Through The Yearsby
Vintage photos from the Martinets Collection
used to walk along the railroad tracks running through the heart of his hometown,
Granger, and dream of getting
on one of those trains and never coming back. |
That was in the 1920s, when
both Granger and Martinets
were young and in their prime. Now Granger would seem to be yet another small
town with a great future behind it and Martinets has passed on; he died two days
before Christmas last year.
tracks west of Granger|
TE Photo 2004
Martinets knew Granger in
its heyday. He knew photographer John Trlica and
he knew King Cotton and the Katy railroad. He saw the town rise and fall and grew
to love it after a decades-long absence. He became the town’s unofficial historian
and goodwill ambassador. For anyone who cares about how we got where we are today
or who has a soft-spot for kind-hearted old gentlemen, he will be missed. |
Dan Martinets (on hood) was already absorbing Granger history in the late 1920s|
basically emerged full-blown from the Blackland Prairie in eastern Williamson
County when the Houston and San Antonio branches of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas
Railroad – commonly referred to as the Katy – intersected where Granger
sits today. The main street of the new town was named Davilla, for a nearby community.
The town’s first unofficial mayor was H. B Wright, who sold lots for Captain A.S.
Fischer and proclaimed, “Granger is sure to be a town.” |
Street awaiting a parade (Looking west - city hall building on right.)|
|The men who laid out
the city had a grand vision of what the town could become. They made Davilla Street
100-feet wide, eventually stretching the town west of the railroad tracks. Because
the Blackland dirt that was such a blessing for farmers was such a liability in
town when it rained, the city took on the task of bricking Davilla Street in 1912.
The wide brick street set the town apart from others in the area. The Granger
News declared: “Granger is said to boast the distinction of being the only city
in the state, of less than 5,000 inhabitants, that has paved streets or is in
the process of paving them.” |
(now) historic bricks on the west side of town.|
|Granger’s brick streets
were recognized on May 7, 2005 with a Texas Historical Marker. Martinets was there
and spoke at the ceremony, but the driving force behind the effort to have the
streets officially recognized was the late Loretta Mikulencak, an astute
and dedicated local historian who passed away in 2003, two years before the official
designation. She provided all the documentation for the marker to the Texas Historical
Many of the original bricks were gone by the time the historical
marker was unveiled. Water lines destroyed some and the Texas Department of Transportation
tarred and paved part of the street when it became part of FM 971. About a block-and-a-half
of West Davilla is still bricked.
Mikulencak, in pushing for the designation,
wrote the historical commission that bestowing historical status on 600 feet of
brick would in itself be insignificant.
She wrote: “The true value of such
a designation lies in the recognition and affirmation of the efforts of those
early pioneers and the township they created; validifying the most basic fact:
that they once lived and built a great community. Without such recognition, their
era would be lost to history, as if they and the town they founded had never been.”
One of the people who helped make true the founders’ grand vision for
the town was A.W. Storrs, who constructed the Storrs Opera House
at the corner of Davilla and Granger Streets just after the turn-of-the-century.
An elaborate, two-story brick structure, the Storrs Opera House became a cultural
center on the prairie, drawing the Chicago Opera Company and other top-flight
entertainment to the Blacklands. Ella Storrs, A.W.’s wife, founded the “Eat, Drink
and Be Merry Club” and started the drive for Granger’s city clock. She donated
many hours caring for the city cemetery, where she, A.W. Storrs and their four
children are buried.
In later years, the Storrs Opera House was utilized
as a stage for school activities and later housed a weekly newspaper and various
repair shops. The building was eventually torn down to make room for a parking
lot, a fact that Dan Martinets never quite got over.
“My God, you can
put a parking lot anywhere,” he groused. “Why tear down one of the town’s most
beautiful buildings for anything, much less a parking lot?”
By 1909 Granger
had a modern electric power and light plant and was at the center of one of the
top cotton-producing areas in the state. Williamson County produced 89,237 bales
of cotton during the 1899-1900 ginning season,
more than any other county in the state.
But farmers asked too much of
the rich Blackland dirt and planted too much cotton.
After the boll weevil
hit Williamson County
in 1923, King Cotton was on its way to being a pauper. By the late 1930s, the
county had become the top corn-producing county in the state.
