Carson County Towns
Panhandle, the county seat of Carson County, is on U.S. Highway 60 in the south central part of the county. It derives its name from its location in the Panhandle and was initially named Carson City (for the county) and then later, Panhandle City. The community obtained a post office in 1887 and was platted in January 1888 as the terminus of the Southern Kansas (Panhandle and Santa Fe) Railway, on a site almost surrounded by several large cattle ranches. Over the next few months Panhandle acquired a school, a mercantile store, a bank, a wagonyard, and three saloons. In July 1887 Henry Harold Brookes began the Panhandle Herald (during the 1980s the region's oldest extant newspaper). Edward E. Carhart assisted Brookes in printing the Herald and also served as postmaster, banker, and druggist. Many early settlers made extra money hauling bones of slaughtered buffalo to the railroad to be shipped east to fertilizer plants.
When Carson County was organized in
1888, Panhandle became the county seat, and a wooden
frame courthouse was completed there. Subsequently,
several law offices were opened at the community, and the
colorful Temple L. Houston frequented Panhandle as an
attorney for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
Townsmen built an interdenominational community church
building in 1892. A sanatorium and several doctors'
offices made Panhandle a haven for health seekers. The
John Callaghan hotel hosted such distinguished guests as
Buffalo Bill Cody and rancher Murdo Mackenzie. Frank N.
Bishop managed the town's ice and coal business and the
grain elevators along the tracks. At times as many as
65,000 cattle were held in the loading pens awaiting
railroad shipment. In 1897 the community was scandalized
when the Methodist pastor, George E. Morrison, poisoned
his wife because he was in love with another woman. This
murder, which received widespread attention, resulted in
Morrison's trial and subsequent execution on the gallows
in Vernon in 1899.
Groom, on Interstate Highway 40
forty-two miles east of Amarillo in southeastern Carson
County, was named for B. B. Groom, the first general
manager of the Francklyn (White Deer) Ranch (see
FRANCKLYN LAND AND CATTLE COMPANY), whose cottonwood log
house was located on White Deer Creek, eleven miles to
the north. The townsite was laid out on the route of the
Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway in 1902. In that
year Frank S. Dysart established the first general
store-post office. In 1903 C. R. (Lum) Slay opened a
second mercantile store and took over operation of the
post office. By 1906 a barbershop, a bank, a hotel, a
lumberyard, a school, and several stores had been
established. In 1911, when Groom was first incorporated,
it reported a population of over 250. It survived fires
in 1912 and 1915 to grow as a shipping point for area
ranching and agriculture. The population rose to 564 by
1931, after an oil boom in the 1920s. In 1928 the town
paved its main street and installed a water system and
electricity and natural gas utilities. A sewer system was
added in the late 1940s. By 1960 a modern community
hospital replaced an earlier, ten-bed osteopathic unit.
After a decline in the early 1940s, the population rose
over the next two decades, reaching 808 in 1972. By 1984
Groom had five churches, a state bank, a modern school,
thirty businesses, and a population of 736. In 1990 the
population was 613.
White Deer, on U.S. Highway 60 in east central Carson County, is named for nearby White Deer Creek, where, according to local legend, an Indian saw an albino deer drinking. The town's history began in 1882 when the British-owned Francklyn Land and Cattle Company, later reorganized as White Deer Lands, occupied the area and began stocking it with cattle. George Tyng, general manager of the property, built headquarters for the White Deer or Diamond F Ranch at the site in 1887. The county's first water well was drilled nearby. In 1886 and 1887 the Purcell Company, made up of Kansas capitalists, purchased land in the vicinity as a right-of-way for the Southern Kansas Railway of Texas, which arrived in 1887. Because of the well the railroad chose the site for a depot and built it in 1888. Initially named Paton (after John Paton) and then Whig, the town was renamed White Deer in January 1889. In December 1888 the first general store and a lumberyard were established, and a post office was opened. By 1891 a school district had been established.
In the 1890s White Deer Lands, the
trust of British bondholders, began leasing its holdings
to ranchers, and during the following decade, the company
started subdividing and selling its holdings for small
farms and ranches. Soon settlers arrived in large
numbers. The town was originally a half mile east on the
railroad line, but it moved in 1908. White Deer rapidly
grew as a supply town for settlers and by 1910 had a
population estimated at fifty. Local organizations like
the White Deer Literary Society brought culture to the
community. White Deer's ethnic diversity was heightened
in 1909, when Henry Czerner and Ben Urbanczyk established
a community of Polish farmers from Central Texas at the
northeast edge of town. These colonists erected the
Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 1913. A Methodist church
had been organized in 1911, when a Presbyterian church
was already functioning. The First State Bank (later the
First National Bank) of White Deer opened in 1916.
