The Buckhorn Baths – Mesa, Arizona

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Ted Stiger, by accident, created an iconic roadside oasis in the desert. The Buckhorn Baths in Mesa, Arizona, a mecca that denounced segregation, lured Hollywood stars, played host to the political elite, and arguably developed the Cactus League. Ted’s relationship with baseball ushered in the spring training of Americans favorite pastime to the East Valley – and all he did was dig a well.


Arizona was a no-mans-land for centuries, an arid desert, a harsh environment that few called home until the Granite Reef Dam’s construction. Completed in 1908, this early 20th-century engineering marvel on the Salt River diverted water via irrigation canals to Phoenix, allowing growth and development. Soon after, in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was constructed, providing the valley with affordable electricity.

Inside the Buckhorn Bath’s overgrown courtyard.


While Phoenix thrived with its new wealth of utilities, America was on the move. The pursuit of mapping all-season and all-weather roads was in full swing. Routes such as the Bankhead Highway, Dixie Overland Highway, Old Spanish Trail, and U.S. Highway 80 trudged west, each claiming the title coast-to-coast.

Historic Routes – Coast to Coast


Soon travelers filled the roadways. Cars needed gas, passengers needed groceries, resulting in mom and pop shops popping up all along the newly formed transcontinental routes.
In 1936, Ted and Alice Sliger purchased a parcel of property just east of Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona, a purchase that would set in motion a series of events that would culminate into the development of the Buckhorn Baths.
Initially, the couple’s space was occupied by a store, a gas station; in addition to these, Ted found space to display his extensive taxidermy collection.


By 1938 business was good, but there was a problem. Ted had to have water delivered, and with an increase in traffic and patrons, this was becoming impractical. Ted set out to dig a well to find some water beneath his feet. Ted did find water, but not water worth drinking; Ted opened a 120 degrees mineral-rich water well. Water that, at the time, was believed to have healing powers.
Understanding the unique opportunity flowing under their feet, the two built a 27 stone tub bathhouse that could serve 75 guests per day, added cottages, and ultimately employed a staff of 25.

Yum.

The Cactus League
Bill Veeck, who owned a ranch in Arizona, purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946. Veeck also intended to introduce African American players to his roster. This would be problematic during spring training in Florida, where Jim Crow Laws still subjected African Americans to sever discrimination; he chose to move spring training to Arizona.
The big issue with this move was that there would be no other teams to play during spring training; Cleveland needed another Arizona team during the spring.
Horace Stoneham, the hands-on owner of the New York Giants, also wintered in Arizona. And as legend has it moved the Giants spring training to Arizona the day he discovered the Buckhorn Baths and the healing waters.
The Giants would call the Buckhorn Baths home each spring for the next 25 years. Legends such as Ty Cobb and Willie Mays would soak in the mineral baths, wander the grounds, and enjoy the mild desert winters.

During a time of racial inequality, The Buckhorn welcomed all players of all colors, allowing the team to stay together on site, something that was not allowed in Florida.

Today, fifteen professional baseball teams call the Phoenix area home during the Cactus League’s season.

Ted passed away in 1984; although it had been decades since the Buckhorn was the Giants’ home base, the baths were still opened and operated along with the motel and the museum, by his wife, Alice.

The Buckhorn Baths Cottages

With Alice at the helm, she drew the last bath in 1999. The motel and museum shuttered around 2005. On November 10, 2010, Alice passed away at 103 years of age.

Today the Buckhorn Baths stand abandoned but well preserved. The mineral-rich still flows through the pipes. A roadside gem. A collection of Americana history.

The Bankhead Highway Newsletter

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Vol. 1 Issue 5

The Bankhead Highway Newsletter 

Your source for Bankhead Highway news and information – Texas’ section. 

 

What is inside this month…

TabacrossTexas just completed the entire Texas’ Bankhead Highway Route. In eight days, we covered over 900 miles slow and easy, taking in as much as we could, while we stayed as true to the original century-old alignment as we could.

This month’s newsletter is dedicated to some of the unique stops and individuals we discovered while we Crossed the State in Eight.  

 

Bankhead Highway People.

Rosenda – Sierra Blanca, Texas. 

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Rosenda – The proprietor of “Sister Gift Shop and Rocks” – Sierra Blanca, Texas. 

 

An opened door in a dead town.

Sierra Blanca is, less of a town, more of a collection of decay.

Random relicts, soon to be rubble, front the old Bankhead town’s Mainstreet.

The Sister Gift Shop and Rocks sit between long abandoned and forgotten theatres and gas stations.

Wistful Warm West Wind carries tumbleweeds through forgotten streets. Dry air has mummified the stone and steel, prolonging the deterioration process. Terracotta colored streets flow into warm stucco-covered buildings whose facade is cracked, exposing the masonry beneath.

Inside the opened narrow entry, I meet Rosenda.

We talk like long lost friends.

Two individuals in a lonely place. Removed, temporarily, from time.

Two individuals exchanging personal information. Sharing as if we were the last two souls on earth.

We could be the last to souls in Sierra Blanca, Texas.

The shop is full of random rocks and jewelry, trinkets and novelties, dusty odds and broken ends.

We chat about where we are going and where we have been. In only minutes I learn about her life, children, challenges, and successes. We ponder the changes that are inevitable and what lies ahead.

I wander out into the afternoon heat and stand in the middle of the road. Overwhelmed with the insignificance of things thought as important, realizing those things that are precious. Things miles away but still as close as a thought.

Bob Stogsdill – Strawn, Texas. 

