Sketches of Amarillo

Amarillo was settled in the spring of 1887. The Fort Worth & Denver City railroad was building diagonally across the Panhandle of Texas southeast to northwest; the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe northeast to southwest. At their intersection, somewhere south of the Canadian River, a great cattle-shipping market was inevitable. Trail-driving days were over.

By preliminary understanding and surveys the intersection was to be at a point near the present town of Panhandle. That plan miscarried and the Fort Worth & Denver City built its railroad twenty-five miles or more to the southwest of the early survey.

So it became apparent that the shipping center would be southeast of the Fort Worth & Denver City’s Amarillo creek crossing, as far north on the Plains as possible and yet keeping clear of the Canadian river breaks. Washburn had geographical advantage but personal energy centered attention on the Amarillo site, 15 miles from Washburn.

Three town sites were projected, one by Jesse Jenkins of Tascosa on Section 22 a mile southeast of Amarillo creek bridge, another by Judge W. B. Plemons on Section 12 two miles southeast of the bridge, the third by J. C. Berry & Co. of Abilene, Texas, on Section 188 four miles southeast of the bridge.

The Jenkins site was at the railroad construction camp, known among the cowboys of the Plains as “Ragtown”, made up entirely of tents. For a few months it had a colorful population. Tascosa had competition. The place was between Mileposts 341 and 342, now marked by the Whitcomb stone house, built in 1893. Even at the early day, only a couple of dugout pits remained from the former town.

The Plemons project, close to the headsprings of Amarillo creek, was abandoned by agreement with Berry. The Plemons home, built in 1889, now headquarters of Jack Hall ranch, is just north of the projected town site.

Berry’s town site was south of the railroad where it circles Wild Horse Lake, important watering place for cattle drivers. The lake generally held much water before streets and sewers diverted surface drainage. The business center was laid out near the present intersection of Bowie and West Fourth. The town site promoters paid the State of Texas $1,280 for the 640 acres of school land.

Potter County in the summer of 1887 was organizing. All permanent inhabitants except about half a dozen scattered ranchers lived at LX ranch, north of the Canadian river. Sixty or more of these cowboys and ranch hands became lot-owners in Berry’s “Amarillo” town site. Thus they were freeholders, and in the election held at LX ranch headquarters on August 6, 1887, they selected Section 188, the Berry location, as their county seat. Returns of the election were made to the Commissioners Court at Tascosa, Oldham County seat. Rivalry ended.

The name of Amarillo creek goes back to Spanish days and earliest memory. It means “yellow”, color of the sub-soil in its channel. The town was named for the creek. In early days most of the houses were painted yellow to commemorate the name.

Potter County Commissioners Court assembled in a temporary courthouse at Amarillo on September 26, 1887, Judge Plemons presiding, first officially recorded meeting of the town. It resolved to appropriate $25 from the first money received to buy tent, table and chairs, temporary office for the county clerk.

The courthouse was built in 1888, of brick made on Amarillo creek. Original Court House Square was bounded by Bowie, Travis, Fourth and Fifth in “Old Town”. The railroad depot was south of the track between Ong and Lipscomb. Stockyards and loading chutes were on the present sinc smelter site. There was a post office, City hotel, saloon, dwellings and one or two windmills.

In 1889 the town began to move, mostly on wheels, to the Glidden & Sanborn addition a mile east. The depot was hauled to Polk and First and part of it is still attached to the Fort Worth & Denver City freight depot. Part of the City hotel still stands at Johnson and First. The Amarillo hotel, a large wooden structure, was built at Polk and Third where it and its successors have stood ever since. The First National Bank Building, still standing at Polk and Fourth, was built of stone hauled partly by oxen and mules from Cliffside. The post office occupied part of this building. A railroad spur was built to the Cliffside quarry about the same time and part of the stone was delivered by railroad. By 1890 business houses strung out along Polk and Taylor, residences as far east as Lincoln and south to Twelfth. The first public utility was a water supply system and windmill and tanks at the Sanborn homestead, intersecting corner of Sections 169, 170, 155 and 156, now occupied by the Auditorium.

The county seat remained officially at the courthouse on Section 188, “Old Town,” until an election on May 20, 1893, ordered removal to Section 169, Glidden & Sanborn addition, 335 voting for and 9 against. Before and after that date county offices were rented in the business center. Books and records were carted back and forth as needed.

On February 1, 1896, a petition by 132 citizens asked that the old brick courthouse be torn down and rebuilt in “an eligible locality.” Contract was let on May 15 for $2,538 to C. H. Black, a lot was bought for $300 at Taylor and Fifth opposite the new courthouse square, the old brick was rebuilt on it, and accepted on October 12. It was sold later but stood until 1930. The donors would not allow the rebuilt structure to go on the new courthouse square, and title was not perfected until the corner stone of a permanent stone courthouse was laid on October 6, 1904. A new courthouse was built in 1931.

