New York Hill
By Frank Chamberlain
New York Hill is located on the south side of downtown Thurber and is one of the most recognizable features of the areas. During the height of activity in Thurber, this location was home to the upper classes of society.
This area became known as “New York Hill” relatively late in the history of the town. In 1917, W.K. Gordon bought the oil field in nearby Ranger. The company brought many officials from the company office in New York to work in this new addition. This new residential area became known as “New York Hill” for this reason. The company built houses on the hill to accommodate these employees.
The homes on New York Hill were of much higher quality than those in the rest of Thurber. The cost of these residences far exceeded the money spent to house the miner’s dwellings. The official’s homes cost around $8,000 a piece, while the miner’s houses were built for a mere $150. Large two-story homes, landscaped yards, and brick sidewalks characterized this area of town. This was a stark contrast to the rather nondescript residences of the working class citizens [Rhinehart 98].
A mile-long brick sidewalk stretched from downtown Thurber all the way up New York Hill and into the residential area further south. The steps of this sidewalk can still be seen on the northern slope of the hill. This stairway is extremely steep and requires a decent amount of energy to ascend. Anyone who has seen or attempted to climb these steps can attest to this.
The New York Hill area was also home to three different churches. In fact, the street that ran up the hill was called “Church Street” because it passed the Baptist and the Negro Church at the bottom and the Episcopal Church at the top.
After the oil boom in Ranger had ended during the early 1930s, the houses that adorned New York Hill were removed and resold for $250 per building. Many of these houses are now located in Stephenville. The company offices were moved to Fort Worth. New York Hill is currently a center of activity in Thurber. The New York Hill Restaurant is located atop the hill and offers excellent food and perhaps the best view of the Thurber landscape. The annual Thurber reunion is held here as well, providing an opportunity for ex-Thurberites and their families to reminisce about past experiences. This gathering is held on the second Saturday of June. The state bocci ball tournament is held at the base of the hill during March of each year.
Bocci ball is a sport that originated with the Italian immigrants. This game is played on a dirt court and involves two teams of four players. The objective is for each player to roll a wooden ball in an attempt to land it closest to a smaller ball called “the jack” that has been thrown to the other end of the court. The team that lands a ball (or balls) closest to the “jack” scores a point. There is the potential to score up to four points if every member of one team throws closer than any of the opposition. The team to score eleven points first is declared the winner. However, if one team scores four points on one turn, they automatically win, regardless of the score. Traditionally, this game was played over a few kegs of beer. Unfortunately, this part of the tradition has not been continued.
Unless otherwise noted, the information for this article comes from Leo S Bielinski, “Thurber’s New York Hill,” unpublished paper, August 1994.