One of the easiest ways to spot a ghost town is to follow abandoned railroad lines. When the companies were building their right-of-ways by receiving millions of acres of land grants under the auspices of eminent domain, towns lured the tracks to come to them with promises of depots, set rates, financial contributions, land grants, and first-borns (okay, the last one is made up. To entice the railroads, the towns pretty much promised the moon).
Often, railroads either ignored the pleas because the offers were too low, or the majority of citizens in a township were not willing to stake their fates on the whims of the tracks. Whatever the reason, railroads bypassed many towns and established their own villages, selling the land that was given to the them to emigrants and bankers. In the end, bypassed people pulled up stakes and moved towards the tracks to have access to transportation and make money on freight and travelers.Or, the towns succeeded in enticing the railroads, because they produced commodities that sold well (oil, for example). Over the years, as railroad companies consolidated or folded, the right-of-ways were abandoned. Some towns survived by diversifying their economic bases, but others witnessed their sole source of income go away, and within a generation, they became, in essence, ghost towns. But the names of these lost towns are still on railroad maps because, at one time, they were important.
So, one rainy winter day, I took a road trip to two of these spots on the map: South Bend and Eliasville in Young County. My son, David, helped me locate them as he followed the old Rock Island route. I didn't expect much, actually, but I was pleasantly surprised.The first place we arrived was South Bend, possibly named after a nearby southward plunge of the Brazos River. At first, oil was South Bend's main export, but it later became a spa town, capitalizing on the mineral-rich, warm waters that flowed from the mountains. In the 1920s, the Wichita Falls & Southern Railroad came through the town, but the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad took over the route in the 1950s to ferry passengers to the resort.The picturesque scenery continued as we followed the abandoned tracks to Eliasville, established in the 1870s alongside a mountain that sloped into the Brazos River. At one point, Eliasville was a hub of activity, with three bridges and a flour mill spanning the river. The town never really recovered when oil reserves were tapped out, multiple fires swept through, and the railroad stopped coming in the late 1960s.Neither of these towns were founded by the railroads, but the arrival and subsequent loss of the trains signaled an end just the same. Towns live and die beside the routes of transportation. South Bend and Eliasville offer keen examples of that.
The Donner Mill along the Brazos River in Eliasville is beautifully scenic.
Downtown Eliasville is REALLY exciting!
The pedestrian/ road bridge over the Brazos River at Eliasville doesn't exist anymore.
Ruins in downtown Eliasville.
Tin ceiling tile on fallen leaves in Eliasville.
Check out more Ghost Towns in my book!