Texas is a vast, cosmopolitan place, the only state in the union that contains three of the ten biggest cities in the United States within its borders, all buzzing hubs of business and culture. But any Texan who has ever driven past the large, faded billboard outside LBJ’s little hometown of Johnson City, admired the cowboy leaning back in his rocking chair with his hat back and his boots up, and read the slogan, scrawled across a dying sunset, advising the visitor to “Kick Back Awhile,” will have a full appreciation of the slow and quiet glories of small-town Texas. In this issue we have celebrated the smallest places of this big state, so integral to its image. So what’s the greatest of the wee, the smallest incorporated town in this large land? Here, ladies and gentlemen (drumroll, please) is the countdown to the Tiniest Town in Texas.
10. Petronilla (population: 81)
Supposedly the first European settlement in Nueces County, Petronilla was named for the nearby Santa Petronila ranch, which was founded in 1762. Petronilla itself was a small farming community that, by 1911, had grown enough to establish its own school district. But by the middle of the century it was rapidly shrinking, and now little remains of the town.
9. Round Top (population: 77)
Round Top, which was founded in the early years of the nineteenth century by English settlers, quickly developed an illustrious role in Texas history. Men from the community were big players in the Texas battles of independence (Joel Robinson of Round Top captured Mexican president and commander Santa Ana at the battle of San Jacinto) and later held important roles in the new Texas government. Round Top has declined in population but has lived up to its proud ancestry; today, the town is home to biannual antique extravaganzas, the theatrical group Shakespeare at Winedale, and an annual music festival hosted by the renowned International Festival-Institute.
8. Spofford (population: 72)
Established as the railway depot (Spofford Junction) on the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway (later the Southern Pacific) in 1882, Spofford was named after C. K. Spofford, a local hotel and retail owner. The town flourished as a shipping area for local ranchers and a supplier for railway employees, and in 1901 President William McKinley supposedly visited. The population peaked at a little under four hundred when the town was incorporated in 1945 to organize a clean water supply for its residents.
7. Neylandville (population: 59)
Jim Brigham bought his freedom and that of his family from local farmer Robert Neyland and managed to save up enough money to purchase some nearby land and settle there. When emancipation reached Hunt County in the late 1860’s, freed slaves from all over Texas were drawn to Neylandville because of its good reputation, and the influx increased when, in the 1880’s, the town established St. Paul’s School, one of the areas best schools for African American children. Neylandville’s population has declined since the 1960’s, when the St. Paul’s School District was absorbed into the larger Commerce Independent School District, but there are still more than fifty descendants of freed slaves, including those of Jim Brigham, living in the town.
6. Sun Valley (population: 53)
Though perhaps not the smallest town in the state, Sun Valley is certainly the most illusive—there’s not much written about the little place. But Tom Wagnon, the owner of Sun Valley Package, the town’s liquor store, told us that his father, Harley Wagnon, founded the town in 1976 and owned it until his death a couple of decades later. Tom took over the honors, and his wife, Maria, is the mayor of the town, which has, in addition to the liquor store, a restaurant-club, a sewer plant, two permanent homes, and a trailer park that currently has about thirty of its eighty lots occupied. With such high-density living, Tom disputes the U.S. Census population estimate of 53 and guesses there are actually more than 100 residents in Sun Valley, putting down the discrepancy to “another bureaucrat pushing a button in Washington.”
5. Domino (population: 52)
Domino was established in the late nineteenth century as a flag stop on the Texas and Pacific Railway (now the Missouri Pacific, or MoPac). It was incorporated in the seventies, avoiding the demise of many railroad towns because of its proximity to Wright Patman Lake (constructed in the fifties as the Texarkana Reservoir) and to the towns of Atlanta and Queen City. Lately, however, Domino has been losing population dramatically, shrinking by half between the 1990 and 2000 censuses. Its current population is holding steady at 52.
4. Mustang (population: 52)
Mustang was named for Mustang Creek, a little stream in Denton County bordered by Mustang grapes and frequented by wild ponies throughout the middle of the nineteenth century. Founded in 1858, Mustang has sustained the fairly steady base of church, school, general store, and post office that it takes to make up a small Texas town. When one of these institutions moved out, another quickly moved in, and so the community has maintained a relatively even population of 50 to 75 people since its inception. (Note: Mustang just crept in ahead of Domino on our list because although they both have 52 estimated residents right now, the 2000 Census listed Domino as the smaller town, at 48 residents.)
3. Impact (population: 38)
Established on the expanded grounds of the Perkins family poultry farm by Dallas Perkins, Impact was incorporated in 1960 and became the first wet town in dry Taylor County. Perkins named the settlement for his ad company and became its first mayor. Two liquor stores were quickly opened, leading outraged Abilene lawyers to go to court to oppose the incorporation of Impact. But in 1963, when the Texas Supreme Court upheld the incorporation, allowing for wet towns in dry counties, the way was paved for many other small towns, such as Los Ybanez, to follow suit. Impact lost its momentum, however, in the late seventies, when nearby Abilene also voted to legalize the sale of alcohol. The town was soon swallowed by its larger neighbor but still exists as a separately incorporated suburb, a little community with a large impact on the history of its state.
2. Quintana (population: 38)
Quintana, situated at the mouth of the Brazos River, is one of the oldest towns in Texas. Its history dates back to the sixteenth century, and in 1821 some of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists (among them James “Deaf” Beard) landed there in the Lively and scouted the land for a suitable place to settle. Austin himself laid out the town in 1833, and it quickly became a popular destination for beachgoers and a key port for Austin’s new colonies. Quintana was incorporated in 1891, but the hurricanes of 1900 and 1915 were devastating, destroying much of the town and chasing away many of its residents. When the river was moved in 1929 to avoid excessive flooding and the new Intracoastal Waterway was completed, the port town lost its importance, and the population shrank even more. These developments, however, turned Quintana into a man-made island, and it remains a popular tourist attraction to this day. (Note: Again, Quintana wins out against Impact because it was the smaller town according to the 2000 Census.)
1. Los Ybanez (population: 31)
In 1980 Israel Ybanez bought the remains of some houses for migrant workers for $85,000 and founded Los Ybanez. The town was incorporated in 1983 so that Israel and his wife, Mary (the mayor of the town), could set up a take-out beer store in dry Dawson County. Los Ybanez at one point had some 300 residents, but the population has since dwindled to 31.
We have limited the list to incorporated towns. Much of the information about specific towns is taken from The Handbook of Texas, online at http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/. All population data comes from the U. S. Census Bureau’s July 2003 estimate of incorporated town populations. Estimates are simply informed revisions of the 2000 Census data. This information was published on June 24, 2004, in Table 4: Annual Estimates of the Population for Incorporated Places in Texas, Listed Alphabetically: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2003 (SUB-EST2003-04-48). For more information go to http://eire.census.gov/popest/data/cities/tables/SUB-EST2003-04-48.pdf.