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Groom & Conway - Life After the Jericho Gap

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Groom, Texas

 

Groom, TexasLong before Groom was ever established as a town, the area was first explored by charted by Captain Randolph Barnes Marcy in 1849 as he traveled from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Santa Fe, New Mexico along the Canadian River. Ten years later, he would publish his findings, including maps and illustrations in a book entitled The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions.

 

In 1882, Colonel B. B. Groom, an experienced cattleman from Lexington, Kentucky, leased from the New York and Texas Land Company nearly 600,000 acres of land in Hutchinson, Carson, Gray, and Roberts Counties in the Texas Panhandle and organized the  Francklyn Land and Cattle Company. Unfortunately, Groom's vision of the finest and most desirable cattle ranch in the United States did not materialize for him and the company went bankrupt just four years later. However, the Colonel would not be forgotten, as, when the site was chosen in 1902, to be a station along the route of the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway, it was named for him.

 

A general store and post office was established in the same year, a mercantile store in 1903, and by 1906 the town boasted a barbershop, a bank, a hotel, a lumberyard, a school, and several more new businesses. When the town was incorporated in 1911, it had more than 250 residents. While benefiting from the oil boom of the twenties and the traffic along Route 66, it never grew beyond much more than 800 people.

 

The old service stations, as well as the local farmers and ranchers, once did a big business pulling stranded cars out of the infamous Jericho Gap, a stretch of muddy road to the east of Groom. And, those travelers not stranded, breathed a deep sigh of relief as they entered the small town without having fallen prey to the treacherous piece of road.


Today, the sleepy little village of Groom is home to only about 500 people and many of its former services that catered to Route 66 have been closed. However, another attraction -- the Groom Cross -- stops many a traveler along the path.

 

Cross at Groom, TexasThe 19-story cross, standing 190 feet tall, was built by Steve Thomas of Pampa, Texas in 1995. Mr. Thomas, disgusted with the huge billboards advertising XXX pornography locations along I-40 wanted to make a public profession of faith along the Interstate. Inspired by a cross built by a rancher in Ballinger, Texas, the cross was built on private property donated by Chris Britten.

 

Construction of the cross frame was completed in two shops in Pampa, Texasby more than 100 welders and erected in July, 1995. The free standing Cross can be seen from twenty miles away. It is surrounded at its base by life-sized statues of the Stations of the Cross. Today, ten million people pass by the cross each year, and about 1,000 of them stop each day for a closer look.

 

If you missed the leaning tower on your way into Groom westbound, itís worth a turnaround for a peek. Next to the leaning water tower was once the busy Britten Truck Stop, garage and restaurant. Though the business is long gone, the vestige remains of the tall sign still stand next to the tower.

 

Many people have often wondered how this water tower came to stand this way, some thinking that one leg of the tower is shorter than the others. Not true, nor was the tower swept to one side by a raging Texas tornado. Quite simply, it was planned that way, making for a good gimmick and lots of traffic at the Tower Restaurant when travelers stopped to inquire.

 

Closed Gas Station in Groom, Texas

Closed Gas Station in Groom, Texas, September, 2007, Kathy Weiser.

 

 

 

 

Conway, Texas

 

A few more miles down the road you'll enter a ghostly little town called Conway, with less than fifty residents. The last town on the Mother Road before reaching Amarillo, Conway began as a very small ranching community in the late 1800's. It changed and grew when the Choctaw Route of the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad came through in 1903. One of its earliest buildings in the community and one of the first schools in the Texas Panhandle was the Lone Star School, established in 1892.

 

The town was officially established in 1903 when it gained a post office and was named in honor of a former county commissioner named H.B. Conway. The town was platted by brothers, Delzell and P.H. Fisherin 1905 and one of its first businesses was a store run by Edward s. Carr, into which the post office moved in 1907.

 

Today, this small community offers little more than memories of Route 66. However, it's worth a quick stop to check out the "Bug Ranch," a spoof on the more popular Cadillac Ranch on down the road, as well as stopping in at the Longhorn Trading Post piled high with Texas souvenirs and even a few live rattlesnakes!  An old motor court and service station also continue to stand.

 

In 1925, Conway's population was just 25 residents but when Route 66 barreled through, the small community responded with various services for travelers including tourist courts, restaurants and service stations. By 1939, the town had grown to about 125 people and later, to almost 200.

 

Bug Ranch in Conway Texas

Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas, November, 2005, Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE!

 

Long Horn Trading Post in Conway, Texas

Longhorn Trading Post in Conway, Texas

May, 2004, Kathy Weiser

 

 

But, the small town was doomed when I-40 replaced Route 66 and the town was bypassed. People moved, businesses failed and the post office closed forever in 1976.

 

Continue your tour of Route 66 by traveling northwest through the old Amarillo Air Force Base property, through which the old pavement once traversed.

 

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.

 

 

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