Population in 1890 was 482. On January 27, 1892, 90 legal voters of Amarillo petitioned for incorporation, which was favored by 115, opposed by 41, at the election on February 20. The corporate limits comprised Sections 188, 169, 156, N-1/2 of 187, 170, and 155. Five and one-fourth square miles or more than 3,300 acres.

Strife over proposed taxation on this thinly populated and unwieldy area wrecked the municipality. The financial distress beginning in 1893 was a factor in this crisis.

Functioning of the City Council was interrupted three times by injunctions, and several court hearings brought the incorporation to an end in 1894, the Council holding its last meeting on January 17. Injunction pleadings set forth that great areas of the corporate limits were uninhabited grazing lands with no dwelling for miles. Court held that a city’s limits were determined by its populated area.

For five years municipal government in Amarillo was suspended. County government and Texas Rangers, brought in to stifle cattle rustling, administered law.

On February 18, 1899, 56 legal voters again petitioned for incorporation, which carried by a large majority at the election on March 8. The error of over-extension was not repeated. The city limits covered only 925 acres, bounded by Jefferson, Sixteenth, Garfield and North Third. Population in 1900 was 1,442.

City Council met first on May 4, 1899, in the courthouse. Street improvements began in January, 1900, by placing four inches of gravel on Polk Street and making conditions worse than before.

City hall bonds were authorized in January 26, 1900. On May 10, contract was let to Britt & Currie for $11,500 and purchase authorized of a site on Block 167 and N-1/2 of 182, Plemons Addition, present location of Amarillo High School.

The new brick City Hall was in truth a schoolhouse, used for that purpose. City Council continued to meet in the Court House. It followed the architect’s design of the Fort Worth Sixth Ward School, with library room on the second floor. The building was accepted by the Council on December 11, 1900. The present City Hall was built at Tyler and Fourth in 1910.

Population in 1910 was 9,957. Opportunity to emerge into a major position came in 1913 when Amarillo wrote its own charter as authorized that year by the Texas Legislature. The Charter was favored by 651, opposed by 169, at the election on November 13. It was one of the first to written in Texas under the new law. Under this Charter, Amarillo was first in the southwest and fifth in the United States to adopt the Commission-Manager form of government as an improvement over the mayor-aldermanic form. Another stride toward orderly civic development and greatness was the city zoning and planning ordinance, favored by 316, opposed by 287, at the election on July 21, 1931.

Industry in Amarillo began with three branches—railroading, cattle and merchandising. The first Fort Worth & Denver City passenger train arrived in March, 1888, from Clarendon, former terminal, after construction had been finished through to Texline, where it connected with the Colorado & Southern. The two companies, with a system reaching from Wyoming to the Gulf of Mexico, are now consolidated into the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy System. In 1928 the Fort Worth & Denver City built a network of railroad on the South Plains of the Panhandle, reflecting much to the commercial benefit of Amarillo. In 1931 it began building from Childress to Pampa, which is expected to have a like effect.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe stopped building when it reached the town of Panhandle in 1887, but brought its trains to Amarillo over the Fort Worth & Denver City tracks by way of a “tap line” connecting Panhandle and Washburn. The Pecos Valley & North Eastern, known locally as the “Pea Vine,” built into Amarillo from Roswell in 1898, passed the same year to control of the A. T. & S. F., which started its through-train service from the east to Roswell and westward in August, 1899. The A. T. & S. F. built its connecting link from Panhandle to Amarillo in 1908, south to Sweetwater in 1911, northeast to Borger in 1926, north toward Las Animas as far as Boise City in 1931.

The Cheyenne, Oklahoma & Western, nicknamed the “Cow Track”, built into Amarillo from the east in 1902, passed soon to control of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, which extended construction westward to Tucumcari in 1904. It built northeast to Liberal in 1928.

Following 1888 and into the early 90’s, Amarillo became the world’s greatest cattle-shipping market, a primary position held until the railroad through to Roswell intercepted shipments of vast herds formerly driven from the south to Amarillo. At times 50,000 head were within sight of town. Herds often were held for two weeks at the water holes and on the prairie waiting for railroad cars to haul them away.

Hereford cattle breeding was started in 1877 by Col. Charles Goodnight and Judge O. H. Nelson who brought registered bulls to the Panhandle and mixed them with native Longhorns. A red-letter date was January, 1897, when 18 registered cattle, both bulls and cows from the famous Gudgell & Simpson herds of Missouri, were unloaded at Amarillo and driven fifty miles through the snow southwest to Blue Water, renamed Hereford when the railroad arrived in 1898.

