Thurber Town Square
By Frank Chamberlain
The square in downtown Thurber was the center of community life. Most of the businesses in the community were located in this central portion of town. The majority of the cultural and entertainment events were also held here.
The T&P Coal Company owned every business in town. Virtually every item needed for daily life in Thurber could be bought within these stores. The General Store (or Dry Goods Store) was located on the west side of the square. This business offered “service from cradle to grave.” The inventory of this store ranged from baby supplies to caskets, including everything in between. If a product were not readily available the company would custom order it for the customer. Today, this structure is one of the very few still standing in Thurber. It is the current home of the Smokestack Restaurant [Hardman 89-90].
In addition to the general store, there was other specialty businesses located around the town square. The grocery store stood immediately north of the general store and the hardware store was located on the east side of the square directly across from the general store. The drug store was built to the south of the hardware store. This building remained standing and served as the former home of the Smokestack Restaurant until 1992 when a fire gutted the structure. Today, the brick ruins still stand on the site.
Other buildings on the north side of the town square were the Cold Storage/ Meat Market, the Ice Plant, and the Electric Plant. These were part of a building complex that stood directly north of the Hardware Store. Thurber was one of the first towns in West Texas to have an electric light plant, which generated AC-DC currents to every house. The ice plant supplied enough ice to serve the entire town, the surrounding communities, and still have enough in surplus to supply the refrigeration cars of the Texas & Pacific Railway. The company kept a large herd of livestock that provided the meat for the townspeople. Virtually all the beef and pork consumed by the community was sold at the meat market downtown. Each of these businesses contributed to the self-sufficiency of the community [Hardman 108-110].
The opera house was located on the north end of the square. This was undoubtedly the cultural center of the community. This theater attracted acts from across Texas. It was one of the only venues between Fort Worth and El Paso [Hardman 120]. Other buildings along the square were the Knox Hotel and mine offices which were both located on the far south end. The Knox Hotel was one of the most highly utilized buildings in Thurber. It served as a home for unmarried company executives, a place of lodging for visitors, an important meeting place for various social events, and one of the last stagecoach depots in America. It was publicized in newspapers as being “the best hotel west of Fort Worth.” This building burned in 1907 and a new hotel was built and named the “Plummer Hotel”[Hardman 104].
Parades often began on the square and marched northeast to the pavilion and picnic grounds located on the west end of Park Row. The largest parades and celebrations were held on Independence Day and Labor Day. The occasions featured large meals, guest speakers, dances, and baseball games [Hardman 121-122].
Hardman, Weldon B. Fire In A Hole, Gordon, TX: Thurber Historical Association, 1975.