Legend has it that the land on which Wichita Falls sits was originally won in a poker game by J.A. Scott of Mississippi in 1837 but it wasn’t until his heirs laid out the town site with a survey in 1876 that it started attracting immigrants and settlers. With the arrival of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad in 1882 it took off and boasted 1000 population. Even though it attracted nationwide attention by the early 1900’s it took the first discovery of Texas tea in nearby Burkburnett to bring a new surge of growth, increasing the population to more than 40,000 by 1920. By the 1930’s Texas’ entire economy was powered not by agriculture but by petroleum.
Despite oil’s continued importance and the city having a major university and Sheppard Air Force base just north of town, the historic downtown section has seen much better days. On Saturday we decided to take a drive, look it over and go through the fledgling railroad museum even though temperatures were pushing 100 by noon when it opened.
The first thing that struck us was the lack of traffic and activity for a Saturday. Like a modern day ghost town of hulking low rise skyscrapers, both streets and buildings appeared totally empty. What wasn’t empty though obviously in use, was empty and boarded up. Don’t forget: Wichita Falls is now a town of over 100,000 population. It was quite sad and nothing like the old photo which had showed such activity and life.
Despite that, there were some vestiges of grandeur left. In April of 1933 the city newspaper brags of the opening of the new “Federal Building”, aka post office, at a price of $500,000. Today it is still used.
There are a couple examples of some stellar hotels, though whether still in use is up to conjecture.