Parker County Today July 2017 - Page 23

I n the far western extremes of Parker County, hard against the Palo Pinto County line, in the rugged country where Lake Mineral Wells now sprawls, coal mining was once a going concern. Rock Creek, named after the watercourse winding through the area, has one of those “rise and fall” stories so common in Texas, or any other state, for that matter. In the 1870s, Anglo settlers began to arrive in what would become the town of Rock Creek, roughly just south of where The National Vietnam War Museum stands today on Highway 180. In those early years, the settlement served as a central point for a loose community of farmers and ranchers trying to scratch out a place for them- selves in what had been, and to some extent still was, dangerous environs, a place to attend church and gather for other social interaction. Local history is rife with tales of Indian depredations up and down Rock Creek, the last recorded attack in the county occurring in 1874. With the subjugation of belligerent Native Americans wanting to drop down from reservations north of the Red River to raid North Texas farms and ranches came unprecedented growth in the white population; thou- sands spilled into the county to put spa activities. They adopted the name Weatherford Coal Company and on Oct. 1, 1891, delivered by rail their first passengers from Weatherford to Mineral Wells, a clanky ride of 25 miles. Shortly after, the Texas Coal and Fuel Company acquired the land — the deed showing 2,213 acres — except for right-of-way used by the Weatherford, Mineral Wells & Northwestern Railway. From three 140-foot-deep mines the company produced some 1,500 tons of bitu- minous coal a day. It was near these mines that Rock Creek sprang up, offering a general store, schoolhouse, churches, billiard halls, post office, butcher shop and even a hotel. The early years of the 20th centu- ry were not good ones for TC&FC, which was losing money by the coal-car full — over $5,000 in 1906 and in excess of $14,500 in 1907. April 15, 1908, stockholders met in Thurber and authorized the president to close the Rock Creek mines. With the town’s economy basi- cally gone, over the next few years, businesses closed and people packed up and struck out for greener pastures. Rock Creek’s buildings were either moved or demolished for materials. In the periodical Scientific American, Vol. 102, published June 4, 1910, there appeared an odd photograph of a steam locomotive moving miner cottages from the town. The accompanying text read: “MOVING A TOWN BY RAIL — Pictured herewith is a trainload of houses on the Weatherford, Mineral Wells & Northwestern Railway in Texas. There are five flat cars loaded with miners’ cottages of two rooms each, each room being 12 by 14 by 9 feet. Extreme height above the car is 15 feet 4 inches. In addition, there are two cars containing the lean-to kitchens, and two cars that carry other wreckage of the coal-mining town of Rock Creek, Texas, whose mines were abandoned. The train was moved successfully at the rate of 15 miles per hour, and around a number of six-degree curves having the outer rail elevated four inches.” No mention of a destination, but Thurber to the southwest might be a good guess. During World War II, Camp Rock Creek Road Church down — with a little luck — roots. When the railroad arrived in the 1880s, the community officially adopted the name “Rock Creek,” and in 1891, with 75 residents, was grant- ed a post office. By the mid — ‘90s coal mining was the thing and the population had risen to 400. Toward the 1900 mark, Rock Creek boasted some 1,500 souls. One of the early diggers for “black diamonds” in the area was William “Whipple” Johnson who had already developed mining concerns in Palo Pinto and Erath counties to the south- west. In 1887, he and brother Harvey founded the Johnson Coal Mining Company and contracted to sell their coal to the Texas and Pacific Railway; but the venture was short- lived as undercapitalization and Harvey Johnson’s death upended the operation, forcing the sale of land and mines to T&PR. Down but not out, William Johnson bought land, which included part of today’s Bunker Hill Ranch in far western Parker County, and in 1889 resumed his mining opera- tions. He and a partner, Harry Taylor, dreamed large and planned not only to operate coal mines, but build a railroad between Weatherford and Mineral Wells, a place fast becoming famous for its Mineral Waters and 21