During the early 1900s, the dust and mud that had slowed and coated travellers for centuries in the South disappeared as hundreds of miles of highways and roads came to life brick by brick. For everyone enjoying these public improvements west of the Mississippi, a hearty thanks was owed to a company called Texas and Pacific Coal Co. and a small Texas town named Thurber.
Established on the prairie lands along present day I-20 between Fort Worth and Abilene, Thurber was a company-owned town. Every building and every inch of sod in the township belonged to Texas and Pacific Coal Co. Every town resident lived in a company house, bought food and supplies from company stores, and drank at the company saloon after a long day in the coal mine or brick factory. Workers’ children attended the company school during the week and on Sunday everyone came together to worship in company churches.
The brick factory resided on the south side of Thurber, just outside the business district. The deposits of shale used to produce the bricks lay a mile north of the factory, so once workers dug the shale, it was loaded into electric rail cars, hauled to the plant for grinding and mixing, then poured into molds and baked in one of the factory’s 17 kilns. At the height of Thurber’s brick manufacturing, 800 workers produced 80,000 bricks per day in 40 different color and construct varieties. Neatly bricked roads soon sprawled all across Texas from Amarillo to Beaumont.
Fast-forward now to the 21st century. Pavement covers most of those old brick roads, but Thurber bricks are preserved on Congress Avenue in Austin, in Galveston’s sea walls, and throughout Fort Worth on Camp Bowie Boulevard, parts of Main Street, and throughout the Stockyards district.
As for Thurber, Texas, all that remains of the once thriving town is a lonesome towering smokestack made, quite fittingly, entirely of Thurber brick. It stands a proud tribute to the company and town that forever altered transportation as the world knew it.