Officials in 1936 sending miniature bales of cotton to the Texas
|In 1938, leaders of
the Texas Grange, the East Texas Chamber of Commerce and Texas A&M agencies joined
forces to stage the Corn Carnival, the first one ever held south of the Mason-Dixon
Line. About 20,000 people showed up, most of them by automobile; the railroad
was still the preferred method of shipping, but the car had replaced the train
as America’s favored means of travel. |
John Trlica chronicled the Corn Carnival, along
with nearly every major event that took place in Granger
from 1924, when he opened his photography studio, until it closed in the mid-50s.
collection of Trlica’s pictures are collected in
Barbara McCandless’ excellent book “Equal before the Lens: Jno. Trlica’s Photographs
of Granger, Texas.”|
Martinets, whose grandfather first employed Trlica
on the farm when he arrived in Granger,
said he was stunned to see the book’s cover with a picture of a young Hispanic
boy with long thick black hair holding an ear of corn.
boy's name was Louis
Escobedo,” Martinets said. He was quite the little rascal. You’d hear a big
whoop and it would be Louis chasing one of his brothers down the street.”
of corn was deemed worthy of inclusion in the photo because it bore a sign
of the cross, which Louis’s father, Jose
Escobedo, believed foretold of a great war. This was nine years before the
Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbor, but about the same time Hitler was coming to power in Germany.
family was to become very important in Trlica’s
growth, influencing his life in the church, in retail business, and, most importantly,
in photography,” McCandless wrote. “Trlica’s belief
in photography as something that should be available to everyone, not just the
upper class, set him apart in his day.”
Martinets agreed with assessment.
“For his time, I guess you would have to say he was avante garde,” he said. “He
photographed Black folks, Hispanic folks. He might not have known it but he probably
took pictures of the Ku Klux Klan too.”
Trlica's 8th Birthday|
kept his prices low to make sure the people of his little town could afford his
services. The foundation of his business was portraits made from four-by-five
inch glass plate negatives with a postcard layout on the other side. These could
be sent through the mail, like a postcard. He sold half a dozen of these portraits
for a dollar.|
town and social scenes provided the subject matter for most of Trlica’s
postcards and functioned as advertising for local businesses, including his own.
His influence didn’t extend far beyond Granger’s city limits but because of that
he was able to chronicle in photographs an almost complete history of the town.
Trlica saved more than 15,000 film and glass
plate negatives, several hundred prints and bits and pieces of studio equipment.
Even more remarkable, he saved his original studio ledgers, which helped identify
and date the images.
J.F. Martinets Family|
Martinet's Store Delivery Hack|
F. E. Martinets in 1934|
| Dan Martinets’ father
appears in several of the book’s photographs. One man in a picture with Martinets’
father was a man that he remembered becoming a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. |
represented Granger in Washington,”
Martinets recalled. “One day you would see him driving to market with a couple
of filthy, squealing pigs in his car. The next thing you know, he’s riding a limousine
in Washington.” With Martinets gone, there’s no one left in Granger with those
kinds of memories, and Granger
is poorer for it.
eventually bought that one-way ticket out of town and spent most of his adult
life working in the production end of the advertising department at Neiman-Marcus
in Dallas. “It was an interesting life,”
he said of his Dallas years. “You got to see how the wealthy people lived.” |
he retired, he headed toward Padre Island because, after careful consideration,
he had decided to spend his retirement years as a beach bum. He stopped at his
mother’s house on his way to the coast, but she slipped and broke her hip while
he was there, and Martinets stayed on to look after her. She died in 1998, at
the age of 104.
Moorish City Hall|
|Journalist Dick Reavis,
who lived in Granger for a number of years knew Martinets and when the Troessers
of Texas Escapes Online Magazine inquired about Granger's
distinctive city hall, the staff called Dan directly. Somewhere along the line,
Dan, as unofficial historian, was given the (equally unofficial) sobriquet "The
Lone Granger" - a name that Dan sometimes used on his correspondence.|
long after the Troessers’ visit, I dropped by Martinets’ place to visit. He talked
about John Trlica, about a firebug who set fire
to many of the town’s old wooden buildings and a double-murder
and a runaway
bride. He shared his memories of Hollywood actors Rip
Torn and Sissy Spacek, native Texans who spent a good part of their respective
childhoods visiting Mary Spacek’s house across the street from where Martinets
“It was the first two-story house in Granger,”
Martinets said. “That was very exciting to a kid.”
as a little boy who would occasionally challenge Mary Spacek’s patience. “He had
a little yellow scooter he drove like mad. His grandmother (Mary Spacek) would
yell out, ‘Slow down, Skippy! Slow down!”
As might be imagined, Skippy
rarely heeded the warning.
Torn presided over Granger’s Lakefest in 1986,
not long after he received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the
farmer Marsh Turner in “Cross Creek.”
Though Torn doesn’t make it back
to Granger as often as he used
to, Martinets remembered when he flew back to Texas from Spain, where he was playing
Judas in “King of Kings,” to attend Mary Spacek’s funeral.
him going up and kissing the casket,” he said. “I remember that because it was
such a touching, human moment. It was genuine. He wasn’t acting.”
Spacek family headstone
Spacek appeared at Lakefest the year before Torn, her cousin, had the
honor. She had just won an Academy Award for her performance as Loretta Lynn in
“Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Like Torn, she served as Grand Marshal and received a
proclamation from the state declaring May 11, 1985 as “Sissy Spacek Day.” |
father, A.E. Spacek, was with his daughter at the 1985 Lake Fest and spoke to
a reporter with mixed emotions about his old hometown.
