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Vintage Photos

LOST PHOTOS OF STARR COUNTY
The Sgt Roy Chamberlain Collection

Fort Ringgold and Environs c. 1918

Seeking the help of former soldiers, civilians
and present-day historians from the Borderlands

Introduction by Brewster Hudspeth

25 Vintage Photos
Courtesy Jim Gesler, Wyoming New York
School building in South Texas
School building in Rio Grande City one block east of the courthouse.
Destroyed by fire.
The editor recently received an interesting request and it trickled down until it reached what serves as my desk. Once or twice a year I get a good assignment - and this was one of them. It was from Wyoming, New York ( a place described on the Wyoming County webpage as a "hamlet"). I don't know about you, but I've always wanted to live in a hamlet. It sounds like a place where there would be a lot of mead drinking, archery contests and blackbird pie. A fairy-tale place where villagers use words like forsooth and gadzooks. Kind of like Luckenbach was back in the 1970s.

From the beautifully illustrated website, I learned that the county of Wyoming, New York bills itself as "The Grand Canyon of the East" and indeed, the photos displayed on the site couldn't be more unlike the region around Rio Grande City, Texas. That's not to say that Starr County doesn't have its own distinctive charm. It just happens to be a rather arid charm that seldom includes a complete change of seasons.
Sergeant on artillery at Fort Ringgold
SFC Roy Chamberlain on artillery piece at Fort Ringgold c. 1918
Anyway, the request came from Mr. Jim Gelser of New York who wrote about a photo collection taken by one Roy Chamberlain, a Sergeant First Class who had been stationed at Fort Ringgold in 1918. The area is such a far cry from Western New York, it's entirely possible Sgt. Chamberlain took the photos to explain Texas to disbelieving folks back home. Besides scanning and forwarding the photos, Mr. Gelser also provided a short biography of the man Roy Chamberlain.

Born in 1891 in the townhip of Hume in Allegheny County, New York State, Roy's parents were "dirt farmers," keeping "3-5 milk cows, a few chickens & hogs, and bees for honey." Their crops consisted of wheat, oats, buckwheat, and corn." After enlisting at the age of 25 and taking his basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey he appears to have been assigned to Fort Ringgold in what was then called the Motor Transportation Corps. He was a machinist / mechanic and was discharged in 1919. He never drank, never married and judging from his photos, he seems to have (mildly) enjoyed his time in Texas. His mechanical skill was again put to use during WWII when he worked for the Ryan Aeronautical Company in San Diego, California. He finally retired from Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, New York about 1958. Mr. Gelser adds that everyone seemed to like Roy, who died in 1975 at the age of 84.

Mr. Gelser asked if our readers might help identify some of the buildings and streetscapes that appear in the photos. The first batch revealed the Cameron County Courthouse in Brownsville and several street scenes that were most likely taken on Elizabeth Street in downtown Brownsville. The second, third and forth sets didn't offer many clues - and only when the photos started showing somewhat hilly terrain were we able to place the locale as Starr County.

Besides the pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, the collection also includes trucks (with wooden-spoke wheels), trailers, smooth bore artillery, convoys and a shot of the interior of one particular truck - which seems to have been Sgt Chamberlain's mobile workshop.
The photos are presented in four groups

  • One: Civilian Streets, Buildings and Landscapes ( 10 Images)
  • Two: Military Buildings (4 Images)
  • Three: Trucks and Equipment (6 Images)
  • Four: Photos of Sgt Chamberlain, himself. (5 Images)

    These images taken 88 years ago (more or less) have never been published before. If anyone can identify any of the civilian buildings or buildings on Fort Ringgold itself, please let us know.

    Please address any comments to editor@texasescapes.com
  • Readers' Comments:

  • Subject: Lost Photos of Starr County
    Dear TE, Good morning! I love these photos! ... In your grouping of Military Buildings, you have a house identified as: A residence in Rio Grande City. The house is on present-day US Hwy 83 West Bound otherwise known as 2nd Street, and I believe the cross-street is N. East Street.

    My grandfather who was from Kentucky was stationed at Fort Ringgold and married my grandmother (a local) there. Both my aunt and my mother were born on Fort Ringgold. We were all raised in Rio Grande City... Thank you - DeAnn Peterson Cohrs, September 16, 2006

  • Thank you for sharing your photos. I've really enjoyed viewing the pictures of my beloved home town. I do have a lot of fond memories of Fort Ringgold, Starr County. I was born & raised there and went to school at Ft. Ringgold, graduating in 1975. I moved away fom Rio Grande City in 1977.

    I was in Rio Grande City & Fort Ringgold the middle of Nov. visiting & looking at old buildings. I enjoy looking for old stuff from back home on the net and hope to someday be able to collect all I can and donate them to the city.

    I hope that the following information will help identify the photos:

    1. SFC R. Chamberlain polishing the artillery piece...shows the observation deck / tower in the back ground that was in Fort Ringgold next to the Lee House.

    I would like to see the old observation deck / tower shown on your photos rebuilt. It was the highest structure on campus w/three levels. I am sure Robert E. Lee had to have climbed up to the highest level to take a look for himself, after all, it was on the hill next door to the house where he stayed. Today all that is left is the brick foundation. Based on the photos & others the second level was an open floor w/cover & the third level a smaller [floor]. All was supported by four poles. It's plain construction and should not be very expensive to build if they (City/School) only had the money. It would be a nice addition next to the Lee House complex and might attract more interest to the area.

    2. The photo captioned "An army of one" looks like same location, same artillery piece & clothing, just a different angle.

    3. The unidentified bldg. that resembles the Ft. Clark Spring Barrack looks like today's Rio Grande City Municipal Courts / Public Works Bldg. on Water Street. It still has the stairs, but no cover.

    4. The brick house is not the Post Commander's Residence, but an house that is still standing and in use today as a residence in Rio Grande City.

    5. Unidentified school bldg. (burned down) was in Rio Grande City one blk. east of Court House currently the KC Hall.

    6. Another unidentified street is Rio Grande City's Main St. & the 2 story bldg. on the right is today's famous restord La Borde House.

    About the schools:
    The grade levels taught at Fort Ringgold Campus were:
    Ringgold Primary (1-4 grades).
    Ringgold Intermediate (5-6 grades).
    Riggold Jr. High (7-8 grades).
    Rio Grande City High School (9-12 grades).

    I recall taking art classes in an old two story white bldg. (morgue) which was behind the old militarty hospital (girls homemaking bldg). We used the old parade field for our band practises, barracks for class rooms, etc.

    The campus also had administration bldgs, auditoriums, swiming pools, tennis courts, football & baseball fields, little league diamonds, and housing for the school superintendant. Most, if not all the other bldgs. supported the school activities, warehouses, storage, etc.

    Sincerely,
    Roberto Olivarez, Grand Prairie, TX, January 11, 2005
  • Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history and vintage/historic photos of their town, please contact us.
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