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 Texas : Towns A-Z / Ghost Town / Panhandle :

MASTERSON, TEXAS

Texas Ghost Town
Moore County, Texas Panhandle
Not on the state map
Hwy 287 and 87
19 miles S of Dumas
35 miles N of Amarillo
26 miles W of Lake Meredith

Population: 15 (1990)

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Moore County Texas - Downtown Masterson
Downtown Masterson in the 1950s
Photo courtesy Louis George

MASTERSON, TEXAS

by Louise George

In 1927 three companies combined their resources to construct an industrial plant to produce and process natural gas from the enormous reserves in the Hugoton Gas Field, which extends through the Texas Panhandle, the Oklahoma Panhandle and part of Kansas. The plant operated under the name of Canadian River Gas and was located in Moore County, Texas, thirty-two miles north of Amarillo and sixteen miles south of Dumas. Construction began in late 1927 on the plant complex and a 342 mile pipeline to transport natural gas to Denver, Colorado. At the same time, a hotel for single workers and twelve houses for married workers and their families were being built. The housing area was commonly known as a camp.

The plant was built on land purchased from Lee Bivins, member of a prominent ranching family. The community would be named after him. The plant was known as Bivins Compressor Station. On April 15, 1928 the Amarillo Sunday News carried an article with the headline:

GROWTH OF GAS INDUSTRY LEADS TO NEW TOWN

“BIVINS” SPRINGS UP IN SOUTH MOORE COUNTY

The article predicted grand things for Bivins; such as, a lake, a swimming pool, a church and a school. Not all those predictions came true. There was a church and a school, but there would be no lake and no swimming pool. The last sentence in the story read: “The town ‘Bivins’ will be on the map….” If Bivins was ever on the map, it didn’t stay there for many years.
Moore County Texas 1940s map
1940s Moore County Texas map showing "Bivins"
Courtesy Texas General Land Office
After the houses were occupied, the wife of a worker set up a classroom in her home and taught the five children who lived in the camp. By 1930 there were eighteen students and a one-room school was built. In 1937 the plant expanded and an additional twenty homes were built. That year a three-room brick school building was constructed at a cost of $14,485.

Early on, a Sunday school was organized and meetings were held in the homes of its members. Later, classes were held in the schoolhouse. From time to time over the years, there was not enough interest to keep the church going. During those times folks who really wanted to be in church drove to Dumas.

During the thirties, the demand for helium increased greatly when the army and navy expanded their aviation programs. In June, 1941 the United States Department of the Interior requested a new facility to meet the even greater demands for helium that would occur if the United States became involved in World War II. A survey across the southwestern region of the nation, determined that natural gas with the highest content of helium was to be found in the Panhandle field of Texas. In March 1942 a contract was signed for land, located three-quarters of a mile west of Bivins, for a helium plant to be constructed and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Mines. The plant was hurriedly constructed and by March 1943, helium was being produced by the Exell Helium Plant. Natural gas was delivered to the plant from Bivins Compressor Station, the helium extracted and the gas returned to Bivins. During the war, helium was used chiefly in dirigibles that escorted ship convoys across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to deliver troops and military equipment and supplies. Later, helium was important to the space program.

Seventy-five homes were built adjacent to the helium plant and the population of Masterson swelled to almost five hundred. The drastic increase in school enrollment called for a larger building. Wartime shortages, however, would delay any addition until 1946 when four rooms were added. A few years later a gymnasium and cafeteria were added.

First Baptist Church in Dumas organized a mission in 1943 to serve the entire community. It was called Exell Baptist Church and services were held in the school. In 1947, members voted to borrow $2,000 for a cinderblock structure and they spent their summer working on the church. The building had only an auditorium with areas curtained off for Sunday school classes. Later, an old barracks building was bought and moved in for classrooms.

When Bivins came into being, mail was carried by train from Amarillo to Channing where a carrier picked it up and delivered it to Bivins. Residents picked up their mail in the office. Later, it would be carried by the bus that transported employees who lived in Amarillo to and from work. After the helium plant was built, the storekeeper, who lived in Amarillo, picked up mail there and delivered it to the plant. Camp residents picked up their mail at a guard shack near the entrance to the plant.

In 1946, Steve Scott returned from a stint in the U.S. Army and went to work in the office at Bivins Compressor Station. The next year, he bought and moved an old barracks onto land he leased from Lee Bivins. He established a combined grocery store and gas station and began the tedious job of obtaining a post office. When that was done and he met the qualifications for postmaster, he had to choose a name for the town. To him, Bivins was the obvious choice, and that’s the name he submitted to the Postal Service. The request was denied. Another small town somewhere in the state was named Bivens. Next, he submitted the name Levi. It was also rejected. There was already a Levi, Texas. Robert B. Masterson was a prominent rancher in the area. Mr. Scott submitted the name Masterson and the community finally had an official name. Reta Horn would become postmaster soon thereafter, and she held the position for more than thirty years.

After the town was named, the church also selected a new name – First Baptist Church of Masterson. Though it was a Baptist church, it was attended by members of all denominations. People who lived in two other camps, located outside the school district, came some distance to participate in the church and its activities. The community also presented opportunities for them to take part in 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Home Demonstration, youth and adult softball and various other social activities.
Moore County, Masterson, Texas - Bivins School
Bivins School in 1963
Photo courtesy Louis George
Beginning in the forties and continuing for nearly twenty years, the school averaged an enrollment of around a hundred students from first through the eighth grade. At Bivins, scholastics were first priority and eighth grade graduates were well prepared when they started school in Dumas. Students scored well in interscholastic meets and in every year but one from 1953 to 1970, Bivins had winners in either Junior or Senior, or both, divisions of Moore County Spelling Bee. Over the years competition in sports included baseball, volleyball and track, but basketball was the most popular. Most residents were avid fans of the Bivins Broncos and drove many miles to cheer them on when they played other small schools in the area.

1963 was the beginning of the end. That spring, Bivins camp residents were notified that all the houses in their camp would be sold within the next two years. Reluctantly, families began to move into new homes in Dumas or Amarillo. A few months later the people at Exell got notice that houses vacated in their camp would be sold. Seeing the certain demise of the community, residents of that camp also began to move.

In the spring of 1966, the church had a special ceremony to burn the note on the auditorium and parsonage built several years earlier. In January of the following year, members voted to disband. There were not enough members left to support the church.

Except for two houses at Exell, both camps were gone by 1970. Still, the school struggled on for several years. The majority of its few students came from Middlewell, a farming community which had closed its school some years earlier. With only four students scheduled to enroll for the school year ‘77-‘78, trustees voted to close the school after the spring semester of 1977 and bus students to Dumas.

To serve the few remaining families in the area, the post office and store remained open until 1984, when Mrs. Horn retired.

The federally operated Exell Helium plant fell victim to privatization and was closed in the late 1990s. The plant’s buildings remain, but all the equipment has been sold. Canadian River Gas sold the Bivins plant to Colorado Interstate Gas Company in 1951. In 2002 Pioneer Natural Resources bought them out and the plant continues to produce and process natural gas. Artifacts from both plants are on display at Window on the Plains Museum in Dumas.

Nowadays, the store and post office building are empty. The church building is used for storage and a retired couple lives in the parsonage. The school was sold to a Borger church to use as a retreat. A Masterson reunion is held there every other year.
Everyday Life in a Camp > next page
Excerpts from the book tell more about life in a camp.

"No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas" was published in 1994 by Louise George who can be contacted at (806)935-5286 or lgeorge@ nts-online.net or Box 252, Dumas, TX 79029.
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