Shamrock to Lela – Texas Main Street Cities

Shamrock, Texas in the 1950s.

Shamrock, Texas in the 1950s.

Shamrock TX-

Shamrock, Texas today, photo courtesy Wikipedia.


Following the south service road off I-40, Route 66 becomes Business 40, entering Shamrock, Texas, which epitomizes “Main Street USA”..

Shamrock was named by an Irish immigrant sheep rancher by the name of George Nickel when in 1890, the Irishman applied to open a post office at his dugout home six miles north of the present town site. Suggesting the name for good luck and courage, 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 for a short time, but, Shamrock did not get its official beginning until the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway arrived in the summer of 1902.

By August, town lots were being sold at the town site 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 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. Neither Story nor Benonine exist today.

By 1908, Shamrock had two banks, a Cotton Oil Mill, and several other businesses. Shamrock was incorporated in 1911 with E. L. Woodley as the first mayor. By 1925 the population had grown to 2,500. The very next year saw the discovery of oil in the area and the arrival of the Mother Road and Shamrock began to boom.

The Old “Reynolds Hotel” was completed 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 main 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 that was 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 1938, the town bandmaster by the name of 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.

Just a few short years later, the Texas Panhandle began to see a decline in the oil industry and Shamrock’s population started to decrease. When, in 1984, Route 66 was officially decommissioned, the town’s population continued to decline. Today, Shamrock is home to just a little more than 2,000 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, and the many other faded remains of Shamrock’s Mother Road glory.

Tower Station and U-Drop Inn, 1936 Postcard

Tower Station and U-Drop Inn, 1936 Postcard

Shamrock, Tx - Tower Station and U-Drop Inn

Tower Station and U-Drop Inn today, Kathy Weiser, September, 2007.

The long standing exit sign for the old Regal Reptile Ranch was destroyed in 2007 by high winds. Photo from 2004.

On the way to McLean, the Rattle Snakes Exit Sign stood for decades near the Lela Exit in a pasture on the north side of I-40. However, in the Spring of 2007, high winds blew the Route 66 landmark down

The sign once advertised the exit for the Regal Reptile Ranch that was operated by Mike Allred, a carnival-like operator who once displayed snake attractions all along Route 66, in Elk City and ErickOklahoma, and Alanreed, Texas. The last and final “Reptile Ranch” was located in a service station at the Lela Exit. The station building was moved to McLean and now serves as part of the Red River Steakhouse. The old pumps; however, can still be seen peeking from the high grasses near the fallen sign.

Continuing on the north frontage road will bring you into Lela, Texas, once a thriving railroad town, now diminished to little more than a ghost town.

Lela, Texas 

Established in 1902, Lela was originally called Story and served as a station on the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway. By the following year, the small settlement sported a school and a weekly newspaper called the Wheeler County Texan. That same year, it also gained a post office, as well as a postmaster, who changed the town’s name to Lela after his wife’s sister.

Although the community was founded because of its abundance of good underground water, it did not keep pace with Shamrock some five miles to the east and by 1920, many of the residents and businesses had moved to the larger town.

At about the same Long Dry Creek flooded and the town moved up the hill about ½ mile from its original site. The discovery and production of natural gas brought renewed prosperity to this farming and cattle region in the 1920s and the community once again, began to grow.

In 1927 the Lela School burned down and before long, construction began on a new brick school building that would be large enough to accommodate all grades for the increased population. However, from the 1930s on, Lela’s high school students attended school in Shamrock.

Another boost to Lela came from the establishment of Route 66, and soon the town sported a couple of combination gas station/general stores. But, it wouldn’t be enough. By 1947 Lela only had a population of fifty people, an elementary school, a church, and four businesses.

In 1992, the Lela School district closed and was annexed with Shamrock’s.. In the 1970’s Lela’s post office closed.

Historic Lela School

Lela Texas school, built around 1928.

Today, the town has no open business but a number of residences continue to stand, many of which are abandoned and in disrepair. The Lela School still stands, fronted by a Texas Historical Marker as well as an old church.

Continue your journey to McLean.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February, 2016

Return to Texas Route 66


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *