Though the area comprises a scrub-brush desert, various crops have been grown in the region for hundreds of years, utilizing the waters of the Rio Grande. During the late 19th century, settlers began constructing large canals to carry the river water to distant fields. But no planting of crops in the area where Acala would be established occurred until after the introduction of cotton to the region.
In 1917, three farmers combined their resources to plant experimental cotton near Tornillo, about 13 miles northwest of where Acala would later be located. Successful the first year, the men purchased more land the next year to grow irrigated cotton.
Hearing about the success of these farmers, W.T. Young came to the area from El Paso to try his hand at cotton farming. He bought a large acreage of cheap desert land near the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks southeast of Tornillo. Using mules to clear the brush and break the soil for the first time, he planted a Mexican variety of cottonseed called Acala. He was so successful that he built his cotton gin at the site known as Acala.
Soon, a road was built through the area, which connected El Paso with Fort Hancock. First called the Bankhead Highway, it later became U.S. Highway 80. Along with the railroad siding, this road provided ideal opportunities to ship cotton.
By the early 1920s, a town grew around Young’s cotton gin. A post office was established with Mrs. Julia A. Vaughn as postmistress before 1925. In 1927 Acala had a population of 50, and two years later, that figure had doubled. In time, the town boasted a general store, tourist courts, a restaurant, a gas station, and a garage. Throughout the area, numerous canals and wells were dug for irrigation.
Over the following decades, Acala’s population fluctuated depending on economic conditions and was called home to about 100 people in the 1950s. However, with the increased mechanization of cotton-raising, the need for field workers decreased, and people began to move. By the late 1960s, the population had dropped to 50; the last figure available was in the early 1970s, to 25.
Over the years, the railroad removed its spur to the town, and Interstate 10 replaced the old, two-lane Highway 80 through Acala, bypassing the town.
Today, Acala contains several scattered residences and former business buildings. The old canals still carry Rio Grande water to agricultural fields in the area.
Acala is located on Texas State Highway 20, 4.8 miles northwest of Fort Hancock.