A Ghost Town that’s Not Quite Dead: Crappy Places to Be From

Barstow, Texas is a town in West Texas, not far from the corner where New Mexico juts into the Permian Basin. The census sign at the city edge, from 2000, claims that there are 400 people living there, but I can’t figure out where they are. The town has absolutely no commercial or retail enterprises. No kind of business where money changes hands, anywhere. You can’t get a gallon of gas, a bottle of water, a meal (although I did see a lady seeing burritos out of an ice chest last summer). There are no businesses. There are, however, three churches. Because of this, it has a very high poverty level.

Downtown Barstow

I drive through this town frequently on my way to an oilfield location where my company built a plant last year, between Barstow and Mentone. I’ve done a bit of research, and found that the town was founded about 140 years ago by a gentleman from Rhode Island who was considered an expert on irrigation, and recruited people to the rich but extremely dry area to develop an agricultural center. The area produced considerable grapes and vegetables, until a dam on the Pecos River failed.

The much abused barely flowing south of Grandf...

Pecos River near Grandfalls, Texas. Viewed from the bridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although the Pecos was, in this area, a fairly large river back then, irrigation, drought, and upstream dams have turned it into a muddy stream in this part of the state. The term “West of the Pecos” once referred to the beginning of the “Wild West“. You may have heard the stories about Judge Roy Bean , the “only law west of the Pecos” as played somewhat fictionally by Paul Newman in the 1972 film “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.”

First bank in Ward County, built 1901. Failed 1907.

Old Citizen's Bank in Barstow

After the dam failed in the first part of the 20th century, the town declined and never returned. The first bank built in Ward County is still standing. The sturdy red stone, quarried locally, gives a structure and permanence to the building that the wooden trim, blistered by the unending desert sun, can’t compete with. Peering through the windows, you can see a stone and wood mantel against the wall, one that an antique dealer would probably die for, and the remnants of the bank teller’s stand near the back. The rest of the room is piled with boxes and dust. Across the street, you can see the somewhat sadder remains of the Citizens Bank.

The other buildings along the tiny main street are empty and crumbling. The original post office was long ago boarded up and moved into a tiny mobile unit. The sheriff’s office in a small building with a front porch and rocking chairs adjacent. In the cool parts of the morning, I’ll see a couple older men sitting in silence and staring at the occasional cars and big water trucks lumbering past, headed for the drilling rigs in the surrounding countryside. Last summer, while I was working there, the temperature reached 120 F several days, and the rocking men were no where to be seen. In an article I read recently, the writer referred to Barstow as a ghost town, that hasn’t quite realized it was a ghost town.

A few more pictures:

The old Ward County Jail. It now has a playground and picnic pavilion.

Sheriff's Office - Ward County

The "new" post office

This was a gas station, then a caliche depot

Most of downtown looks like this

With some exceptions, most of the town isn't much better

Categories: Travel, Work and Jobs

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27 replies

  1. interesting and enlightening read (~_~)

  2. I didn’t know all that about Barstow…

  3. Egads, there’s more than one Barstow. Of course there is!

  4. I’m collecting stamps for walking the counties of Texas so I checked out where Barstow is – and found it was Ward County. I checked my records and found that I did a walk at Monahans Sandhills State Park to get my stamp for that county. A couple years ago we did a walk in Mentone would you believe! It has one store that does sell gas, but it had a lot less to offer in the way of interesting buildings to look at. than Barstow has.

    • When I was a little girl ,y grandfather took me to the Sandhills when it wasn’t too windy. The dunes seemed to have drifted a couple miles since then, though. We fly over them on our way to Pecoa, so I get a feel of them from the air. Did you see my post on Mentone?

      The gas station is only open when they feel like it. 🙂

      • I didn’t see your post on Mentone. I’m going to go look for it now. I’m glad they were open when we were there. Not because we needed gas, but I was really thirsty. Nothing like a hot day in west tx to make you appreciate a nice cold coca cola!

  5. Great article, very informative. I am heading out west myself for a change of scenery myself!

  6. I grew up in Barstow, went all the way to the 6th grade there, then got bussed to Pecos for 7-12th grades… My dad had a body shop about a mile west of main street on hwy 80. We lived in a trailer right behind the post office… the trailer was still there as of Nov. 3, 2013. I have alot of memories of life in Barstow, Pecos, Pyote, Toyah, west Texas period. Thank you for putting Barstow on the internet…

  7. I disagree with your article Barstow was not a crappy place to grow up in. As kids we spent our summers in the local pool and evenings with our friends. We had our own elementary where we forged life long friendships. You could wander where you wanted because it was safe and the village of Barstow watched out for the kids and their neighbors. Every Halloween there were games and an enchilada dinner at the tennis courts and community center. The local churches were well used even if the poverty level parishioners couldn’t afford to make them into cathedrals. I think Barstow was a great place to grow up. Your post are mostly negative which in turn gets you mostly negative remarks from people of these beloved towns, if you truly think their history is noteworthy then you should try positive articles on their history. Barstow has tons of history.

  8. I grew up in Los Angeles, CA and moves to the area (Pecos) as a teen when my parents split up. After I met my wonderful husband in the mid 80s and we hs our first son, I was forced to find another job since my position at a local radio was not available for me after the birth of our son, so I took a position delivering the local newspaper. My route was different as it was the Barstow route and I delivered the paper from my car -being blesses to be able to take my son with me. This several month long term stint delivering the Pecos Enterprise to the residents of Barstow was one if the most joyous, satisfying jobs I have ever had! Never have I met more greatful, warm-hearted people in my life! That such a small part if my life could have such a profound memory that has stayed with me proves what a blessed “ghost town” this place is! Barstow is and has been on MY map-it’s a people group that makes a town-not the physical infrastructure left behind.

