On Route 66 in Wheeler County, Shamrock, Texas, is St. Patrick’s Main Street City of the Panhandle.
Shamrock was named by an Irish immigrant sheep rancher George Nickel when in 1890, the Irishman applied to open a post office at his dugout home six miles north of the present townsite. The mail was to be carried once a week from nearby Mobeetie. Nickel suggested the name for good luck and courage, but the post office never opened because Nickel’s home burned down, but the name stuck. Having gained approval for the name, another post office was operated nearby at the Jones family home for a short time, with Mary Ruth Jones becoming Shamrock’s first postmistress.
However, the town of Shamrock did not get its official beginning until the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway arrived in the summer of 1902. By August, lots were being sold at the townsite that went by the name of Wheeler. However, the railroad named the stop Shamrock in 1903, and so the town returned to the original name. In the same year, a new school opened in the small settlement, and the town began to compete with nearby Story (now called Lela) and Benonine as local trade centers. By 1906, Shamrock had emerged as the leader, and businesses from the other two small towns moved to Shamrock.
One of the businesses that moved was the county newspaper, which came from Story and renamed itself from the Wheeler County Texan to the Shamrock Texan. Other businesses were soon established, including several banks, the Shamrock Cotton Oil Mill, and various other businesses. In 1911, Shamrock was incorporated with E. L. Woodley as the first mayor.
By 1925 the population had grown to 2,500. The following year saw the discovery of oil in the area, and the arrival of Route 66 and Shamrock began to boom. The Old “Reynolds Hotel” was completed in 1928, which housed many weary travelers for approximately 50 years. Today, the building is home to the Pioneer West Museum.
Boasting nearly 4,000 residents by 1930, Shamrock catered to the many travelers of Route 66 and Highway 83. Its central avenue was rife with garages, filling stations, restaurants, and tourist courts. Among these were the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Restaurant. Representing the art-deco style popular in the 1920s and 1930s, the building was completed in 1936. Local newspapers reported it as “the swankiest of swank eating places” and “the most up-to-date edifice of its kind on the U.S. Highway 66 between Oklahoma City and Amarillo.”
The U-Drop Inn, where “Delicious Food Courteously Served” became the standard, was a welcoming sight to highway travelers and the many buses that pulled in at the diner. In the beginning, the building sported neon lighting and art deco details, including glazed ceramic tile walls. Over the years, it continued to serve travelers, and in the 1970s, it was converted to a Fina station. After 50 years of operating successfully, it finally closed in the mid-1990s and sat abandoned for the next two decades. Today, however, the building has been fully restored to its original grandeur and serves the Chamber of Commerce and as a tourism office. It is located at the corner of Route 66 and Highway 83.
In 1938, the town bandmaster Glen Truax started a St. Patrick’s Day celebration on the weekend nearest March 17, complete with parades and entertainment, a tradition that continues to this day.
A few short years later, the Texas Panhandle saw a decline in the oil industry, and Shamrock’s population decreased. However, it rebounded in the 1950s due to the improvement of Route 66.
By the 1980s, the town was home to an established modern school system, a chemical plant, oil and gas processing plants, and a hospital. However, in 1984, Route 66 was officially decommissioned, and the town’s population declined once again. Today, Shamrock is home to about 1,950 residents.
While in Shamrock, be sure to tour around a little, taking in the sites of Main Street USA, the U-Drop Inn, which currently houses the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce and a tourism office, the Pioneer West Museum complex featuring the restored Magnolia Station, the Zeigler House, and the “Old Barn.” In addition, the Water Tower Plaza offers a glimpse back in time since its construction in the early 1900s. This tower remains the tallest historic water tower in Texas and still functions as it overlooks the town. A fragment of the genuine Blarney Stone from Blarney Castle in County Cork, Ireland, is mounted on a pillar in Elmore Park. More faded remains of Shamrock’s Mother Road glory can be found throughout the community.
Just six miles west of Shamrock is the tiny town of Lela, which is a virtual ghost town today.
207 N. Main Street
Shamrock, Texas 79079
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated March 2023.
Texas State Historical Association