“It’s the same
story to be found in all small towns which used to be agriculturally important,”
he said. “Now they’re dependent on industry and they’re in trouble…This is the
friendliest, most wholesome town I know. This is a great little community. These
people never give up – no way – and I’m proud to call it my hometown.”
the San Gabriel River meets Granger Lake
lot happened in Granger during
Martinets’ absence. Perhaps the most significant thing to happen was the construction
of a dam on the San Gabriel River that created Granger Lake.
The river has always had a tendency to flood, especially when low-pressure systems
park themselves west of the Balcones Escarpment. A monumental 1921 flood made
a dam on the San Gabriel a priority in Williamson
In September of ’21 a hurricane made landfall at Tampico,
Mexico, roared through South Texas
and stalled over Central Texas, dumping 38.21 inches of rain on the town of Thrall
in 24 hours; to put it in perspective, Central Texas averages about 32 inches
of rainfall in a year. More than 200 Texans drowned in that flood, including 92
in Williamson County.
Livestock, bridges, houses, churches, stores, barns and people – all washed away.
That the building of the dams would turn into one of the most contentious
issues to ever shake Williamson
County could hardly have been imagined at the time. Over the next few decades,
the controversy would erupt into something of a Williamson County Civil War that
literally pitted brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor.
those early days of talk about damming the river, most people assumed the dam
or dams would be built in the western part of the county because the eastern end,
around Granger, had some of the
state’s most productive farmland. That’s why it came as such a shock in 1948 when
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it had decided to build one big
dam, at Laneport, near Granger.
local landmark, the Hoxie House burned in the 1930s|
|Ultimately, two dams
were built, one in the western end of the county that created Lake Georgetown,
and one in the eastern end that formed Granger Lake. Granger Dam and Lake
was dedicated in 1978, more than five decades after the 1921 flood and 21 years
after a similar flood in 1957. It began operating in 1980. More than 200 Blackland
farms, along with whole communities like Friendship,
disappeared under the waters of the new lake.|
The long and ultimately decisive
battle over the dams is detailed in Linda Scarbrough’s outstanding 2005 book,
“Road, River, And Ol’ Boy Politics: A Texas County’s Path from Farm to Suburb.”
One of the people Scarbrough talked to for her book was Loretta
Mikulencak. Aside from being an outstanding local historian, Mikulencak served
as Granger’s school tax assessor
and collector for many years; she saw the impacts of the lake from several perspectives.
City Council (Date Unknown)|
City Officers 1931-32|
|“The Corps offered
certain people high dollar for their land, but everyone was at their mercy,” she
told Scarbrough. “The chief damage to Granger
was getting those (Czech) families out of there; they were stable farm families
who had inherited their land and they were not going to leave. They never recovered…
They just died, one by one. And the worst of it was that it made us bitter; it
made us what we weren’t. It made us different people.” |
Martinets Store in 2000|
days, Granger keeps getting referred
to by big-city types as one of the state’s “best kept secrets.” The Cotton Club
in downtown Granger has been called that, but its hard to think of it as too big
a secret on certain Saturday nights when the place is packed with people dining,
dancing and drinking. |
Even on certain weekdays Granger
can be just this side of bustling. Though I don’t live in Granger, I have a Granger
address and some of the affairs of daily living often take me there. I can say
without fear or favor that the people I know and encounter in Granger are among
the friendliest and most down-to-earth people you are going to find in Central
In recent years, Granger
has served as the setting for several movies, including a documentary on the Newton
Boys, the Hollywood productions of “When Zachary Beaver Came To Town,” “The Return”
and parts of the Spike Lee movie, “25th Hour.”
“We may be poor
but at least we’re picturesque,” Martinets once remarked.
The battle over
the dams is but a distant memory to even the old-timers; now people in the Blacklands
see the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor as the biggest threat to Granger
and the other little towns on Highway 95 like Bartlett,
Holland and Little
The exact route of TTC-35, the first segment of a proposed
series of six-lane highways cris-crossing the state, has not yet been finalized
but one proposal shows TTC-35 running through, or at least very close to, Granger.
While Granger has accepted
Granger Lake, as its annual Granger Lake Fest shows, it’s hard to imagine any
future celebrations over the corridor, especially if it wipes out the town. The
scope and time frame of the corridor are so immense as to make the very idea seem
almost abstract, but Granger
knows better than most towns how imaginary lines on a map can turn into the next
Whatever happens to Granger
in the future, good or ill, there are some of us who can’t help but think what
a shame it is that people like Loretta Mikulencak and Dan Martinets won’t be around
to tell future generations about it.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" October
3, 2008 Column
of Correction on the book Equal before the Lens
Granger: Texas' Best Kept Secret
By Clay Coppedge
Photos by Leroy Williamson
122 total pages (Softcover)
5 1/2 X 8 1/2 format
for ordering information.
The book can also be ordered by sending a check
for $12.95 (price includes shipping and handling) to:
Old American Publishing
Memorial Dr. #159
Houston, TX 77079