  9. A well kept secret of Texas. The natives know this. The Yankees do not. Y’all, shhh…

  10. I grew up in Toyah and ended up being bussed to Pecos from school, I met many good friends from Barstow and are still their friend today even though we are thousands of miles away. Our towns may have been small but the respect they taught us growing up was huge, we didn’t have big movie theaters, gaming arcades, hotels or restaurants but what we did have was ice cream socials, box supers and town meetings where everyone had a voice. Towns people looked after the kids and took care of the seniors and those who were sick. In retrospect our little towns may not have been rich but they certainly were priceless.

  11. Let me tell you what I remember about Barstow, Tx. I was raised there. Most of my immediate family is burried there. And even though I have been gone for over 25 years my heart is still there. Great memories of wonderful people. Joe Galindo who owned the gas station and who always had a cold coke for a thirsty boy. Mrs. Gillis the county librarian who inspired me to read EVERYTHING! Reuben Gillespie, the elementary school principal, who taught so many of us so many things, but especially how to have confidence in ourselves. And many, many more. Growing up in Barstow taught me great lessons. Like finding the humor that’s always woven in to the tough times around you makes it a lot easier to get up in the morning. Like enjoying the simple things in life. Being from Barstow taught me to respect diversity. Not just racial diversity. I grew up with girls who branded cattle and boys who hung laundry. As a youngster I spent many afternoons playing dominoes with or listening to stories told by the old folks in town. Those 3 churches you mentioned? Been to all of them. Played the cornet for the choir. Everyone was always welcomed in any of the Barstow churches regardless of who you were or what you looked like. Being from Barstow is a tough life. Maybe that’s why those of us that are from there love it so much. And THAT is why Barstow will never die!

    • It’s got an old history, which I read up on. The population keeps dwindling. Locals in the county told me there hasn’t been a birth in the county in many years, and no one has moved in. If anything, the lack of water will eventually dry up (excuse the pun) all of the remaining little towns around the area. I talked to one of the sheriffs when I was taking my photos, and he listed people who had died or moved, and thought that in another 20 years, there will be no one. Memory will live in people who came from there, but no will be “from” there in another generation. The east US is full of towns that went through the same birth/growth/death cycle.

    • Barstow is in Ward County which encompasses Monahans as well. There have been births there. Since Barstow does not have a local hospital there probably haven’t been any births in the actual town unless the used a midwife. But there are families living there that had their children in Pecos, Odessa, Monahans or Fort Stockton hospital and then took their baby home to Barstow. I know first hand that the population has grown there since the boom as started.

      • You are correct and that is my error. I did research on Loving county for a magazine article, and that is the “no birth” county. These were researched in early 2012, and I wrote that comment without checking my research notes. No excuse except that I wrote that from Casper where I’m working this week, and my notes are in my files at home. I appreciate the correction.

  12. I suppose it is hard to understand the love felt by those who grew up in Barstow. As all of life, Barstow has grown old gracefully, but those memories will live on forever in our hearts I was blessed to experience a wonderful childhood in Barstow. Barstow stood for all the important things our children no longer enjoy. It is no surprise three churches still stand, They were the cornerstone of life of growing up in Barstow..

    • It was a pretty little town with an interesting history (which is hard to describe in a couple paragraphs!) Eventually, like many other small towns in west Texas and other places, it will be gone. There are a lot of little ghost towns in Colorado, for instance. Empty buildings, shuttered homes. Who lived there? What were their dreams? Did they believe their little town would be forever?

  13. My fathers family grew up in Barstow Texas. My grandma lived there till she was put in the nursing home. June Diehl was her name. My grandfather ran the old gas station till he passed away from a heart attack in the 60’s or 70’s. (Sorry I wasn’t born till the late 80’s). I’d visit my dad and we went and saw grannie Diehl a few times and I did notice near her home there was a nice looking pool. I wished I was shown more of this town then in the 90’s so I could say more. Either way this was a town and a great one at that.

    • I lived in Colorado for a while, and liked to look at the old mining ghost towns. They emptied when the mines dried up. I think a lot of those little towns in West Texas will disappear when the water is gone.

  14. My family was from Barstow Texas and we still have a lot of family members living in Barstow. Let me tell you what I remember about Barstow, Texas. Most of my immediate family is buried there. And even though I have been gone for over 51 years which is mostly all my birth life, my heart is still there. I have still have lovely memories of uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends. We enjoyed sitting outside every time we go to Barstow, because as car, truckers our passing by they give you the hand wave. Hello!!. Also reminiscing about what we used to do when we where little. Barstow will always be there and never be forgotten !! Especially with our love ones there.

  15. I was born in Pecos Texas in 1948 but lived my childhood days in my beloved town Of Barstow Texas. I moved from their in 1973 and i still have plenty of good memories. The irrigation canal that went thru town was our only swimming hole. Our community center was our hang out to roller skate or play tennis or football. We had a train Depot and even the late Elvis Presley went by at one time while he was in the service. Our Halloween carnival was something to look forward to every year. We had a nice post office, a grocery store, mattress factory, two cotton gins, two service stations, a variety store at least three churches, a train depot, two or three cafes. We had our own high school and always had a very competitive six men football team as well as a and basketball teams. Never to be forgotten for sure.

  16. My family is from Barstow. Of course it angered me that someone would say such nasty things but then again you were never part of this awesome town. I spent my summers there with my Aunt Tennie. Some of my greatest memories are from Barstow. So you can call it what you want it’s home to me.

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