In 1910, some 76 percent of Texans resided in rural areas. By 2010—the last census—that number had plummeted to 15 percent. That small towns are struggling to survive isn’t news and isn’t unique to Texas. But for a state so deeply bound to its rural roots, it’s especially unsettling.

If you look carefully, though, you’ll find a handful of Texas towns that are not merely successful; they’re teeming with money. In the cases of Canadian, Albany, and Marathon, that’s largely because of a local benefactor, a family or an individual with deep pockets and deep roots in the community. In Fredericksburg, well-heeled newcomers and a few privileged locals have buffed the city to a new shine that attracts tourist hordes. And way out in Marfa? Well, that story is a lot trickier than the myth.

World-class art and wine. Sprawling country estates and bustling main streets. These handsomely preserved towns can thank their generous patrons for that. Or blame them. Here are five tales of money and power rubbing shoulders with small-town values—with unpredictable results.


What happens when a wealthy patron wears out his welcome?


The jewel of the Hill Country is the new Aspen.


High finance in the High Plains.


How ranching and oil families have kept Albany flourishing.


The philanthropic financier who restored a West Texas outpost.