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Texas' Premier Ghost Town

Erath / Palo Pinto County
70 miles W of Fort Worth

Thurber, Texas Area Hotels > Dallas Hotels | Fort Worth Hotels
Thurber Texas ghost town - 1908 smokestack and moon
The 1908 smokestack in Thurber
Photo courtesy TXDoT

History in a Pecan Shell

Only Indianola's story comes close to equaling the Thurber saga. Once the largest city between Fort Worth and El Paso, Thurber became a ghost due to corporate decisions and not the forces of nature, as was the case with Indianola.

Thurber was the first city in Texas to be completely electrified and amenities included refrigeration and running water. It did, however have an abnormally high child mortality rate that still puzzles historians.

Thurber was built by the Johnson Coal Company that was later bought out by The Texas and Pacific Coal Company in 1888. It's mining operation provided the fuel for coal-burning locomotives of numerous railroads, including the Santa Fe, the Southern Pacific, the Texas & Pacific and the "Katy". At one time the coal deposits were thought to be inexhaustible. We are told there are still millions of tons left.

Thurber Texas brick yard
The Thurber Brick yards.
Old post card TE Archives
Who Needs a Watch when Whistles are Free

A brick factory was added to the mining operations since they had the material, the fuel, and the railroad to ship the end product. Tile was manufactured as well, but it was the thick, heavy Thurber paving brick that paid the bills. Congress Avenue in Austin was paved with them as well as Seawall Boulevard in Galveston. Governor "Ma" Ferguson's experimental highway from Belton to Temple was constructed with Thurber Brick and asphalt (or macadam as it was then called, after its inventor, a man named MacAdam). Mr. Leo Bielinski who has ties to Thurber dating back to his grandfather's arrival from Poland in 1889, adds that Camp Bowie Boulevard was paved with Thurber brick as well as The Fort Worth Stockyards.

The city lived by whistles. From 5:30 when the first miners would rise, to the noon whistle, then the railroad whistles that would signal the approaching end of the school day and finally the quitting whistle..

Armed guards patrolled a huge fenced perimeter around Thurber, not to keep workers in, but to keep Union organizers out. The mostly immigrant workforce was by and large pretty gruntled, but why take chances? The Union eventually infiltrated and won and Thurber became a Union town in 1903. *

(*After negotiating with the Union, Thurber bricks had an added feature impressed into each brick - the Triangle and initials T.B.T.)

Thurber Union-Made Brick
A Thurber Union-Made Brick. TE Photo
Thurber Brick by Mike Cox

Thurber Texas band
The Thurber Mine Workers' Union Band
Courtesy Thurber Historical Assn
Thurber Texas parade
Selling Liberty Bonds during WWI
Courtesy Thurber Historical Assn

Thurber's Demise

In 1915 oil was piped in to fuel the brick furnaces. Ironically, the switching of locomotives from coal to oil was in part responsible for Thurber closing. They were using the product that was putting them out of business. Physically, Thurber ceased to exist when the company sold the houses for the price of lumber and they were carried away piece-meal or intact. After the brick-making operation closed, workers were permitted to live rent-free and were given a thirty-dollar stipend (in scrip) per month.

More recently, in the late 1960s and early 70s, Thurber became a center for not one, but two controversial religious communes. The Children of God, and "The Soul Clinic." They were evicted from private property they were leasing in the vicinity sometime around 1972.
Thurber cemetery
Thurber Cemetery
TE photo

Thurber, Texas Chronicles
  • Thurber, Texas by Clay Coppedge
    "There never was a Texas town quite like Thurber and there never will be again. In a state not known for coal, Thurber produced tons of "black diamonds" for more than 30 years. In a state known for its independence, Thurber was a wholly company-owned town, right down to the last nail in the last miner's house, and became a union town populated by mostly foreign workers.

    Thurber, along with Indianola, is perhaps the state's most celebrated ghost town because it was contrary to ordinary in every way. Situated in the northeast corner of Erath County, almost to the Palo Pinto County line, Thurber was different from every other Texas town of its time... more"

  • Thurber Booze from "Texas Tales" column by Mike Cox
    "...Though those three phases of Thurber's history - coal, bricks and oil -- are well known, much less known is that the town became a production center for a fourth product: illegal booze... more"

  • The Ghost of Thurber by Bob Hopkins
    “If people say that I didn’t see a ghost, you tell em to come see me! I saw it with my own two eyes and I know what I saw.”

    Thurber Today
    Thurber Texas smokestack
    The smokestack in 2001
    TE photo
    Thurber, Texas - fire station
    Thurber fire station with the smokestack in the background.
    Photo courtesy Dustin Martin, March 2016
    Thurber, Texas
    An abandoned building with the smoke stack in the background.
    Photo courtesy Dustin Martin, March 2016
    Turber Texas Speegle House, typical miner's house
    A typical miner's house - "Speegle House"
    Photo courtesy Jonnie Goodwin, Thurber Historical Assn, 2007
    St. Barbara Catholic Church in Thurber Texas
    St. Barbara Catholic Church in Thurber
    Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2004

    New York Hill was the name given to the neighborhood for the white-collar clerks and brick-counters that the company recruited from the East Coast. In truth, they actually oversaw the operations of the Ranger Oil Field. New York Hill is now the site for the Restaurant of the same name.

    Thurber has a yearly reunion every year on the 2nd Saturday in June and has done so since 1937.

    Thurber, Texas
    "Castle on a hill. Not part of the original ghost town but still a pretty cool sight." - Dustin Martin
    March 2016 photo

    For a trip to Thurber, see
    Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto and Thurber

    Book Hotel Here:
    Fort Worth Hotels | Weatherford Hotels | Mineral Wells Hotels | More Hotels

    Thurber videocassettes and books are available at New York Hill Restaurant across from the famous smokestack.Dr. Leo Bielinski's informative site on Thurber is www.thurbertexas.com For more information on Thurber, see if your library has:
  • THURBER: The Life and Death of a Company Coal Town by John Spratt III.
  • FIRE IN THE HOLE by Weldon Hardman or
  • THE BACK ROAD TO THURBER by Leo S. Bielinski

    Our sincere thanks to Mr. Leo Bielinski who reviewed our article for accuracy and added to our knowledge of this unique place, in our opinion the most fascinating of all Texas ghost towns.
  • THURBER: The Life and Death

    Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history and vintage/historic photos, please contact us.

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