The Pantex Plant, a component of the Albuquerque Operations of the United States Department of Energy, is located in southeastern Carson County between U.S. Highway 60 and State Highway 293 seventeen miles northeast of Amarillo. The government established an army ordnance plant at the 16,000-acre site in 1942 to produce bombs and shells for the armed forces during World War II. A post office was established in November 1944 for the plant employees, who lived in government housing nearby. The plant remained in operation until the war ended in August 1945, and the employees subsequently dispersed. In 1949 the War Assets Administration sold the plant for one dollar to Texas Technological College for use in agricultural research and experimentation, but the government retained the right to repossess the facility under a national-security clause.
The Atomic Energy Commission reclaimed 10,000 acres in 1951 and converted the plant to the production of chemical explosives and nuclear weapons. Throughout the next two decades the resident population of Pantex fluctuated; it was 958 in 1966 and 205 in 1970. The post office remained in operation until 1969, when it became a rural branch of the Amarillo post office. In 1990 Pantex reported a population of 115. The Pantex Plant, administered by the Department of Energy, assembled nuclear and thermonuclear warheads from components manufactured at other facilities and was the site of pacifist demonstrations. After the end of the Cold War and the conclusion of an arms reduction agreement with Russia (June 1992), the Pantex Plant was to disassemble thousands of warheads each year, a process expected to last through 2003.
The plan to store 110,000 pounds of
plutonium in bunkers at Pantex was of concern to nearby
residents, who feared that the Ogallala Aquifer, which is
used for irrigation throughout the Panhandle and supplies
40 percent of Amarillo's water, might become
contaminated. A 1988 Department of Energy report rated
Pantex the second most hazardous of its sixteen weapons
plants and laboratories. Other unfavorable environmental
reports have been filed. In 1988 cleanup was under way
for exposed asbestos and other substances. Underground
storage tanks that leaked gasoline and an unlined pit
used to dump solvents and other toxic substances were
slated for cleanup. Carson County residents state that
there has been little pressure on Pantex to protect the
environment because it is Amarillo's largest employer,
having 2,700 employees.
Skellytown, on State Highway 152 in northeastern Carson County, is named for the Skelly Oil Company, which brought in the surrounding oilfields during the 1920s. In 1926 the company purchased a 320-acre lease from Henry Schafer, a local rancher on whose land the Roxana oil pool was located. Schafer platted a new townsite, which he named Skelly in honor of the company's founder and president, William Grove Skelly, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since it was between the neighboring oil camps of Roxana to the north and Noelette to the east Skellytown experienced only limited growth. The first businesses were company-owned supply houses. There were no utilities, and the populace was compelled to buy water hauled in tanks and burn wood for fuel.
In 1927 the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway built a branch line north from White Deer to the oilfields and established its depot at a site just north of Skelly. Subsequently, all three camps moved their businesses to the new site and formed the Skellytown Townsite Company. Within four months Skellytown had two refineries, a carbon black plant, and over 100 oil wells in its trade territory. Soon the new town's Main and Roosevelt streets boomed. In addition to machine shops, warehouses, and lumberyards, Skellytown had seven grocery stores, three drugstores, a hotel, a pool hall, a dance hall, a movie house, several rooming houses, beauty parlors, barbershops, cafes, dry cleaning shops, furniture and hardware stores, filling stations, and garages.
A post office was opened in January
1927, and a weekly newspaper, the Roxana-Skellytown News,
was launched. Panhandle Power and Light provided
utilities, and Dr. F. S. Coolen opened a four-room
emergency hospital. The White Deer Ice and Cold Storage
Company erected a plant in Skellytown. An elementary
school was also begun during this time. It had two grades
in each room, two pupils in every seat, and only three
Deal, in northwestern Carson County,
was established during the oil boom of the late 1920s as
a flag stop on the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway.
The name of the community was adapted from that of George
Washington Deahl, who owned the ranchland near Antelope
Peak on which the town was founded. A post office was
established in 1926 but was discontinued two years later.
