Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

Pumpville
Ghost Town of Western Val Verde County

Doug Braudaway
Southwest Texas Junior College
207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840

Once upon a time, a stand of mulberry trees stood in the middle of West Texas canyon country. Most definitely and defiantly non-native, the trees represented the community of Pumpville in the far western reaches of Val Verde County. Pumpville is one of those many towns scattered across Texas that grew and served as a community center for a generation of Texans. Time and technology have passed on by, and what remains of Pumpville can be counted on two hands.

Pumpville was originally named Samuels, but the existence of another town with that name required a new name. The new name, Pumpville, reflects the purpose of the town. In 1882 (and finally in January 1883) the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad (operating under the ownership of the Southern Pacific) was completing the country’s second transcontinental rail line. The steam locomotives of the day required a great deal of water. The site of Pumpville proved to have good water at 600 feet, and the wells were drilled at the site in the photograph at right. This is all that remains of the old pumphouse. The well-water was what is now called “hard water.” Calcium- and lime-laden water was hard on steam engines, leaving mineral deposits that decreased efficiency and power. The railroad compensated by filtering the well water through a salt tank, much like modern water softening systems.1

pumpville pumphouse site.
The pumpville pumphouse site. No above ground construction remains other than concrete foundations.

Nearly the entire town consisted of railroad facilities along with those associated with ranching. The railroad facilities included the depot, the pumphouse, the salt shed, section foreman’s house, section laborers’ quarters, the water tank, and the tool shed. The telegraph office and telegrapher’s house were also considered part of the railroad. The mulberry trees were planted by section foreman Simon Shaw, Sr., in front of his house, and provided a patch of greenery and shade: “the water is used for irrigation about the station with conspicuous results.”2

The townsite was completed with a general store, which included the post office and telephone switchboard, built by Ernest Pelham Bradford, a school and schoolteacher’s house, a church chapel and parsonage, a sparse handful of houses, and the obligatory assorted sheds. During the earliest years (through 1900), the stock pens were the most prominent part of town, though no sign of them remains today.3

In 1912 a post office was first opened in the private residence of Annie Shaw, daughter of Simon, Sr. and Anna Shaw (before the store was built). The Shaws started a large railroad family, some of whom still live in the county. The arrival of the post office probably prompted the town’s name change. Samuels was still the name as late as 1906.4 The population must have fluctuated; both the school and post office were closed and reopened on several occasions. The town was never incorporated.

Only in a railroad town would a school be constructed out of railroad ties, as the first schoolhouse was with ties bought by railroad employees. The school building indicates the growth of the community made with permanent residents. The first school was on the north side of the tracks, while the second was built on the south side. That second school may be the one standing now, shown at right. The swing set remains in the schoolyard in front, but the see-saws have been removed after the school closed. Beyond the obligatory classwork, the school offered athletic competition and dances, both attended by students for miles around. The Pumpville school closed for good in 1957 when the students were bussed to Langtry about fifteen miles to the east.5

pumpville schoolhouse.
The Pumpville schoolhouse building still stands.

Pumpville was a shipping point for the rancher of western Val Verde and eastern Terrell Counties. No evidence of the stock pens remain. Store owner E.P. Bradford managed the stock pens and supervised the loading of cattle cars. (This part of the countryside supported sheep and goats rather than cattle.) The store, which could receive shelf stock from train deliveries, was a supply depot for the ranchers. Ranchers could be groceries, livestock feed, and gasoline—from glass-topped gasoline pumps. After opening the store, Bradford got into the ranching business himself. Son Shed Bradford later became Mayor of Del Rio (1940-1942), but even living in town, maintained his Pumpville ranch, bridging the gap between town and country as did man ranchers in the mid- and late-1900s. The Pumpville siding was often used to ship livestock.

During much of its history Pumpville was a railroad depot, but after 1948 the steam engine locomotives began to be replaced by diesels, and all but one of the railroad employees were transferred away. By the end of the 1950s, the fleet was completely converted to diesel-electric locomotives. Those new locomotives did not require water, and their adoption eliminated the very purpose of the town, and the town began to die. Nearly all of the railroad facilities were dismantled and removed. A few concrete slabs and one railroad structure remain. The section gang’s tool house, which is now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, as are all of the old Southern Pacific facilities, still stands, and the steel rails leading from the shed to the track are still visible.

pumpville section house.
The Pumpville section house stands next to the railroad tracks.

pumpville section house track access.
The section used to house track-based equipment that rolled on this short track to the main line.

