Oak Hill’s old-timers tell tales about ‘good ‘ol days’

22 Feb

OakHillFour long-time residents of Oak Hill: James Wier, James White, Archie Enochs and his sister Linda Enochs, remember the golden days of Oak Hill long before the intersection of US HWY 290 and Texas HWY 71 became a snarl of traffic and noise.

James Wier

Seventy-three year-old James Wier and his wife, Carolyn, lived in Oak Hill for more than 20 years while he managed road construction crews for Travis County commissioner Johnny Voudouris and then for Ann Richards.

While the family raised their sons, Mike and David, near Granada Hills subdivision, Wier volunteered both for the Oak Hill Volunteer Fire Department and later for the Oak Hill Volunteer EMS Department.

He retired in 2003 and moved his family’s homestead to Buda. These days he likes to sit and to tell stories about the Oak Hill he remembers, dirt roads and ranchland that stretched for miles.

“Whenever we had to put in a road, we had to do our research to make sure it was a community road. We were not allowed to work on private roads. Back in the 1960s the roads were mostly dirt and residents were paying their taxes, but we couldn’t work on any road unless it was approved by the county,” Wier said.

“We don’t know the history of the area around us anymore. But we can still be neighborly and talk to people and take the time to find out what was here before us.”

When he worked for the county Wier often spent his afternoons either in the basement of the Travis County courthouse digging through survey maps, or out in the community trying to figure out which roads the county owned and which it did not.

“We would sit down and talk to some of the old people who had been living in Oak Hill all their lives. The more I researched, the more I enjoyed the old-timers telling their stories about Oak Hill,” Wier said.

Wier said the Mexican government awarded William Cannon a land grant to own the acres stretching from Williamson Creek to Slaughter Lane, known as Oak Springs in 1835. Soon afterwards, settlers discovered an endless supply of cedar trees and natural limestone in the area.

In the early 1880s, the Austin and Oatmanville Railway Company built six miles of rail to transport quarried limestone downtown to be used in building the foundation and inner walls of the Texas capitol, Wier said.

    The train tracks began at Oatman Quarry, once located at the intersection of William Cannon Street and US HWY 290 West followed a route northeast on Convict Hill where they intersected with the Missouri Pacific (MoPac) railroad.  The local train tracks remained in place from 1884 until 1888, until the company removed the rails.

Only a few of the old railroad mounds still exist in the neighborhood. Set off by chain link fencing, the mounds still remain visible today when looking just to the west along MoPac/Loop 1 South between William Cannon and Davis Lane, Wier said.

“A lot of people just drive by and don’t know what those mounds are,” Wier said.

Oak Springs, soon became known as Oatmanville, as the community grew up around the former site of Oatman Quarry, owned by Buster Thomas. Skeeter Hudson owned the land where the quarry sat. Partners Thomas and Hudson operated the quarry through the 1960s until developers began building homes in the subdivision.

Texas prisoners, worked long hours in the quarry without pay, chained at the ankles nightly in a large cave where Oak Hill Centre shopping center now stands, Wier said.

“There was a cave there where the prisoners stayed at night,” Wier said. “They had wooden bunk beds and straw mattresses. There was a big iron ring embedded in the wall and at night when the prisoners went to bed, the bosses would run a chain through all their leg irons and attached them to the ring in the wall, so they couldn’t get out of bed at night and escape.”

Wier said the prisoners used a “cow dip” style water trough about 4 feet wide by 6 feet deep and 15 feet long for bathing and cleaning their clothes once a week.

“That was used for the prisoners to take their weekly baths and to wash their clothes. The prisoners would go in on one end and they would be handed a bar of lye soap and they would take a bath and wash their clothes at the same time, before coming out on the other end. At the end, they would put their clothes back on,” Wier said.

“When they (Thomas and Hudson) built the shopping center, they dug out the cave. Today there is no cave, no trough; there’s nothing there now. That’s all gone. All that was excavated. Where that cave was located, developers probably cut back that rock 50 or 60 feet deep.”

Wier owns a few artifacts excavated from the site in the early 1970s: a wheelbarrow’s wheel believed to have been used at the quarry and oil-burning lanterns likely used in the prisoners’ cave.

“When Buster Thomas and them were doing the excavation up there by Convict Hill, we were friends,” Wier said. “Digging around through the rocks, rubble and all, we found these things. We found the lanterns that they had used because they didn’t have electricity. They used kerosene lanterns.”

Wier recalls in the old days often eating lunch at a few landmark restaurants that have since disappeared in the area.

