing-a-longs will keep the entire family entertained. For information about dates, times and entrance fees click here.
If you can’t make it to the Hill Country in the next few weeks, you can still treat yourself by ordering some of their most popular items online here.
(And, um . . . if you’re shopping for me . . . remember the apple butter. Hint, hint!)
Your tastebuds will thank you either way.
Love Creek Apple Orchards Cider Mill and Country Store
Ewe better believe there’s something, well…sheepish about San Angelo.
No matter where you look, there they are: fiberglass sheep sculptures in every color and design imaginable.
Some cities have cows, horses or pelicans. Here sheep started grazing around town in 2007 as a nod to the town’s past, when it was known as the Wool Capital of the World.
Each is sponsored (usually by the location where they’re making an appearance) and given a punny name: Happy Trails to EWE, Lambscapes, Don’t EWE Mess with Texas, Lucky EWE, Lamb of God, and more. MANY more.
With over 100 sheep in this colorful flock they can keep visitors happily hunting for days.
If you’re ready to start off on a sheep-tacular scavenger hunt of your own, this list is a great place to start.
Ah, fall: cool breezes, pumpkin patches and leaves changing colors….
Wait! Change of season colors in Texas? Yep, and I’m here to tell you exactly where to mark your map for a beautifully vivid fall trip.
Lost Maples State Natural Area is a pristine destination about five miles north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187. Typical of most state parks and natural areas, March through May are busy months due to the cooler weather.
But Lost Maples’ most popular months are October and November when the foliage is ablaze in greens, reds, orange and gold.
Uvalde big tooth maples, oaks, Florida basswood, American sycamore, green ash, black willow, sugar hackberry and pecan trees tucked into limestone canyons carved by the upper Sabinal River provide the dazzling seasonal color. Add in an array of wildlife and seasonal wildflowers and this becomes one of the must-see autumn spots in the state.
Sound amazing? It is!
With over 2,900 scenic acres to explore you can fill your visit with hikes, picnicking, photography, camping, backpacking, fishing, geocaching and bird watching.
Fall temperatures at Lost Maples are mild, and the stargazing at night is jaw dropping. The sky looked like a sea of twinkling glitter. I used a handy phone app to identify some of the stars and constellations we spotted. You can find more information about the free app here.
Stop into the ranger station at the entrance parking lot for a small but interesting display about Lost Maples, and don’t forget to pick up a free trail map to set your course. There are ten miles of well-maintained hiking trails, including a challenging, steep seven-mile loop that takes you along the top of a 2,200 foot cliff.
Even on the easiest trails, you’ll enjoy seeing steep canyon walls, streams, ponds and rocky bluffs.
Remember to take plenty of water and normal hiking supplies like sunscreen and a small first aid kit.
Dogs are welcome, but if they’re hiking along with you be sure to bring their water. It’s a workout for them, too.
I was intent on finding Monkey Rock during my hike, one of most photographed spots in the park year round, and was grateful to find several signs indicating the general route to him. Just follow the marked trail and as you come into a clearing by the bluffs, look up! There’s no mistaking his toothless grin.
I dare you not to smile when you spot him.
In addition to reptiles and insects (even tarantulas!), keep an eye out for an array of birds, gray fox, white-tailed deer, armadillos, raccoons, bobcats, squirrels and an occasional javelina. Most of the wildlife will understandably avoid people, but the more tranquil (quiet!) your walk, the better chance you have of spotting them.
If you only have half a day or so, I recommend prioritizing a hike along the Maple Trail, to Monkey Rock and the Grotto with its ferns and drip springs, with a short detour to the waterfall.
Taking time for a picnic lunch and skipping stones across one of the ponds is guaranteed to wash away stress.
When hiking, remember to stay on the trails to preserve the natural habitat. Water can sometimes cross the trails during heavy rains.
Remember that you’re in a canyon, so don’t expect cell phone reception inside Lost Maples. It’s a great opportunity to disconnect from the world and enjoy nature.
The park only accommodates about 250 cars, so if you go during the peak season you’ll want to arrive early to claim your spot.
Weekends fill up fast with only 300 guest slots available from 8 a.m. until noon, and another 150 spots from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Once you’re there you can stay until 10 pm.
Here’s the secret: you can actually purchase a Save the Day pass 30 days in advance online! When I chose the dates of my visit I counted backward on my calendar and jotted myself a reminder to book as soon as the dates were able to be claimed.
As with most popular destinations, weekdays are less crowded. My friend and I went on a weekday to avoid the weekend crush and were thankful to have the trails virtually to ourselves.
Another insider tip: Though the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November are traditionally the height of the fall color season, this can vary from year to year due to weather patterns. Be sure to check resources like the fall foliage conditions for the most current updates. A link is here.
When you’re ready to satisfy that appetite you’ve earned after a wonderful day of hiking and exploring, check out the nearby Lost Maples Café in Vanderpool. Click the name for more details.
My only regret is that Lost Maples was on my wish list of destinations for so long before I actually made time to go. Now I can’t wait to go back and take others along!