Interbred herds from that time on developed a distinctive Panhandle beef type, inheriting Longhorn hardiness and Hereford beef quality. Amarillo from the beginning was the center of this industry.

No crops were grown in early cattle days. Proverbially, a steer could be raised on the open range for the cost of a chicken. But with fencing of ranges and improved cattle grades, growing of fodder, sorghum and millet, began as early as 1890. After introduction of kaffir corn a numerous progeny of improved giant varieties developed until today “row crops” are grown on every ranch and in vast tonnage. To government experimental work in Great Plains agriculture at Manhattan, Kansas, Amarillo is deeply indebted.

About the turn of the century, following early fodder experiments, wheat planting started. This eventually developed a major wheat belt of America, 3,000,000 acres in 1931 yielding 70,000,000 bushels in the territory tributary to Amarillo. Recent freight-rate adjustments have given tory tributary to Amarillo.

Amarillo banking was started by the First National, chartered in 1889, Amarillo National was chartered in 1893, Amarillo Bank & Trust in 1893. American State in 1916. Only one bank failure, a small institution in 1913, has marred 45 years of history.

The first newspaper was The Amarillo Northwestern founded in 1887 by C. F. Rudolph, second The Amarillo Champion in 1889 by H. H. Brooks. When the Northwestern’s printing office was moved from “Old Town” in 1896, the building showed many bullet holes, mementos of early-days “shooting up.” The third newspaper, only survivor of pioneer days, was The Amarillo News founded in 1892 by J. L. Caldwell. The city is known in the press fraternity as a “graveyard of newspapers.”

The first schoolhouse was built in 1889 near a lake in the vicinity of Van Buren and Eighth. The City Hall built in 1900 at Polk and Twelfth, on the present high school campus, was used for school purposes. Amarillo College was founded by the city in 1929.

St. Anthony’s sanitarium was founded in 1900 by Sisters of Charity and the Incarnate Word; Northwestern General Hospital in 1923 by Potter County.

Amarillo Auditorium, seating 2,760, was built by the city in 1922.

Gas was discovered in September, 1918, twenty miles north of Amarillo in the Hapgood Well, Section 65, Block 018, D. & P. R. R. Survey, Potter County. Exploration resulted from observations seventeen years earlier by Charles N. Gould while mapping water resources for the United States Geological Survey. From this has grown the world’s largest natural gas development with pipelines to many large cities and thousands of towns, and connecting through to the Atlantic seaboard.

Petroleum was discovered on May 2, 1921, by Gulf Production Company on the Burk Burnett 6666 Ranch, Section 106, Block 5, I & G.

N. R. R. Survey, Carson County, in a well started in November, 1920. A well started fourteen months earlier, June 30, 1919, on the Smith-Capers Ranch, Section 10, Block Y., H & T. C. R. R. Survey, Hutchinson County became an oil producer after the Gulf discovery.

Four auxiliary industries have developed from gas and petroleum within an hour’s ride of Amarillo—oil refining, natural gasoline from “wet” gas, carbon black from “dry” gas, and helium manufacture. In this area natural gasoline, carbon black and helium are developed more extensively than anywhere else in the world. Helium is produced by the United States Government, which controls 2,700 acres of helium gas lands close to Amarillo. Many large industries have been built in and near the City because of cheap gas fuel and to meet growing needs.

Scheduled airplane transportation began on June 19, 1929 and air mail service on July 15, 1930. Passengers are landed in New York between lunch and breakfast, in Los Angeles during an afternoon and in Denver or Dallas in four hours.

Amarillo grew rapidly in 1925 and 1926, stimulated by money derived from oil, gas and wheat expansion. During that time, and later, many fine business structures and thousands of beautiful homes were built. Amarillo’s corporate limits now contain 26.4 square miles.

Sand, gravel and stone, mineral building materials in limitless supply and easy to reach, have been extensively developed near the City aiding low-cost highway and building construction. Within Amarillo are 225 miles of paving. Thirty-two parks contain 1062.25 acres: Thompson Park, the largest, has 680 acres. By a system of under-and- over passes, the City can be crossed either east and west or north and south without a railroad-grade crossing.

The City bought the waterworks system on March 28, 1927. Wells in the City were abandoned and two new supplies opened, first in Palo Duro Valley, 17 miles southwest, and recently on Section 29, four miles southwest. Each is developed to 6,000,000 gallons daily. Both are connected with the City distribution system by the same thirty-inch conduit.