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Bob Stogsdill – Bankhead Highway Hotel sign painter. 

 

Bob Stogsdill repainted Strawn’s Bankhead Hotel sign. His time and patience brought the old hotel back to its former glory. Well, at least the hotel’s sign.  One can find Bob in the Strawn community museum.

Bob is a great guy that will enjoy discussing the history of Strawn and the Bankhead with any ear that will listen.

Eastland Texas – Keeping the Bankhead Highway alive.

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Eastland, Texas. Celebrating the old road. 

Eastland, Texas, has taken the initiative to support the Bankhead Highway by placing BH banners around the courthouse square.

I, for one, hope the signage and discourse about the Bankhead Highway push more heritage tourists, and adventurers,  out of their homes and onto the old road.

Within the walls of that Eastland County courthouse, one will find Old Rip. A resurrection story of a Phrynosoma.

Epicurian Exelence in Brashear, Texas

 

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No menu – just tell Betty what you like. 

Located only a couple of miles beyond Sulphur Springs city limits is Brashear, Texas. Brashear was founded in 1868 and its population has declined ever since.

Recently, a California transplant has opened shop in the old Brashear Country Store. Betty is the chief chef and pot scrubber of the most relaxed restaurant in all of Texas.

Betty is not shy in her presentation of self or food. She creates larger than life plates that impress.

Rockwall, Texas 

 

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1922 Bankhead Highway

 

 

What does Rockwall, Texas, offer a Bankhead Highway tourist?

Some great old submerged bridges and an incredible 1922 railroad bridge and a great microbrewery on Mainstreet.

Mineral Wells, Texas.

The Laumdronat – Washing Machine Museum.

 

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Yes – That is the way it is speeled.

 

How fun is this. Wash clothes and learn about the history of washing clothes.

 

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A collection of antique washers on display.

 

It is not just antique washers on display, cases line the walls with trinkets and wonders of the washateria, including this hanger dispenser.

 

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50 cents?

Next month we will highlight more places we discovered on our Across the State in Eight trip.

Thanks for following along.

 

Want to learn more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas?

If you are interested in learning more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas, be sure to get a copy of Dan SMith’s book

https://www.amazon.com/Bankhead-Highway-Texas-Dan-Smith/dp/0615916619 

 

Also, check out the following article on Roadtrippers.

https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/bankhead-highway-dan-smith/

More information about the Bankhead can be found at www.tabacrosstexas.com 

What to look for in the next Bankhead newsletter
Next month we will continue to focus on the people and places that make a Bankhead journey special.
We also are working on a trip itinerary for the Bankhead Highway. Our intention is to create a guide that will help the traveler discover some incredible people, places, and things along the Bankhead route.Please follow tabacrosstexas.com to stay up on Bankhead Highway News. Links below.

Stay safe and travel well.

 

The El Capitan finding purpose on the Bankhead Highway

Elements create, in the hands of artisans, wonders. Some wonders inspire as art, some function as needs, some create envy as wants, all have a purpose. The Hotel Capitan, in Van Horn, Texas, was created with such purpose. The designer’s purpose was aesthetics while the developer’s purpose was to capitalize on the tourist industry. The combination of these two purposes would culminate into developing several hotels in West Texas whose purpose would impact well beyond the expectations of the designer or the developer. Elements of art, earth, and the economy would bring to life the Hotel Capitan and these elements would continue to shape the hotel’s purpose throughout its life.

Designer and Developer

The designer, Henry Trost, was an established and respected architect well before designing the Hotel Capitan.  Trost’s designs had come to life across the southern states.  Trost is credited with designing most of the buildings in downtown El Paso, between the years 1910 and 1933. His buildings can be found from Austin, Texas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Trost found inspiration in a multitude of styles, although he would embrace the Spanish Colonial Revival style in many designs in the southwest. Trost’s designs were cutting edge in  respect to the steel-reinforced concrete he would use. Approaches such as this could be the reason many of his buildings still stand.

Charles Bassett a developer and part of  the Gateway Hotel Chain had the vision of hotels at the crossroads of the newly developed National Parks of Big Bend, Guadalupe, and Carlsbad Caverns. Bassett developed five Gateway hotels within a 200 radius of El Paso. He felt that tourism would soon create a great need for overnight accommodations.

El Capitan’s  Birth and Early Life DSC_0053 (2).JPG

The Hotel Capitan opened in 1930, arguably not the greatest time in American history to become a realization. Only one year before the stock market crashed and brought about the start of The Great Depression. This did not deter the Hotel Capitan from being a success and operating as a hotel into the late 1960’s.

The Hotel Capitan met the same demise as many other early and mid-twentieth century overnight accommodations. Interstate ten bypassed the main street of Van Horn, Texas. While the interstate is in earshot of the hotel, this had a huge impact on not only the Hotel Capitan but all of Van Horn.

Mid-life

Many hotels and motels fall quickly into disrepair and decay once their original purpose is abandoned. The Hotel Capitan was able to escape this fate by being repurposed as a bank in the mid-1970’s.  While this did change much of the character and design of the original layout it would ultimately save an American roadside architectural treasure.

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Rebirth

In 2007, seventy-seven years after the Hotel Capitan was built it was purchased by Joe and Lanna Duncan. The couple had the plan to convert the Capitan back to its former glory. The Duncans had success in bringing life back to Hotel Capitan’s sister property, The Paisano, in Marfa, Texas. The dedication of the couple would eventually bring the Capitan back to its original purpose of welcoming, entertaining and wowing the weary traveler in West Texas.

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