Texas Plains Trail
A Warm Welcome on a Gray Day: Winters to Ballinger
Winters_ Texas_ home of the Blizzards
Winters, Texas, home of the Blizzards
In the rolling hills south of Abilene are abundant streams, wide, cleared fields, and hardwoods in shades of amber, russet, and umber. Ranches are many and towns are few.

Winters boasts a charming, walkable downtown (with a few gaps between viable businesses) and a distinctive, inviting library building right on US 83. South of town, the Chick-Inn Drive-in is no more -- you'll have to keep a sharp eye out for the Texas historical marker that commemorates the spot after the unassuming diner was wiped out by a tornado in 1982 -- but a documentary produced by local citizenry who recall it as the gathering spot for a generation can be viewed on YouTube.
Chik-Inn Diner
The Chick-Inn was the place to order a quick meal and meet friends in Winters, Texas, from the 1950s to 1982. Photo from Chick-Inn Memories website.

Chick-Inn Diner_ Winters_ Texas
Today only the story marks the spot.

This part of Texas ideal country for grazing -- not only cattle (and the occasional exotic species) but sheep and goats. As far back as the mid-1800s wool and mohair have been profitable products of this region, with Texas leading the world in production for a long stretch of the twentieth century. Vestiges of the warehousing and commission sales system that prevailed in Texas can be seen in towns such as Ballinger, seat of Runnels County, Paint Rock, seat of Concho County, and Eden, as you head toward the Edwards Plateau and the hill country.

It's popular game-hunting country, too, and this fall every town and lodgment and eatery displays signs welcoming hunters to trade the big bucks in their pockets for the ones they hope to bag. I've seen a few deer in the brush on this trip -- enough to keep me wary as I zip down the road.

A vintage Highway 83 landmark_ Texas Grill sign_ intersection with US 67_ Ballinger_ Texas
Vintage Highway 83 landmark: Texas Grill sign, Ballinger
Coming into Ballinger from the north, parallel to the old railbed, I'm treated to the sweeping vista across Elm Creek and the Colorado River valley. The old highway bridge still spans the creek, and it's worth turning off and driving to the to of the bluff to appreciate the view even better from Ballinger's City Park. The creek is full, and waters rush over the small dam; a few RVer's and picnickers are parked here at midday.

Ballinger today has the feel of a rough-and-ready railroad town -- though it's big truck traffic that keeps things moving today. Back in the stagecoach era, says the Handbook of Texas Online, "rapid growth and opportunity brought a boomtown atmosphere, attracting a crowd of drifters, fugitives, gamblers, and ruffians to the town's nine saloons and gambling halls. Stagecoach robberies were not uncommon." The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in the late 1880s brought an influx of more responsible residents, and the city settled into prosperous respectability.

The citizens of Ballinger forthwith decided they needed a public library. Though it's not clear whether they got one in that early decade, by 1907 leaders had learned of industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie's grants to fund libraries throughout the nation. They successfully applied to the steel giant, and the magnificent limestone-and-white-columned edifice opened in 1911 with Mr. Carnegie's dollars is still in use today -- one of only three Carnegie Libraries in Texas still surviving with its original purpose.

Librarian Mechele Ussery is keen to spread the institution's fame. She and her staff welcomed me as though I were an old friend ("And we have your books in our collection!" is always music to an author's ears) and gave me a tour of the two-story building. Patrons come and go as we peek into the large second-floor auditorium -- complete with curtained stage and a jukebox that was in use when USO shows were held here during the Second World War. On the main floor, the sun gleams on golden wood trim, through period stained glass. The legacy card catalog cabinets stand in the foyer beside the entrance to the Shakespeare Room. But library users are also busy at computer terminals, and locals stop in to learn about the upcoming Tour of Homes and Saturday's author event.

You can make plans to go to the library today, Sat., Dec. 5: Carnegie Library Christmas Tea, 10:30 am to  noon; and "Booking it at the Carnegie," noon to 1:30 pm, with book signings by eight authors. The Christmas Home tour takes place Sun., Dec. 13 -- and you can still get tickets for that event -- at the library, of course.

Carnegie Library_ Ballinger_ Texas
Carnegie Library, Ballinger, Texas
Carnegie Library staff
Carnegie Library staff
Barbara_s TrailBlazer Blog

Follow Barbara's TrailBlazer Blog throughout the next ten days of the Great US83 Whistle-Stop Tour. Looks like icy roads are expected to clear tomorrow, and I'll be heading out.

Barbara Brannon, PhD, Executive Director, Texas Plains Trail Region
[email protected] * Facebook * Twitter @TxPlainsTrail

Follow along on our Texas Fifty-Two-Step Tour
52 cards in a deck. The B-52 Bomber. The atomic number of tellurium. The number of white keys on a piano. The number of weeks in a year. The number of counties in the Texas Plains Trail Region. Travel our scenic highways and byways in 52 counties and 50,000 square miles of the Texas Plains and Panhandle in 2015 -- with our virtual tour guide. And see where it all happened.
Check out the counties we've visited so far in 2015
Traveling in the Lone Star State this winter? Be sure to check TxDOT's DriveTexas.org first!
Concho County Courthouse_ Paint Rock_ Texas
Concho County Courthouse, Paint Rock, Texas
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Texas Plains Trail Region
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