Glenrio Historic District
Glenrio, Texas and New Mexico
The Glenrio Historic District includes the Historic
Route 66 roadbed, also called State Loop 504, and properties
north of it in Glenrio, TX and NM.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Glenrio sat very much alone in the open scrub
desert of the high plains straddling the Texas-New Mexico
border. Amarillo was 73 miles to the east and Tucumcari 41 miles
west. Travelers driving Route 66 across the desert could see a
world of stars at night, with Glenrio providing some of the only
light pollution around with its diners, bars, western-themed
motels, a dance hall, and gas stations. Glenrio was a flash of
neon in the desert, an overnight Mecca, and a spot of evening
cool in the days before cars had air conditioning.
Straddling the State line, Glenrio began as Rock Island Railroad
stop. Although part of the town was located in Texas and the
other part in New Mexico, the Federal Government considered Glenrio to be a Texas town during those days. Mail would be
dropped off on the Texas side of the border and then the station
master would carry the mailbag to the post office on the New
Mexico side for delivery.
Glenrio was not a railroad town
for long. In 1913, the Ozark Trails Association organized and
began marking and promoting hundreds of miles of highways
connecting several States, including New Mexico and Texas. Ozark
Trails pioneered the transition from horse-drawn buggies and
wagons to automobiles along America’s roads. By 1917, the
Glenrio Hotel began receiving guests traveling by automobile
along the Ozark Trail. At that point, trail was a good
description of the Ozark. The crooked, dirt track was dusty in
the sun and muddy in the rain. It had square turns as it
followed section lines. Yet motorists came. By 1919, green and
white Ozark Trail markers stood along the route through Glenrio.
The Ozark Trail was incorporated into the United States highway
system as part of Route 66 in 1926.
By that year, Glenrio
had essentially turned its back on the railroad in favor of the
highway. Businesses near the railroad either closed or moved to
be closer to the highway. Several gas stations, a restaurant,
and at least one motel were built on the northern right of way
of Route 66 by the early 1930s. On the south side of the
highway, a welcome station on the Texas side offered
assistance--including water to cool overheated radiators--to
motorists along the road. Local lore has it that the welcome
station served as a film location for the 1940 movie, The Grapes
of Wrath. This cannot be confirmed, but if location scouts
didn’t choose Glenrio as a set, one has to wonder why. Even
today, it’s not hard to imagine heavily loaded cars full of
families leaving the Dust Bowl behind to seek a better life in
California, their hopes pinned to Route 66.
1930s, Route 66 was transformed into a continuous two-lane paved
highway across Texas. Several gas stations, a new restaurant,
and a motel clustered along the north side of the road. A few
buildings from Glenrio's rail-town past were moved close to the
new highway, but most were demolished or fell into ruin. There
were no bars on the Texas side of the community, since Deaf
Smith County was dry, and no service stations on the New Mexico
side because of that state's higher gasoline tax.
the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, travelers packed the highway and
Glenrio thrived. Former resident John Paul Ferguson worked
summers at Glenrio gas stations. He recalls constant traffic
during the daytime, with cars lined up five or six in a row
waiting to get gas.
A new cluster of businesses were
built during the 1950s. Two of them, a Texaco Gas Station and a
nearby diner, are of particular interest today. Both were
designed with Art Moderne influence. Look for the curved
vertical panels on top of the drive-thru bay of the station and
for curved concrete corner walls and a curved metal canopy on
the diner. Both of these buildings are well preserved.
Glenrio’s boom times ended in 1975 when Interstate 40 bypassed
the town. It was listed in the National Register of Historic
Places in 2007. Today, the Glenrio Historic District includes
the old Route 66 roadbed and 17 abandoned buildings. Most of the
buildings are utilitarian with concrete foundations, stucco
walls, and flat roofs, but several of the buildings are
distinctive. You can still identify the Little Juarez Diner, the
State Line Bar, and the State Line Motel whose sign reads
“Motel, Last in Texas” to travelers arriving from the east, and
“Motel, First in Texas” to traffic motoring into town from the
west. Only two Glenrio buildings are occupied--the Joseph
Brownlee House and an office in the Texas Longhorn Motel. Other
buildings have overgrown sites, missing windows, or debris
surrounding them, the detritus of four decades when Glenrio
welcomed tens of thousands, fed and entertained them, and sent
the on their way toward Chicago or California.
worth the detour to get off Interstate 40 and cruise Route 66
through Glenrio. Crossing the State border in one of the
country’s best preserved mid-century ghost towns evokes some of
the adventure motorists from decades ago felt when the traveled
long stretches of two-lane blacktop through the American West.