A district school was opened in 1936. Although the
population swelled to 200 soon after its inception, Deal
failed to survive, as oil and gas development moved on
north and east. Eventually the site returned to prairie
land. By 1949 trains no longer stopped at Deal, and the
school was closed.
Noelette was one of three small oil
camps built at the Roxana oil pool in northeastern Carson
County during the mid-1920s. First located south and east
of the Roxana and Skelly communities, Noelette moved its
businesses to the new Skellytown townsite after the
Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway completed its oil branch
line there from White Deer in 1927. On June 29 of that
year a post office was opened at the village. By the time
the Great Depression stifled the boom in 1930, Noelette
reported one store and a population of thirty. In 1944
the post office was discontinued and its services
replaced by delivery from White Deer. Subsequently, the
community merged with Skellytown.
Cuyler was a rural school community on
the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway between Panhandle and
White Deer in eastern Carson County. The school district
was organized sometime between 1907 and 1910 and was
named for Cornelius C. Cuyler, one of the New York owners
of the White Deer lands. According to former students,
classes were held in a one-room frame house until 1913,
when a two-room schoolhouse, complete with a horse shed
and other outbuildings, was opened there. The school also
served for other community purposes, including as a
church and Sunday school. After a long succession of
teachers, the Cuyler school was consolidated in 1934 with
those of Panhandle and White Deer. The building remained
on its original site until the early 1960s, when its new
owners had it moved to Pampa. Although the community is
gone, in the early 1980s the Cuyler Siding grain elevator
remained near the railroad track, just off U.S. Highway
Lark, on Interstate Highway 40 (U.S.
66) in southern Carson County, was platted at the time of
the building of the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway
line in 1903 and named for Lark Stangler, an area
rancher. The brothers Q. W. and Joe Krizan operated the
first store in town. A post office was opened in 1909,
but after 1915 the mail was delivered to Conway, seven
miles west. By that time Lark had a population of ten,
which remained stable through the 1930s. The post office
was reestablished in 1925, and by 1940 the town reported
one business, a church, a school, and a population of
twenty. However, improved transportation and the
proximity of neighboring towns resulted in the decline of
Lark. The post office was closed for the final time in
1957, and mail thereafter was sent to Groom, eight miles
east. Lark reported a population of twenty-six, a
community center, and two grain elevators in 1984.
Roxana was the first and, for a time,
the largest, of the oil camps to be built at the newly
discovered pool in the northeast corner of Carson County
during the mid-1920s. Roxana was named after the oil
company that first drilled the site. It grew rapidly
after fourteen rigs were erected around the Roxana
discovery well. A post office was opened there on
February 7, 1927. When the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway
completed its oilfield branch line from White Deer later
that year, Roxana moved most of its businesses to the new
Skellytown townsite, where the depot was located. Yet
Roxana maintained for some time its separate identity as
a small industrial village with several loyal residents.
By 1930, when the Great Depression stifled the boom,
Roxana consisted of four businesses and a population of
ten. In 1944 the Roxana post office was discontinued and
mail sent to Skellytown, and by the late 1940s Roxana's
population of ninety had been absorbed by that of
Conway, on Interstate Highway 40 in southern Carson County, traces its beginnings to 1892, when the Lone Star School, said to be the first rural school that endured in the Panhandle, was established for the children of area ranchers and homesteaders. A post office opened in the area in 1903. Perhaps inspired by the previous arrival of the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway, J. D. Delzell and P. H. Fisher platted a town, which they named in honor of former county commissioner H. B. Conway in 1905. The one-room schoolhouse was subsequently moved there. Edward S. Carr opened a mercantile store in 1907 and assumed the duties of postmaster. A railroad depot, a grocery store, and a blacksmith shop were soon added, and a steam-operated threshing machine served area wheat farmers.
An interdenominational community church
was erected in 1912. During the 1920s the town formed a
community club and began an annual community fair. In
1943 the Conway school district was merged with that of
Panhandle. The old brick school building was subsequently
used as a community center. From a low of twenty-five
persons in 1925, the town reached an estimated population
of 125 in 1939. In 1969 it had 175 residents, but by 1970
it reported a population of fifty, two grain elevators,
four service stations, three cafes, and a general store.
The post office was discontinued by 1976, and some of
these businesses have since closed. The population was
still listed as fifty in 1990.