Sweetwater Commercial Historic District -- Sweetwater TX
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Benchmark Blasterz
N 32° 28.236 W 100° 24.484
14S E 367678 N 3593473
Quick Description: The Sweetwater TX commercial district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Location: Texas, United States
Date Posted: 5/30/2013 11:40:26 AM
Waymark Code: WMH6FE
Published By: Groundspeak Charter Member BruceS
Views: 2

Long Description:
The waymark coordinates are for the front entrance to the Nolan County Courthouse, even though it is an ugly 1970s building getting renovated (as of 2013). Nothing they do to it can make it worse than it was, so Blasterz are cautiously optimistic.

Anyhoo -- we chose these coordinates because the courthouse is in the middle of the square, and the square is the heart of the commercial district. The district is roughly between 1st and 5th Streets to the east and west, and Ash and Texas & Pacific RR tracks to the north and south.

The Sweetwater Chamber has thoughtfully provided a walking tour brochure of the area that is available on-line: (visit link)

The pdf of the nomination form is not on-line, but a brief summary is available from the Texas Historical Commission's Atlas: (visit link)

"The Sweetwater Commercial Historic District represents the architectural and historical heritage of the city. The irregularly shaped district contains a concentrated group of early twentieth-century commercial and governmental structures. Within the district boundaries are 91 buildings of which 48 contribute to the historic character of the district. In a variety of styles, the structures portray the development of the city. Because the growth rate slowed and stabilized in the mid-1930s, Sweetwater's downtown area is small, compact in scale, and displays an architectural diversity no longer found in most contemporary West Texas cities.

Sweetwater was founded as a rail stop on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, and only began to emerge as a regional trade center between 1885 and 1900. Because of the temporary nature of many of its first structures, and because continued prosperity and repeated fires have altered the town's appearance, little remains of these earliest years. Since its economy has always been based upon agriculture, transportation, and retail sales, Sweetwater's downtown structures generally reflect these trades. Banks, retail stores, lumber yards, hardware stores, farm implement buildings, and automotive sales buildings predominate. Many structures once had offices on the upper floors. A few civic and governmental buildings are also included in the district.
. . . .
Architecturally, several styles appear in the district. The majority of the building display a mix of styles common to commercial architecture of the period, adapted by local craftsmen to suit available materials and the desires of the owners. These styles include Neo-Classical Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Moderne. . . .

For the most part, the commercial district of Sweetwater remained clustered around the railroad depots and courthouse square until after World War I. Only slowly during this early period did the temporary frame buildings of the 1880s and 1890s begin to give way to more substantial stone and brick structures.

Two of the district's oldest surviving buildings can be found on the north side of the courthouse square: the Ragland Building (No. 74) and the First National Bank Building (No. 69). The earlier of these, the First National Bank, was erected, along with 103 E. Third (No. 70), in 1886 but remodeled in the Neo-Classical Revival style in the early 1920s. The first story of the Ragland Building, on the other hand, was constructed in 1901, and a second story was added five years later. Both of these properties have been listed individually on the National Register.

Because the west side of the square burned in 1901, all of the buildings on this block date from late 1901 to 1908. Although some have been altered, these basic brick and stone structures remain intact. The Newman Building (No. 33), a fine, two-story, ashlar structure built in 1902, still retains the majority of its original exterior features.
. . .
The Missouri Pacific Depot, which was originally constructed in 1916 as the Texas and Pacific freight depot, is the only remaining railroad depot of a half-dozen that once stood in or near downtown. The two-story, brick Santa Fe and Commercial hotels (Nos. 8 and 23) likewise represent the last survivors of a thriving hotel industry which grew up during this period in the downtown area.
. . .
The northeast corner of the district is anchored by the Municipal Auditorium and City Hall Building (No. 9O), and by the Central Fire Station (No. 81). Built in 1926, these Spanish Colonial Revival structures were a major project of the city, and are still regarded with pride by the citizens of Sweetwater. The large Auditorium building is, perhaps, architecturally the most impressive and significant building in Sweetwater, and the only one still standing in the downtown area known to be designed by a major Texas architectural firm (Page Bros.). Earlier this same firm had designed the Classical Nolan County Courthouse, completed in 1917 and demolished in 1976.

As Sweetwater's economy boomed in the 1920s, many small buildings were replaced by larger, more elaborate structures. Terra-cotta and stone ornamentation appeared in large quantities on many of the structures. . . .
. . .
At the present time, several buildings are being restored to their original appearance. Among these are the First National Bank Building and the Municipal Auditorium and City Hall Building. Other buildings have been restored, such as the Ragland Building. Many are simply preserved in a near original condition, including the Montgomery Ward Building (No. 43), the Newman Building (No. 33), the U.S. Post Office (No. 88), the Johnson Funeral Home (No. 11), and the Luella Building (No. 48). These edifices, along with the rest of the district's contributing structures, date from the 1900 to 1930 era, and retain the style and flavor of the period.

