Small Towns, Big Money

Across the state, small towns are fading away. But in a few places, rich people are spending big to revive them. And that comes with its own set of complications.

Highland Street, the main drag in downtown Marfa.

Illustration by Justin Metz; Photograph by Nick Simonite

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 case of Canadian, Albany, and Marathon, that’s due largely to 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.

A Battle for the Soul of Marfa

What happens when a wealthy patron wears out his welcome?

In the Money

Fredericksburg Is the New Aspen

The jewel of the Hill Country, my hometown, is lovelier than ever. I just wish more of the natives could afford to stick around and enjoy it. Scenes from a town transformed.

From the Archives

The Marfa Mystique

Nov 22, 2017 By Sterry Butcher

Outsiders remain fascinated with unraveling the secrets of this place. But locals can explain, one story at a time.