The site of the old Convict Hill restaurant once operated by Ralph Moreland, stood directly across the street on the north side of William Cannon and US HWY 290 West.

On the south side of US HWY 290, today where a parking lot serves bus commuters for Capital Metro transportation, stood the former site of the Big Wheel Restaurant, near where McCarthy Lane ends. Adjacent to the restaurant once stood a Phillips 66 gas and service station owned by Richards Oil Company.

Curly Glosson operated the Circleville Inn at 9926 Circle Drive, just off Thomas Springs Road from 1972 until 1998.  The location afterwards served as Kelli’s Up-N-Smoke Bar and Grill before it closed in 2012.

Wier remembers the Circleville Inn was the last place locals or travelers could buy alcohol before heading west either to Spicewood on TX HWY 71or to Johnson City on US HWY 290 West.

Wier regularly showed up at the Oak Hill Downs racetrack Saturdays to race his car, he said.

Wier said at times 50 to 60 teenagers showed up with their cars to race on weekends.

“Any kid who thought he had a fast car or the ‘baddest’ car would run. They were mostly stock cars; a few of them were souped up old cars. They were mostly high school kids having a good time,” Wier said. “It was a straight line track – a traditional weekly drag race.”

Nearby, on Friday nights, more experienced drivers raced on what Wier called “the round arounds,” an adjacent oval track.

Wier recalls that Dick Polk operated Polk’s Feed Store near the arena until Hill sold his property and Polk moved his business across the street. There, in 1992 Polk sold Texas’ first scratch off lotto ticket to then Gov. Ann Richards.

Richards served as Wier’s boss as Travis County commissioner while he managed road construction for TXDoT. The previous incumbent county commissioner, Johnny Voudouris, hired Wier in 1970.

“At that time we only had 33 people working for county staff and we had 353 miles of county roads,” Wier said.

     Voudouris also promoted the construction of MoPac/Loop1 South and Texas state highway Loop 360 even though the majority of Oak Hill residents at the time did not support the plans, Wier said. Voudouris also supported plans to extend MoPac South all the way out to US HWY 290 West and past the “Y” in Oak Hill.

“The (original) plan was to spend only about $15 million to extend MoPac South out to U.S. 290 West past the ‘Y,’ but people didn’t want it,” Wier said. “TXDoT folks said ‘ok, we’ll put that money someplace else,’ and they did.”

Oak Hill at one time used to be called “Cedar Chopper Hill,” Wier said.

“Everybody out here either worked rock, or they sold cedar posts and wood stuff,” Wier said. “They were the nucleus of families that helped get everything going. They worked to clear the land of the cedar and they sold the cedar posts.”

Wier remembers meeting Joe Tanner while he still worked as a blacksmith, but before he had a short-cut street named after him that runs from William Cannon to US HWY 290 West across McCarthy Lane.

“I first met Mr. Tanner in the early 1960s when he was over 80 then,” Wier said. “Tanner was probably there at the turn of the century around 1900. His little building was located at the corner of Joe Tanner and US HWY 290.”

Wier said Tanner Blacksmith Shop remained open until Skeeter Hudson bought the property from Tanner in the early 1970s.

James White

Seventy-four year-old James White has spent most of his life living and working in Oak Hill, as a member of one of the area’s oldest founding families.

White’s great-great-great grandfather once owned the Lazy SL Ranch where Freescale Semiconductors now stands and the historic building today that houses Austin Pizza Garden, at 6266 HWY 290 West.

The building first served as a general store owned and operated by the former Texas Ranger James Andrew Patton, and his wife, Virginia Bishop, from 1879 until 1909.

J.A. Patton helped to change the local subdivision’s name from Oatmanville to Oak Hill and soon became known as the “unofficial mayor of Oak Hill.” He also became the area’s first postmaster, operating a small mail center from inside his store until the U.S. Postal Service began to offer rural delivery service.

In 1970 then Gov. Preston Smith dedicated the official Texas Historical Landmark at the personal request of James and Annetta White and their eldest daughter, Terri Rene White.

“Governor Smith had dinner with us the night before and it was the only night that I ever had dinner with the governor of Texas at the Fortress. He ate a T-bone steak and he took some barbecue with him back to the governor’s mansion,” White said. “The next day he dedicated the historical landmark.”

White’s recalls that his youngest daughter, Ginny White-Peacock, learned how to walk inside the historic building, when the family operated the Fortress restaurant, downstairs.