The structures within the Sweetwater Commercial Historic District represent the growth and evolution of the city from a small whistle stop on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, into an important transportation, agricultural, and regional trade center serving a large part of West Texas. The buildings included in the district represent the architectural and historical development of Sweetwater, particularly during the prosperous period from 1900 to 1930. These buildings present a wide variety of types and styles, but form a cohesive unit consisting of the major remaining section of the city's earliest commercial, governmental, and transportation center.

Sweetwater was established on the right-of-way of the newly completed Texas and Pacific Railroad in 1881. The town became the Nolan County seat at the same time. For the next twenty years, the little town grew very slowly, reaching a population of only 670 by 1900. The cattle ranching industry initiated Sweetwater's role as a small regional trade center and shipping point in these early years.

Between 1901 and World War I, the town experienced a period of growth from increased ranching activities, the influx of farm families seeking new lands on the Texas ranges, and the development of railroads. A farming industry based on cotton and grain soon surrounded the city. The building of the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railroad outward from Sweetwater during this decade also spurred local growth. The Orient line began construction in 1903. It built north to the Oklahoma line, then on to Wichita, Kansas, and south to San Angelo, Alpine, and Fort Stockton, Texas. The main division point and shops for the Orient were located in Sweetwater, thus contributing to the local economy. After the Orient line experienced financial difficulties, the Santa Fe Railway purchased it in 1928.

By 1910, Sweetwater was at the intersection of two major railroads, and had emerged as an agricultural and transportation center serving a large part of West Texas. The city's population swelled more than 600 percent in ten years, to 4,176 in the 1910 census.

A great many of the important downtown buildings were constructed between 1910 and World War I to serve the needs of the growing population. The Santa Fe Hotel (No. 8) and the Commercial Hotel (No. 23) provided shelter to newly arrived citizens, traveling men, and railroad workers. Only these two buildings remain to mark a once-thriving downtown hotel industry. The Missouri Pacific Depot (No. 57), built in 1916 as the Texas and Pacific Freight Depot, stands as the last survivor of a half dozen such depots that once stood in this railroad town.

. . .

Other significant structures from this early era are scattered throughout the district. The Sweetwater Reporter Building (No. 41) was built as the first Texas Bank and Trust Building, and has housed the newspaper since 1923. The Luella Building (No. 48) was built in 1910. It has housed a variety of businesses and offices through the years, and is one of the most impressive examples of early twentieth- century vernacular architecture in the district. The Ragland Building (No. 74) was built in l901 and expanded in 1906 by pioneer lawyer R.A. Ragland. This structure housed Ragland's and R.C. Crane's law offices until 1909. The restoration of this building in the 1970s first focused attention on downtown Sweetwater's historic building stock.

Following a lull in its growth from 1910 to 1920, a period during which Sweetwater's population rose by less than 200 people, a population boom occurred between 1920 and 1930. This decade was marked by an economic surge caused by a continual expansion of the local agricultural sector, significant oil and gas discoveries in West Texas and the Permian Basin, and the growth of the local gypsum and plasterboard industry. Sweetwater served as a gateway to both the agricultural and oil empires developing in West Texas at the time.
. . . .
During Sweetwater's second period of growth, in the 1920s, many more of the district's significant structures were built. . . .
The city itself built two major structures in 1926: the Central Fire Station (No. 81) and the Municipal Auditorium and City Hall complex (No. 90). These Spanish Colonial Revival structures were designed by the Austin firm of Page and Page.

Sweetwater reached the zenith of its economic prosperity and strength during the years 1920-1930, achieving in 1930 a population of 10,848. However, the Depression of the following decade halted the town's rapid growth, and few significant structures were built after it struck. One exception was the original portion of the Southwestern Bell regional offices (No. 91), which was constructed in 1933. Most of the new buildings built in this period were of the popular Moderne style, including the Texas Theater (No. 66), 503 Oak (No. 56), and 206 W. 23rd (No. 12).

After 1930 Sweetwater never regained its former momentum. Its significance further diminished as nearby Abilene grew, and its population expanded only slightly between 1930 and 1960, to a high of 13,914 people.

By 1980, this figure had declined to 12,242. The years of declining population and loss of the economic base have taken their toll on the city. Recently, however, Sweetwater's city administration and local investors have begun to work to reverse this trend. It is now the intention of the city to revitalize and rehabilitate the downtown area, and make it once again the heart of the community." [end]
Street address:
Roughly between 1st and 5th, and Ash and Texas and Pacific RR tracks
Sweetwater , TX


County / Borough / Parish: Nolan

Year listed: 1984

Historic (Areas of) Significance: Politics/Government, Architecture, Commerce, Transportation, Communications

Periods of significance: 1925-1949, 1900-1924, 1875-1899

Historic function: Commerce/Trade, Transportation, Business, Rail-Related, Warehouse

Current function: Commerce/Trade, Government, Vacant/Not In Use, Business, City Hall, Warehouse

Privately owned?: yes

Hours of operation: From: 9:00 AM To: 5:00 PM

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Website 1: [Web Link]

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Please give the date and brief account of your visit. Include any additional observations or information that you may have, particularly about the current condition of the site. Additional photos are highly encouraged, but not mandatory.
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Benchmark Blasterz visited Sweetwater Commercial Historic District -- Sweetwater TX 5/25/2013 Benchmark Blasterz visited it