Moseying: Living La Vida Llanero
West Texas Architecture
October 16, 2002
In hopes of learning the names and stories of the stonemasons who created an endemic Llanero aesthetic that I have admired in Ozona, Big Spring, Patricia, Odessa, Midland, and Andrews, I have been visiting local libraries and historical museums. In the process, I found a wonderful book at the Midland County Library entitled Dugout to Deco by Elizabeth Sasser, a retired Texas Tech architectural history professor. What a great joy to flip through its pages.
Between our leisurely daytrips and my travels to give programs throughout the region, Deborah and I have admired a number of the structures Mrs. Sasser and her husband photographed for the book. We recently sat together at Calicos, bent over the book as we ate lunch, excitedly pointing to photographs of familiar buildings, including St. Pauls Church on the Plains that Deborah attended in Lubbock. All of my kids were baptized there! In keeping with the historical theme of the lunch, three old-timers sat at the table next to us, talking about their blacksmithing and saddle making fathers in the small towns of west Texas.
I found a 1977 West Texas Historical Association Journal at the Haley Library that included an article on the history of dugouts. The earliest dugouts were temporary constructions of Ciboleros and Comancheros during their visits to the Llano Estacado. These often were set into steep slopes of the breaks and had brush arbors in front of them. Comanches often built brush arbors, and early settlers followed suit when constructing facilities for church camp meetings.
A town of dugouts once existed twelve miles southwest of Claremont. Stores, bars, and a number of residences (all dugouts) lined a wagon road evoking images of Tolkiens Hobbiton. Early west Texas settlers in those days had "house lowerings" instead of "barn raisings". Every teenager in every school in our home bioregion should read The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough which follows the life of a young woman who lived in a dugout and helped her cowboy husband start a ranch; and every Llanero should visit the Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock which features two rebuilt dugouts.
The WTHA article says that dugouts remained the primary domicile for a number of families well into the 1930s, including one that had a barn built above ground to house their farming equipment. Some dugouts were quite large, up to fifty feet long and forty feet across. Some had two stories, the second story being of box and strip construction built years after the dugout's construction. Some dugouts are still in use on ranches on or near the Llano Estacado, serving as storage rooms and tornado shelters.
As soon as the early settlers could afford it, and as railways systems were built to transport the materials, folks switched to box and strip construction. With the advent of mass-produced nails, lumber was shipped by rail from sawmills in east Texas. Two-by-fours were closely spaced horizontally on a light frame, and one-by-ten planks were nailed over that, with one-by-fours finally nailed over the cracks of the planks. No insulation was used, but homeowners would often paper the walls with newspapers, canvas or burlap. Eventually wallpaper became available.
If a settler became financially comfortable, his home might have taken a variation of the Queen Anne style. Middle-class folks merely gussied up a box-and-strip dwelling with fancy ornamentation. Style elements included the use of brightly colored paint, wide porches, gables, bay windows, stained glass, "gingerbread" ornamentation, and elaborate ironwork. The "embroidery" often cast intricate shadows on the wall "resembling the fine curls of Spencerian script." Such houses are common in many of the towns of west Texas. The Potton House in Big Spring represents a version of the Queen Anne style adapted to Barstow sandstone construction. Other Queen Anne homes were made of brick.
By 1920, the Classical Revival style graced courthouses, churches, and banks of the day. These structures were constructed of brick, with Ionic columns extending a full two stories. The entry porch often projected in a half-circle and was topped by a balustrade on the roofline. The column capitals were mass-produced and ordered from catalogs. Private homes of the Classical Revival style can be found in Lubbock, Amarillo, and Brownwood.
Courthouses at Hereford, Anson and Ozona are also examples of the style. Members of Masonic fraternities were often involved in erecting these edifices, and on the day of the cornerstone leveling Masons and local officials would sponsor barbecues, parades, band concerts and a long series of orations. The cornerstone would be placed by Masons attired in ceremonial dress, "consecrated" by scattering corn around it, pouring wine and oil (symbols of plenty, health and peace.) The cornerstone was always placed in the northeast corner of the building, symbolic of light. Admiration of the architecture of courthouses can become a passion. Bob Midkiff, a Director of the Midland Soil and Water Conservation District, has photographed every courthouse in Texas.
I have had a bit of success in my research to identify at least some of the stonemasons mentioned in the first paragraph. Elizabeth White called to tell me about her grandfather and uncle who were stonemasons. John Hubert Looney and his son, Hubert Looney, built many rock houses, rock chimneys, and rock fences from Mason to Amarillo. The "shiphouse" at Christoval is one of their creations.
Mrs. Choice Shofner (nee O'Neal) informed me that she grew up in the rock house in Patricia mentioned in a recent column. She remembered that a fellow by the name of Lee Pittman did the work in 1946, utilizing rocks that her father had collected all over the United States. I am extremely appreciative of all the folks that have been calling to help with my research!