Thurber, Texas is half-way between Fort Worth and Abilene on Interstate-20, but you’ll miss it if you’re not looking for it. Although it was the biggest city between Fort Worth and El Paso with a population of nearly 10,000 one hundred years ago, it is a ghost town today.
Between 1886 and 1920, the Texas and Pacific Coal Company in Thurber was the largest coal operation in Texas. And the Thurber brick company was the largest producer of bricks west of the Mississippi. The brick streets in large Texas cities like Austin and Fort Worth, as well as small towns like Eastland and Cisco, are made of Thurber brick. And many of the old buildings across Texas—especially in the western part of the state, are made of Thurber brick. The town and everything in it were owned by the Texas and Pacific Coal Company, making Thurber the only true “company town” ever in Texas.
The citizens of Thurber were mainly first-generation immigrants. According to one source, over eighteen nationalities were represented, but Italian, Polish, and Mexican immigrants made up most of the population. This is evident when visiting the local cemetery, where many of the markers are written in Italian and other languages.
The cemetery itself is worth a trip to Thurber. There are over 1,000 graves, though more than half are unmarked. Also, more than half are children and infants. Signs about some of the more interesting characters are near many of the graves, like the one on Anthony Bascilli’s cross: “Anthony dug his own grave, lined it with bricks, put hinged metal doors above casket level and at surface and erected large wooden cross.”
With the oil boom in nearby Texas towns in the early 1920’s, oil increasingly replaced coal, so the miners moved elsewhere or went back home. The brick plant closed in the thirties, and Thurber’s population was listed as 8 in the 2000 census.
Today the only businesses in Thurber are two restaurants which rely on nearby towns or interstate traffic. They are both good, and they are also interesting to visit.
The more well-known Smokestack Restaurant is in a building that is well over 100 years old and is said to be haunted. An employee told me that there have been frequent sightings of a little girl in a dress during evening business hours. She appears every two to three years, and customers always describe her the same. There was also an incident where a stove was on early one morning when the employees came to work—an antique stove that hadn’t worked in years.
Ghosts or not, Thurber is worth a trip. During our visit, we only saw one other person, so it is also a safe social-distancing destination. And the Eastland Historic Hotel, made mostly of Thurber brick, is just a twenty-minute drive west.