By Leslie Wolfenden, THC Historic Resources Survey Coordinator
Recently, I was traveling back to Austin from Childress with THC National Register of Historic Places staff Greg Smith and Carlyn Hammons. We had been conducting a historic resources survey in Childress, following on the heels of the successful collaborative survey project in Pittsburg that led to the creation of a National Register district listing earlier this year.
Since Childress was selected as the next candidate for a historic resources survey, THC staff conducted an initial site visit in May to check out local research sources and led a public meeting and field survey with local volunteers in July. We are working with the Childress Main Street program, Childress County Historical Commission, Childress County Heritage Museum, Childress Chamber of Commerce, and citizens.
During the return trip, we came upon an all-metal gas station in Breckenridge in Stephens County. Although familiar with the Texas Department of Transportation’s “A Field Guide to Gas Stations in Texas,” this was an example we did not recognize. We stopped for a closer look and to take photos. What was unusual about it was the classical detailing seen in the columns, as well as the amount of glass in the office area and the all-metal construction. While looking a bit dilapidated with broken glass and peeling paint, the building retains a high level of integrity.
After doing some research back in the office, I discovered it was a prefabricated building that could be ordered from catalogs. This particular example was made by the Union Metal Manufacturing Company of Canton, Ohio, as seen in its 1925 catalog as Design 238. Union Metal is better known for its street lighting. Ben Eckart of Kansas is doing a restoration project on a Union Metal filling station, and his website has information on metal gas stations, including the 1925 Union Metal catalog (partial).
The 1925 Union Metal catalog announces that “a new era in filling station architecture is dawning.” By popular demand from “progressive” oil companies and architects, Union Metal produced a line of “artistic stations at reasonable cost” as a step up from the “plain, inartistic types.”
Union Metal states that “Beautiful Stations are Busy Stations: Keen competition developing in the filling station field makes it necessary for the enterprising and progressive station operators to utilize everything at their command to make their stations the most attractive in the locality. Better Station Architecture, Better Lighting, Better Signs, All Mean Better Business—for the well dressed station, like the well dressed man, commands attention and respect.”
Regarding the construction of a kit building, Union Metal continues with “Well Constructed, Easily Handled and Erected: All Union Metal stations are made of enduring copper bearing galvanized steel, steel sash and hollow metal panels providing dead air chamber which insulates the buildings against heat and cold. They can be also easily and quickly disassembled and moved to other locations. Sectional construction insures quick, easy and economical erection.”
Coincidentally enough, the next town we came to during our return trip—Cisco in Eastland County—also had a Union Metal gas station, though it had been remodeled. Both of these gas stations are along the old Bankhead Highway, part of the ongoing THC project for our Historic Texas Highways Program. During site visits for other ongoing projects, such as the Childress survey, I have been checking out pieces of the Bankhead Highway as much as possible.
The THC is currently undertaking a two-year study to document the history of this nationally important highway. THC staff along with the project consultant, Hardy-Heck-Moore, are hosting public outreach meetings in cities along the Bankhead Highway to gather information and visual items related to the Bankhead for use in the project. Upcoming meetings will be held in Dallas and Fort Worth in September, and Eastland, Mineral Wells, and Abilene in October.
If you like this post, please subscribe to our blog.