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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

A Traffic Jam in Bankersmith

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The line of slow moving cars, brake lights glowing, was backed up all the way to Grapetown Cemetery. It was a sight I'd come to expect on I-10 between Boerne and San Antonio but not in Bankersmith, Texas, population 0.

Bankersmith sits about halfway between Fredericksburg and Comfort on the Old San Antonio Road. The town dates to 1913 when the railroad came through and began conducting passenger and freight business on a sidetrack just south of Grapetown.

The railroad named the place Bankersmith to honor Fredericksburg banker Temple D. Smith, the man who spent a lot of his time and a considerable part of his fortune to build the railroad from the junction near Waring into Fredericksburg.

If the train was on time, which it often wasn't, Bankersmith was an hour train ride from Fredericksburg with a stop in Cain City. It was another hour ride from Bankersmith to the junction near Waring with stops at Mt. Alamo and Hillingdon Station. Hillingdon was a flagstop for the convenience of architect Alfred Giles who owned Hillingdon Ranch. At Fredericksburg Junction a passenger could catch the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad into the Alamo City.

Bankersmith TX - Post Office
Bankersmith Post Office
Click on image to enlarge
June 2020 photo © Michael Barr

It wasn't long before Bankersmith had a depot and a post office. Because the post master conducted business from his home, the post office was sometimes listed in Gillespie County and sometimes in Kendall County, depending on which side of the county line the current post master resided. An old rock fence a hundred feet south of Bankersmith marks the county line.

In 1913 a reporter for the Fredericksburg Standard wrote "Many new buildings are under construction at Bankersmith, the new station on the Fredericksburg-San Antonio Railroad. Arno Schwethelm's large warehouse is completed and work on the new store building will get underway in the near future. Alex Brinkmann is supervising the construction of a large shed for Ed Steves and Son Lumberyard."

In the 1920s, the population of greater Bankersmith peaked at about 50. Alfred Schnelle built the dancehall and operated the store and the Handy Stop filling station.

Bankersmith TX - the rebuilt dancehall
The rebuilt dancehall
Click on image to enlarge
June 2020 photo © Michael Barr

For much of the 20th century Bankersmith was synonymous with rainfall - not because a lot of rain fell there but because Elroy Schnelle of Bankersmith was an official weather observer for the Lower Colorado River Authority. Schnelle's weather reports and rainfall totals, datelined Bankersmith, appeared in newspapers all over the country.

While Bankersmith almost always needed rain, the rainfall, when it did come, wasn't always a blessing. This part of the country is prone to brief but intense thunderstorms making it the flash flood capital of Texas.

There's an old saying in the Hill Country. Every drought ends in a flood.

Meanwhile Bankersmith survived the Great Depression but in the 1940s the town had a run of bad luck. The railroad went out of business, and a fire destroyed the dancehall, the store and the Handy Stop filling station. Several years later a new highway between Fredericksburg and Comfort left Bankersmith high and dry. Traffic along the Old San Antonio Road slowed to a trickle. For 50 years Bankersmith was a ghost town.


Then in 2013 Austin businessman Doug Guller saw Bankersmith for sale on Craigslist. He bought it hoping to turn the place into a tourist destination. Guller remodeled some rustic buildings and renamed the town Bikinis, Texas after his sports bar and restaurant chain.

Bikinis, Texas metal sign
The metal Bikinis, Texas sign. All that's left of Bikinis, Texas
July 2020 photo © Michael Barr

Bankersmith TX - the rebuilt dancehall interior
Bankersmith Dancehall interior
Click on image to enlarge
June 2020 photo © Michael Barr

A large and rowdy crowd, including Carmen Electra of "Baywatch," showed up for the grand opening. The story made headlines around the world.

But the neighbors weren't happy with Bikinis, Texas. They complained about the noise and disorderly conduct until the owner toned down the rowdy behavior and changed the name back to Bankersmith.

Today Bankersmith is a popular stop for beer, burgers and live entertainment. During special events, like dinner and a gunfight, traffic can get a little congested. Bankersmith offers free drive-in movies, and on Sunday the parking lot converts into a drive-in church.

In case you're wondering the honking you hear in Bankersmith on Sunday morning isn't road rage. It's only the congregation giving the preacher an Amen.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" August 15, 2020 Column

Sources:
""Thirty-Three Years Ago," Fredericksburg Standard, October 16, 1946.
"Hearing is Set for January 15," Galveston Daily News, January 1, 1914.
"Hill Country Ghosts Towns Numerous," Kerrville Daily Times, January 24, 1987.
"Town Drops 'Bikinis' Name," Odessa American, June 28, 2015.
"Cloud Watching Rewarded After 35 Years," Fredericksburg Standard, October 26, 1977.



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