no grand old movie house like San Antonio’s Aztec or Dallas’ Majestic, but it
used to be a show place – at least in the sense that movies played there.|
In the heart of the small Dimmitt County town of Asherton,
the old wooden building does not look much like a theater until you walk up on
the porch. Then you notice the boarded ticket windows and can begin to visualize
the deteriorating structure with green tarpaper shingles on its sides as a place
people used to go to see movies.
The story of Asherton lacks the drama
that might make a good movie (well, there is the tale of the sympathetic priest
who supposedly allowed bootleggers to hide their booze in the basement of his
church), but it certainly would do for a documentary on one adopted Texan’s rags
to riches story.
in Snow Hill, MD on Sept. 21, 1855, got to Texas by joining the Army. A saddler
in Co. H, 8th Cavalry, he ended up in South Texas stationed on the Rio Grande
at Ringgold Barracks.
Richardson and the military parted company on April
12, 1877. It must have been his decision not to re-enlist, because the Army had
him down in its records as an “excellent … honest and trustworthy man.”
than go back East, Richardson decided to stay in Texas. Sometime between 1877
and the next U.S. Census three years later, he settled in Dimmitt County and got
a job on the 15,000-acre William Votaw Ranch.
His life evolving like a
flickering two-reeler Western, in June 1881, Richardson married the boss’ daughter,
Mary Isabelle Votaw of San Antonio. After the wedding, they began running the
The federal enumerator who interviewed Richardson in 1880
listed him as a wool grower, but he soon proved to be a fair hand at growing business.
In 1886, Richardson got an opportunity to get some land of his own, purchasing
several large tracts from the state in partnership with his wife’s parents. At
a sheriff’s sale in 1897 he expanded his holdings by buying the El Moro Ranch,
followed by the Oak Grove Ranch in 1903. Four years later, he bought his in-laws’
title to some 240,000 acres in South Texas, in the truest tradition of Texas entrepreneurs,
Richardson began to think even bigger. Thanks to plenty of underground water,
the area had begun to evolve into what came to be called the Winter Garden because
of its two long growing seasons. Richardson expanded his ranching operations to
include farming and real estate development.
He created the Asherton Land
and Irrigation Co. and began planning a 48,000-acre development. The centerpiece
of his plan was a railroad, which he established between Artesia Wells, a stop
on the International and Great Northern Railroad, and Carrizo Springs.
His railroad, the
Asherton and Gulf, began running in 1910. By that time, the town named in
his honor had a post office and a telephone company. Five years later, Asherton
had a thousand residents and before the Depression had grown to twice that size.
A year after his railroad began running, Richardson built the town’s showplace,
a two-story stone mansion designed by famed architect Alfred Giles. The name of
his town being a composite of his first and last name, Richardson used a similar
technique in naming his new house Bel-Asher to honor his wife.
Photo Courtesty Jason Penney
town was doing well and he had a fine house, but he did not get to enjoy it for
long. He died in San Antonio in 1914. |
Asherton continued to prosper even
after its founder was gone. In 1925 it had enough residents to incorporate as
a city. Two years later, Asherton enjoyed the distinction of being one of the
nation’s top shipping points for Bermuda onions.
Things went south for
Asherton during the Depression, but it enjoyed one more boom in the mid-1950s.
prosperous days of Asherton are long gone, but Bel-Asher endures, still one of
the most imposing structures in the county. It’s not open to the public, but it
has a state historical marker and is listed in the National Register of Historic