Postcard From Dalby Springs, Texas Ghost Town

Dalby Springs church and bell
Dalby Springs. At one time a vibrant town, people thought it was a place of healing. Now it is a virtual ghost town, just a shadow of what it once was. For the folks who still call it home, that may not be such a bad thing.

Interior of the church gathering dust
and spiders
Located in Bowie County in far northeast Texas, Anglo settlement of the area began in 1839 when Warren Dalby and his family settled on land beside four natural fresh-water springs. The land was fertile and proved ideal for farming and soon a handful of other settlers arrived. Unknown by them, archaeological evidence later proved the springs had been used for thousands of years by prehistoric people and then by Caddo and other bands of Indians who roamed the area before the Dalby family arrived. By the 1850′s, the Anglos learned what the Indians had known for hundreds of years; the springs which gushed reddish colored water due to their high mineral content, contained healing medicinal properties. Through word-of-mouth, visitors who came to “take the water” at Dalby Springs soon made the sleepy little farming settlement into a boom town.

Dalby Springs Cemetery
Buildings were erected to accommodate the visitors and a post office was opened in 1860. The town made it through the Civil War relatively unscathed and by the late 1860’s it had churches, a school, five mills, five cotton gins, a newspaper, and a population estimated at 250. In 1871, it was reported that there were fifty to seventy-five people there every day to drink the spring water. The same observer claimed the water was “good for dyspepsia, diseases of the skin and kidneys and also for diseases of females. It is a sovereign remedy for barrenness. If Abraham and Sarah had visited this spring, Isaac would have figured fifty years earlier in Biblical history.” Unfortunately, crime also found the town with several murders and a number of theft incidents.

Gravestone with fungus eating away at it.
The popularity of bathing in mineral waters peaked in the early 1890’s with people spending a week to a full month in the towns containing the springs, but the fad was over by the mid to late 1890’s. In the 1900 census, the population of Dalby Springs was listed as 200 as farms consolidated and fewer people came to bath in and drink the spring water. The town’s population gradually reduced until the 1950 census showed only 50 residents remained with no business, no school, only 1 church and the graveyard beside it.

Today, the spring waters have declined to a trickle and several hand pumps are in use to bring the water above ground. There are still a few isolated farms and homes in the area, but even the church with it’s updated interior has been shuttered and is busy accumulating dust and cobwebs. The fenced graveyard has been mowed, but the old headstones are slowly being eaten away by fungus. The bell beside the graveyard which used to be rung to summon the residents for church services, burials, and community functions is rusting and hasn’t sounded in years.

Fungus rotting away a windowsill of the church.
As I started to leave, a kid of about 12 pulled up on a red Honda 4-wheeler next to where I had parked my truck on the side of the dirt road. I walked out and tried to start a conversation with him. “Nice truck” he said as I approached. “Thanks,” I replied, “Does anyone use the church anymore?” “No, sir. I don’t remember it ever being used. Nothing ever happens around here. I gotta go home ‘cause my dad called me” he said as he pointed to the iPhone hanging from his belt. He waved as he pulled away and I stood there watching as the cloud of dirt he had raised slowly settled. I left in my truck a few minutes later and my own cloud of dirt billowed up behind me until I made it to the 2-lane black top road. I continued on my way as the dirt settled back down in my rearview mirror.