The Whites started leasing out the building in 1977 to several businesses including The Natural Gardner, owned by John Dromgoole.  Not long afterwards, The Natural Gardner relocated to its current location at 8648 Old Bee Caves Road.

Willie Nelson’s daughter, Lana Nelson, for a time also leased space inside the Patton building, naming her restaurant Cowboy’s Steak House.

“Willie Nelson performed there in the 1980s — right there where the fire place is located inside,” James White said. “Lana told me one day, ‘Daddy wants to buy this place,’ but I said I appreciated the offer, but I didn’t want to sell it; I wasn’t interested in selling it then and I’m still not.”

Several sandwich businesses moved in and out of the Patton building before the early 1990s when Austin Pizza Garden opened.

J.A. Patton donated an acre of his land to build Oak Hill’s first elementary school where Don’s Grass company stands today at 6240 HWY 290 West. Austin Independent School Disrict built a new J.A. Patton Elementary School, at 6001 Westcreek in 1985.  J.A. Patton’s great-great-great grandson, James Lamar White Peacock, currently attends kindergarten there. His mom, Ginny Peacock, is James White’s daughter and she and her husband, Mike Peacock, also manage the Broken Spoke.

In the lobby of the school, a picture of J.A. Patton, donated by James White, hangs.

In 2000, the Whites co-authored and self-published the book, They Came to Texas, written about the Patton, the White and the Campbell families of Oak Hill.

James White remembers that as a teenager, quite a few establishments earned reputations along US HWY 290 West where it met Texas State HWY 71 at the “Y” in Oak Hill. One of those places included, The Moose Head Tavern, where an actual moose head hung on one wall inside the bar, home to a large dance hall.

On Saturday nights Moose Head patrons could count on a fight. As the evenings drew long and serious drinking began at the Moose Head, James White said he learned how to keep away from trouble, if anyone threw a punch or a bottle.

White also recalls that he used to drive his 1959 hard top black and white Chevy onto the parking lot of the Sportsman’s Inn, then a dimly-lit, 30-by 50-foot wooden-shingled building along US HWY 290 West near the “Y” in Oak Hill.

The cover charge at the door of the Sportsman’s Inn on Saturday nights paid for a band to play.

After a few beers, White said he would look for the prettiest girl he could find in the place, to either dance a two-step, a waltz, or the Cotton-Eyed-Joe.

On one particular night in 1961, a pretty blonde-haired girl dancing in a red dress on the dance floor there, caught his eye.

“That girl turned out to be the love of my life and my wife, Annetta Wells,” James White said.

James White and Annetta Wells dated before he enlisted in the U.S. Army and he went overseas during the fall of 1961. He returned home Nov. 10, 1964, and opened the Broken Spoke. The two married on a Thursday, Sept. 15, 1966 and they held their wedding reception there. White celebrates his 75th birthday with a public party at the Broken Spoke April 12, and they will celebrate the Broken Spoke’s 50th anniversary Nov. 10.

“That’s an accomplishment. I’ll be 75 this year that the Broken Spoke turns 50. What I did was kinda’ create a place like some of the places that we used to go to when I was a kid,” James White said. “I looked out over a vast Texas landscape and there wasn’t another building in sight except for a mile down the road on the right, the Austin city limits sign.”

The Broken Spoke stands not only as a 50-year-old landmark in Austin, but represents decades of country music stars who have performed there over the years including: Bob Wills and the original Texas Playboys, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Marcia Ball, Don Walser, George Strait, Ray Benson and the Asleep at the Wheel Band, Alvin Crow, Dale Watson, Bruce Robison, James Hand, Johnny Bush, Johnny Rodriguez, Rosie Flores and more.

Archie Enochs

At 68, Archie Enochs has lived his whole life in Oak Hill and he currently resides in the only house that still faces the highway at 6254 US HWY 290 West. He also sometimes works cattle on a ranch in San Angelo.

Traffic zooms by at speeds beyond 50 mph, just a few steps outside his front door daily, headed west towards Johnson City.

“I don’t have any problem with the traffic anymore than anyone else does. You kind of have to creep your way into the traffic from one signal to the next,” he said.

When he’s home in Oak Hill, he eats breakfast every morning at Jim’s restaurant across Texas HWY 71 or lunch daily at Austin Pizza Garden, his next door neighbor.

Archie Enochs remembers the former Big Wheel restaurant opening as the first 24-hours restaurant in Oak Hill.

