TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map

Books by
Michael Barr
Order Here:


Texas Counties

Texas Towns
A - Z

Texas | Columns


Looking back at:

Pontotoc - Land of Hanging Grapes

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Viewed through the bug-splattered windshield of a low-flying Ford Escape, Pontotoc looks like just another tired and dusty town on the long list of once vibrant Western Texas communities diminished by paved roads and fast automobiles. But something is stirring along the quiet red dirt streets of Pontotoc that catches my interest, so I jump on the brakes and pull in for a closer look.

Pontotoc, pronounced "Ponty talk" by locals, straddles Highway 71 between Llano and Brady in northern Mason County. The reddish brown sandstone buildings in Pontotoc are similar to the buildings in Mason and Llano.

Settlers first moved into the area in the 1850s. Major Robert Kidd named the town for his former home of Pontotoc, Mississippi. Pontotoc is a Chickasaw Indian word meaning "land of hanging grapes."

It was an odd name for a frontier town that didn't know a vineyard from a rice paddy. Grapes had little to do with the history of Pontotoc for the first 150 years. More about that later.

Pontotoc TX 1872 Farmhouse
The 1872 farmhouse in Pontotoc built by the German Emigration Company.
Courtesy Michael Barr, Jan 2019

No, Pontotoc's claim to fame was the San Fernando Academy, billed as the first normal school for teacher training west of Austin.

"Discipline is strict yet paternal," an 1880s advertisement read. "There are no saloons or kindred evils in Pontotoc to lead the young astray. Nothing but pure water, pure air and a healthful location."

The Mason County News called the magnificent sandstone schoolhouse "the Pride of Pontotoc." Ladies in the community sold chances on quilts to buy a bell for the tower atop the handsome two-story building.

San Fernando Academy opened in 1883 with 100 students. Tuition was $1.50 to $2.50 a month, depending on the subjects taken. Miss Minta Brown taught music for an extra $3 a month. Room and board was $7 to $10 a month.

The school's reputation quickly grew. Wealthy parents especially liked the remote location - far from the sinful ways of Austin and San Antonio. Applications poured in. The second year enrollment doubled.

The academy stimulated growth in Pontotoc. By 1887 there were 20 businesses in town including 4 blacksmiths shops, 2 grocery stores, 2 doctors, a barber shop, 2 saddle and harness shops and a law office. Pontotoc was officially a boom town.

Then boom turned to bust. Typhoid fever hit Pontotoc in 1887. Water turned to poison. Even swimming in it was deadly.

So many people died the cemetery filled up. The town had to open a new one.

San Fernando Academy tried to stay afloat as enrollment dropped, but when a $1,000 note came due, the school couldn't pay. It closed in 1889.

Pontotoc Texas stone ruins with picket fence Pontotoc Texas stone ruins
The handsome ruins of the former San Fernando Academy.
In Pontotoc, even the ruins have a picket fence

TE Photos, September 2000

Pontotoc TX - Former Post Office Thrift Store
Pontotoc Thrift Store
Former Pontotoc Post Office

Courtesy Michael Barr, December 2018

As the new century approached, Pontotoc held on to its post office and a few businesses, but otherwise the town began a slow slide into obscurity. The public school took over the academy building. A church in El Dorado rescued the bell.

Citizens tried revive the town by creating a new county with Pontotoc as the county seat, but Mason County squashed the movement like a skunk on the highway.

All towns occasionally have a bad year. Pontotoc had a bad century.

For the next hundred years Pontotoc held on - just barely. Peanuts kept the area going for a time; then they lost their subsidy.

Through the lean years Pontotoc was famous for one thing. Photographers knew the place as having some of the most picturesque sandstone ruins in Texas. The crumbling ruins were especially handsome in the springtime. They seemed to float on a carpet of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes.

Ruins with vegetation,  Pontotoc Texas
Ruins in Pontotoc
Photo courtesy Erik Whetstone, August 2005

Pontotoc TX - Pontotoc Vineyard
Pontotoc Vineyard
Courtesy Michael Barr, Dec. 2018

Pontotoc TX - Pontotoc Vineyard Sign
Pontotoc Vineyard Sign
Courtesy Michael Barr, Dec. 2018

Then in 2003 Carl and Frances Money bought property in Pontotoc The property included an historic estate once owned by the German Emigration Company. Two years later the Money family planted 5 acres of Tempranillo grapes in a field behind a restored1872 farmhouse built to house immigrant families searching for permanent homes on the Texas frontier.

Pontotoc Vineyard made and bottled its first wine from the 2011 harvest.

These days Pontotoc is looking pretty good for a town that skipped the entire 20th century. Like a grapevine that produces its first tender shoots in early spring, the "land of hanging grapes" is showing signs of life.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" August 1, 2021 Column

"Pontotoc's San Fernando Academy," Mason County News, August 24, 1972.
"Marker for Pontotoc-San Fernando Academy To Be Dedicated July 23," Mason County News, July 13, 1972.

"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • Polar Bear Bites Rancher 7-15-21
  • July 4 in Fredericksburg 7-1-21
  • A Hidden Message in Fredericksburg Street Names 6-15-21
  • Making Leather at Itz Tannery 6-1-21
  • Lyndon's Little Brother 5-15-21

    See More »

  • See Pontotoc

    More Columns

























































    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Rooms with a Past

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Pitted Dates
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    Texas Centennial

    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Contact Us

    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved