Thurber Smokestack

The company giveth and the company taketh away.

The thought of a company owning a town (and all the schools, grocers, banks, and churches therein) sounds like the makings of a good Steven Seagal movie. But in 1903, Thurber, Texas, made history as the first city in the United States to be an entirely “closed shop,” or unionized, company town. Thurber had been established by Texas and Pacific Coal Company in 1888 as part of the company’s coal mining operations in the area, although the town’s historical impact is most felt from its brick plant, the products of which which line the streets of the Fort Worth Stockyards and Austin’s Congress Avenue. With the transition from coal to oil in locomotive engines, the mines closed in 1921 and the brick plant a decade later. The boomtown quickly became a ghost town, with Texas and Pacific selling off homes and businesses for the lumber. Although the remaining architecture continues to dwindle with each passing year, the 1908 brick smokestack (part of Thurber’s coal power plant) remains visible to passers-by on Interstate 20.

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