“When it opened up, that was a lot of bright lights for Oak Hill. There was always a lot of activity there at the Big Wheel and it was a good place to get a get a cup of coffee,” Archie Enochs said.

He also helped to build Hart Field at the Oak Hill Little League Baseball fields at the corner of McCarthy and US HWY 290 West.

“I drove a dump truck. We cleared all the trees, piled up and burned them. We borrowed a front end loader and some other people brought some other equipment and we cleared out that area to build the ball field. When it opened, it didn’t have bleachers or a concession stand or anything like that. It was built up incrementally as funds became available,” Archie Enochs said.

  Linda Enochs

Archie Enochs’ younger sister, Linda Enochs, remembers as a young girl, buying soda pop and candy at Mrs. Martin’s Store where it operated out of the downstairs level of the Patton building.

She recalls that the upstairs of the Patton building served for years as the regular meeting place for Woodmen of the World organization.

“When I was little, Miss Martin lived in the back and ran that little store at the front of the building downstairs,” Linda Enochs said. “That’s were all of us kids went to buy a nickel Dr. Pepper and penny candy and things like that. I remember being old enough that Mom would send me for a loaf of bread and she would give me a quarter and I brought back 3 cents change.”

Linda Enochs also remembers that as a girl some of the top floor of the Patton building leased out apartments to private individuals.

She also remembers her maternal uncle, Archie Patton, operated three local racetracks nearby. He operated a horse racing track, an oval racetrack and a “straight away” track.

“I remember that little oval jalopy mud track for just old car racing, then he had a quarter mile drag track too,” Linda Enochs said. “Archie’s (Patton’s) idea was, if you had two things you needed to race ‘em – cars and horses. And he could sell beer while everyone was watching.”

Linda Enochs said the cars raced on the oval track well into the 1960s.

“The oval car track was hysterical – it was just a little oval with bank turns and they would just water that black dirt. It just made the greatest mud and the drivers would just spin their tires and throw mud into the air – it was wonderful,” she said.

Linda Enochs said she remembers the horse race track ran about three-tenths of a mile long.

“When I was little I would work the concession stand with my aunt. Of course, I couldn’t sell beer, but I could open the Dr. Peppers and make change,” she said.

The racetracks drew crowds of 200 or 300 people, who sat in stadium style seating.

She recalls that Archie Patton’s wife, Norenah Patton, until the 1970s ran the Oak Hill Steak House, just east of where the Shell Station stands at 8314 State HWY 71.

Linda Enochs also remembers Cecil Hill, a rancher, and his wife, Maxine, who kept a rodeo arena located near where Bank of America sits today at 5725 Highway 290 West. Hill allowed cowboys to rope steers and ride bulls there, but the place also served as a hangout for local children after school let out for the day.

“They built that arena and it was just a fun place to go. They held junior rodeos and Labor Day adult rodeo,” Linda Enochs said. “There was always something going on down there.”

The owners of a local feed store also looked after Oak Hill children after school, she said.

“I would just jump on my horse and ride up to my cousin, Bobby Miller’s and he and his sister would saddle their horses and away we’d go,” she said.

Linda Enochs, the daughter of Alvis “Buster” Enochs, said her father earned his nickname by being a bit of a cowboy in Oak Hill who broke horses and could rope them too.

She also loved riding horses at the former Patton Lazy SL Ranch in Oak Hill, where Freescale Semionductors Co. stands today at 6501 William Cannon. The Enochs knew Tanner well and they might have been some of his best customers.

“I used to ride my horse across 290. I know that’s hard to believe today. He was a big Sorrell horse with white stocking feet, so I called him ‘Socks,’” Linda Enochs said.

Buster Enochs’ wife, Erelene Enochs, worked at the Texas Public Service Company and drove into downtown daily. Linda Enochs recalls that it took her mother only seven minutes to drive from Oak Hill to Fourth and Congress streets daily.

Linda Enochs and her brother Archie Enochs tend to their ancestors’ graves inside Oak Hill Cemetery on Old Bee Caves Road, just a half mile off US HWY 290 West.

Her paternal great-great grandparents, James Maddison Patton and Sarah Jane Smithson-Patton, her great grandparents James “Jim” Andrew Patton and his wife, Virginia Bishop, and her grandparents Andrew Patton and his wife, Webster Grumbles-Patton, are buried there. Linda Enochs’ mother, Erelene Enochs also is buried there.

“It’s ours to take care of now,” Linda Enochs said. “On Mother’s Day we go out there to take flowers to Mom and all the grandmothers.”

