Off the Map: Ghost Towns of the Mother Road – Glenrio, Texas (and New Mexico)

Route 66This ghost town was originally named “Rock Island” but was later changed by the Rock Island and Pacific Railroad to “Glenrio” or “Glen Rio”.  The name was a curious choice, however, since “glen” means “valley” and “rio” means “river” – neither of those geographical features are anywhere near this town that sprung up in the early 1900’s.

GlenRioMapThe area was opened to farmers for settlement as early as 1905 with 150-acre tracts of land for sale.  A railroad depot was established the following year, and with farmers and ranchers settling in the area, freight and cattle shipments and the introduction of farming created the need for other businesses.

Glenrio continued to grow and by 1920 there were grocery stores, services stations, cafes, a hotel and a hardware store.  The Glenrio Tribune was published from 1910 to 1934.  The town, situated in the northwest corner of Deaf Smith County, Texas, had the distinction of having its post office built in New Mexico.  The mail, however, was delivered by train and the depot was on the Texas side (a post office was later built on the Texas side).  One former resident remarked, in a 2007 interview for the Amarillo Globe-News, that “if you sent a letter there, you sent it to Glenrio, N.M.  If you sent a telegram, you sent it to Glenrio, Texas.  It was kind of confusing.”

GlenRioCafeThe splitting of the town was cause for battles between the two states over tax rights as well.  Another issue regarding the town’s location and straddling the line of both Texas and New Mexico was that there were no bars on the Texas side – Deaf Smith County was dry and there were no gas stations on the New Mexico side because of higher gas taxes.

The town of Glenrio was already well established before Route 66 made its way to that part of the country.   A significant boost to Glenrio’s economy after the “Mother Road” opened, however, came from Hollywood when parts of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath were filmed there.

Glenrio did become a popular place over the years since it was on the border of two states, a sort of “Welcome To Our State” stop.  While the town didn’t actually thrive in population numbers, it did survive until the mid-1970’s.  When Route 66 was opened and more people were traveling by automobile, travel by rail became less popular.  In 1955 the railroad depot was closed.

GlenRioMotelWhen Interstate 40 was built and Glenrio was bypassed in 1975, the town declined further.  Ten years later there were only two permanent residents left in Glenrio.  The town was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, which includes the original Route 66 road bed and seventeen buildings – the State Line Bar, State Line Motel and the Little Juarez Diner are a few of those abandoned structures.

According to the National Park Service, two buildings are still occupied –  the Joseph Brownlee House that was built in 1930 in Amarillo and moved to Glenrio in 1950, and an office in the Texas Longhorn Motel.  In June of 2008 the State of New Mexico opened the Glenrio Welcome Center on Interstate 40.

In 2007, the Amarillo Globe-News interviewed a former resident of Glenrio, Allen Ehresman, then a resident of Lubbock:

His father, Homer, built the State Line Café and Gas Station in 1953 and the Texas Longhorn Motel in 1955. The motel and café faced the highway, and directly in front of these buildings was a sign that said “Motel – First Motel in Texas – Café,” which faced west, and “Motel – Last Motel in Texas – Café” facing east. The sign, today, is mostly torn away.

“We just operated the business,” Ehresman said. “When the highway went around, we went out there.”

The motel closed in 1976. It was just a family-run business, Ehresman said. Most of the employees were local. It was your typical road motel.

Summer was the busiest time for the motel, Ehresman said. There wasn’t much night traffic back then.

“I guess now, I guess every second or third vehicle is a truck,” he said. “Back then, it was more cars then trucks.”

The biggest thing about Glenrio, to Ehresman, was the fact that it was on the state line.

“Most people hadn’t traveled that much at that time,” Ehresman said. “We still had a lot of people take pictures of the state line. It was a big deal back then.”

Glenrio is one of the best preserved ghost towns along the old Route 66, and it sounds like a great place to explore – worth a little detour off busy Interstate 40.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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