When the railroad left Pumpville, nearly all of the rest of the town left as well. Pumpville had only two industries, but only one of them lived in town. The general store, known as Pumpville Mercantile when it opened in 1927, closed in 1965. The mercantile also housed the telephone switchboard and the post office for many years. Nevertheless, the community population shrank to one family in the three-block-long townsite and a few more in the surrounding ranches.6

The Pumpville Baptist Church was founded in 1930 (on land donated by E.P. Bradford) and is the only institution still operating in Pumpville, holding weekly services for a couple of dozen people. The church building, shown below, was built in 1947 and dedicated in 1948. The church closed in 1970, but was reopened in the 1980s with a visiting pastor. The church still serves as the center of a community of ranchers who live around but not in Pumpville. The church, as the sign in front reads, is the “Gospel West of the Pecos.” With or without a central population, Pumpville remains a community center for the ranchers of western Val Verde County and eastern Terrell County.7

pumpville baptist church chapel.
Services are still held at the Pumpville Baptist Church.

Pumpville lies on Farm Road 1865, about three miles north of the intersection with US Highway 90. The VVCHC believes more people will see the marker if we place it on the highway rather than the townsite itself. As a result, the Pumpville historical marker will actually go in Terrell County because the intersection, which has a wide, safe gravel shoulder, sits about fifty yards across the county line.

 

Bibliography—
Dorothy Stapp Askins, “The Pumpville Story,” in Diana Zertuche, Spirit of Val Verde, privately published, 1985.
Pete Billings to Doug Braudaway, interview, January 8, 2004. Pete and Dorothy Billings are children of railroad section foremen; both grew up around the railroad in the Langtry & Pumpville area.
Photo captions, Scrapbook of family photos, Pete Billings.
Sherry Hall to Doug Braudaway, interview, February 3, 2004.
“Mayors of the City of Del Rio, Texas,” typescript in the possession of DB. This seems to have been typed by former City Secretary Bessie Locker during her 40 year tenure in that office.
Clifford Morrill, “History of the El Paso Division,” unpublished manuscript, [@1925]. Morrill was the Division Chief, and copies of his manuscript can be found in several places including the University of Texas at El Paso, Special Collections Department.
Bonnie Vineyard to Doug Braudaway, interview, September 17, 1996.

 

Illustration—
Two pages from T. Lindsay Baker’s Ghost Towns of Texas, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986, pages 122-123.

 

Endnotes
1 Pete Billings to DB, interview, January 8, 2004; Clifford Morrill, “History of the El Paso Division,” unpublished manuscript, [about 1925], page 35.
2 Pete Billings to DB, interview, January 8, 2004; United States Department of the Interior, Guidebook of the Western United States; Part F; Southern Pacific Lines (Geological Survey Bulletin 845), page 83.
3 Dorothy Stapp Askins, “The Pumpville Story,” in Diana Zertuche, Spirit of Val Verde, privately published, page 248. The switchboard in now on display in the Terrell County Museum in Sanderson. Sherry Hall to DB, interview, February 3, 2004.
4 Photo captions, Scrapbook of family photos, Pete Billings.
5 Sherry Hall to DB, interview, February 3, 2004; “Mayors of the City of Del Rio, Texas,” typescript in the possession of DB; Dorothy Stapp Askins, “The Pumpville Story,” in Zertuche, Spirit of Val Verde, page 249; Pete Billings to DB, interview, January 8, 2004. Stella Rose attended Sul Ross State Normal College.
6 Dorothy Stapp Askins, “The Pumpville Story,” in Zertuche, Spirit of Val Verde, page 249; Bonnie Vineyard to Doug Braudaway, personal interview, September 17, 1996.
7 Sherry Hall to DB, interview, February 3, 2004; Dorothy Stapp Askins, “The Pumpville Story,” in Zertuche, Spirit of Val Verde, page 249; Pete Billings to DB, interview, January 8, 2004.