Published in the Oak Hill Gazette http://oakhillgazette.com

16 Responses to “Oak Hill’s old-timers tell tales about ‘good ‘ol days’”

  1. Melissa Abernathh February 8, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    How cool!! My Pop jack was friends with al these guys. I remember going to Archie rays house as a small kid. Archie Ray, Pop and Buster hung out all the time. Every time I drive by that house as an adult I think of how times were soooo much different back then. And I always tell my kids (even though they have heard it a million times) that that’s the house Pop used to shoot the shit at!

    Like

  2. Wayne Clawson February 8, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

    Raced many, many times at the Oak Hill Drag Strip until Oct. of 1962, moved to Odessa. there were several who went on to the big time, like Hands, Linford, Cox, Hayden, Tony, Sonny, Don and couple others I can’t recall. the old gate and entry way to the strip is still there, or it was 2 years ago when I was there.

    Wayne Clawson

    Like

  3. Molly Malone Denham February 9, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    I attended Manchaca Elementary School when I was little. In the Spring we would have a softball tournament against the students at Oak Hill Ele. and I remember Linda Enoch’s from those games. My mom & dad, JD & Mary Jo Malone were friends with Cecil & Maxine Hill. My dad remembered how pretty Mrs. Hill was. After mom passed he contacted Mrs. Hill to recall old times. My memories of the Oak Hill area are a narrow 2 lane road we travelled along to get to Camp Ben Mc Cullough to swim. After I married my husband Hayden, we bought a house in Scenic Brook West subdivision which was only a couple of years old at the time. We raised our son & daughter there ( Shawn & Dena). I loved it there but when it became so congested I was ready to go.

    Molly Malone Denham

    Like

  4. Cindy Ellis Waits February 28, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

    My Dad Jimmy Ellis drag raced his Willys at Oak Hill Downs back in the late 1950’a & 1960’s. He drag raced every car he had. I have many old 8 mm. films of him drag racing out there. I was told by the flagman that he burned through tires like he’d never seen. Every single film I have (I have many) he won those races. I do have several still pictures of him racing, but mostly the 8 mm. films of him racing his Willys. I’ve put all those old films on DVD now so that I can watch them, it’s so interesting to see how different Oak Hill looks…you can see the old rest stop that used to be along the creek on 290 W. & along the side of the old drag strip at Oak Hill Downs. Wow has Oak Hill changed since the 50’s & 60’s.

    Like

    • Donna Marie Miller March 12, 2016 at 11:02 am #

      Thank you Cindy for sharing! I loved hearing about your dad Jimmy Ellis.

      Like

    • cwilliamsaustin May 26, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

      I, for one, would LOVE to see some of those photos and movies. My earliest exposure to Oak Hill was 1978 when my family visited from Virginia. My grandfather ran The Pool Shoppe out of the building at the corner of Hill Oaks and 290 (Amco Insurance) and my memories of the area at that time are hazy at best. After moving here, we visited the Oak Hill Flea Market often and now that I live in Oak Hill I really want to know the history and changes like someone that’s lived here for fifty years.

      Anyway, thank you for the interesting article!

      Like

  5. Gerald Schroeder February 8, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

    I remember so much of this. It brings back so many memories of when we were ” small town”. I sure miss Convict Hill Restaurant. Remember the Country Grocery, at the ” Y ‘?

    Like

    • Donna Marie Miller February 8, 2017 at 7:11 pm #

      I don’t recall the Country Grocery at the Y, but I am glad my article brought back memories of the neighborhood for you!

      Like

  6. Norma Homesley April 26, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    I truly enjoyed reading this. We lived in Scenic Brook from 1970 to 1979. Loved every minute there.

    Like

    • Donna Marie Miller April 26, 2017 at 11:41 am #

      Thank you Norma for reading! I also mention details about Oak Hill in my book, The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk, published by Texas A&M University Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s websites and in book stores now.

      Like

  7. curtis walker April 27, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    my mother and father jf and wanda walker have lived in oak hill for 60 years i miss it the place has changed so much

    Like

  8. Lynne Davis October 4, 2017 at 9:49 am #

    Thanks so much for this fantastic blog about the early days of Oak Hill. Interesting for those of us who have only been here a short time, but can sense the deep history of the area. thanks again!

    Like

    • Donna Marie Miller October 23, 2017 at 2:40 pm #

      Thanks Lynne for reading my blog! Please also consider reading my book, The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk, published last April by Texas A&M University Press!

      Like

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