|Down the Route: South Bend & Eliasville
One of the easiest ways to spot a ghost town is to follow abandoned railroad lines. When the companies were building their right-of-ways
by receiving millions of acres of land grants under the auspices of eminent domain, towns lured the tracks to come to them with promises
of depots, set rates, financial contributions, land plats, first-borns and loose women (okay, those last two are made up - I think. To entice
the railroads, the towns pretty much promised the moon).
Often, railroads either ignored the pleas because the offers were too low, or the majority of citizens in a township were not willing to
stake their fates on the whims of the tracks. Whatever the reason, railroads bypassed many towns and established their own villages,
selling the land that was given to the them to emigrants and bankers. In the end, bypassed people pulled up stakes and moved towards
the tracks to have access to transportation and make money on freight and travelers.
Or, the towns succeeded in enticing the railroads, because they produced commoditites that sold well (oil, for example).
Over the years, as railroad companies consolidated or folded, the right-of-ways were abandoned. Some towns survived by diversifying
their economic bases, but others witnessed their sole source of income go away, and within a generation, they became, in essence, ghost
towns. But the names of these lost towns are still on railroad maps because, at one time, they were important.
So, one rainy winter day, I took a road trip to two of these spots on the map: South Bend and Eliasville in Young County. My son, David,
helped me locate them as he followed the old Rock Island route. I didn't expect much, actually, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The first place we arrived was South Bend, possibly named after a nearby southward plunge of the Brazos River. At first, oil was South
Bend's main export, but it later became a spa town, capitalizing on the mineral-rich, warm waters that flowed from the mountains. In the
1920s, the Wichita Falls & Southern Railroad came through the town, but the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad took over the route in
the 1950s to ferry passengers to the resort.
The picturesque scenery continued as we followed the abandoned tracks to Eliasville, established in the 1870s alongside a mountain that
sloped into the Brazos River. At one point, Eliasville was a hub of activity, with three bridges and a flour mill spanning the river. The town
never really recovered when oil reserves were tapped out, multiple fires swept through, and the railroad stopped coming in the late
Neither of these towns were founded by the railroads, but the arrival and subsequent loss of the trains signaled an end just the same.
Towns live and die beside the routes of transportation. South Bend and Eliasville offer keen examples of that.
|Though a shadow of its former self, Eliasville still retains its zipcode.
|The old Donnell mill in Eliasville as seen from the Brazos River bridge. For more photos, visit Texas Escapes
|As a resort town, South Bend offered visitors a place to stay. Today, it could be marketed as air-conditioned with some beautiful views of the sky.
|Chicago Rock Island & Pacific remains in Eliasville.
|A busy Saturday afternoon in Eliasville.
|South Bend's right-of-way has gone wrong.
|It ain't easy, but it's not as hard as you think. Just go south of Graham and don't blink
or you'll miss South Bend and then, by way of direction, Eliasville. Take a look at the
map if you don't believe me.
|Ruin in the woods in Eliasville.