Thrall

Saint John Lutheran Church Established 1876

Thrall, earlier Stiles Switch, established 1876 when the I. and G. N railroad built west from Rockdale, named Thrall in 1901, at the request of the Stiles family who admired minister-historian Homer S Thrall, prominent in Texas at that time. Stiles School was organized there in the 1880s. A decade later Will Martin and Steve F. Evans put up a gin. Raleigh Riley opened a general store in 1899 where the post office was established two years later, R. M. Riley postmaster. Subsequent postmasters were James C. Douglass (1908), Martha B. Waters (1915), Martha Waters Howard (1921), Mrs. Burna H. Cain (1922), Millard Arrington (1934), John Krieg (1935), William G. Fuchs (1938), Mrs. Burna H. Cain (1956), Mrs. Doris June Johnson (1970). In 1908 a larger school was built in Thrall to succeed Stiles School, although several other rural schools continued to operate in the vicinity until the 1920s and 1930s. Until 1915 farming and cattle were the economic mainstays of Thrall. Farmers had suffered a drouth in 1914 so when an oil well was brought in early the next year, it markedly changed the life of the tiny village and all the surrounding area. Population of Thrall jumped from fifteen hundred people to three thousand within a short time. Farmers, hard pressed for cash, were able to lease their land for cash. The well, drilled on the Fritz Fuchs farm about a mile south of town, blew in February 22, 1915, "the first well ever drilled in the Serpentine formation." An oil boom ensued. The first hundred wells drilled were described as gushers.

Distinguished officials visiting the field included Alf Landon, Republican candidate for president, Harry J. Sinclair who later established the Sinclair Petroleum Corporation, and J. L. Lattimer, later president of Magnolia Petroleum Company. All told, about two hundred wells were drilled in the area. New oil companies were formed and for several years the activity was hectic, but by 1920 had levelled off. Population of Thrall was 272 that year. The magic of the industrial age was described about this time in a special story from Thrall reporting that "a steel car, especially equipped by the I-G N railroad to burn green weeds, passed here Friday, making about four miles an hour, not leaving a sprig of grass or weed. A car follows with a sprinkler; also this is followed by the section gang with mops to see that all fire is out."

Another surge of excitement developed near Thrall in 1930 when a well on the J. C. Abbott property east of Lawrence Chapel was drilled by a man named Chapman, the place being sometimes called Chapman City. (Also see Beaukiss.) A "gusher" was brought in at a depth of 1834 feet on January 18, 1930, about two o'clock in the morning. Production came from the Pecan Gap formation and was estimated at five hundred barrels. Thrall realized increased activity, but the day of the automobile had arrived by this time and much of the bustle was concentrated in Taylor. "The Blazilmar Hotel in Taylor was much like headquarters of a state convention." Crowds there doubled and more than fifteen hundred leases were signed in less than three days. The field proved to be a shallow one and most of the wells failed by 1940, although a few were producing modest amounts in 1973.

The Stiles Farm Foundation was established in 1961 by Hadley Alva Stiles of Taylor in honor of his father, James E Stiles. More than five hundred acres of land and the family homestead at Thrall were set aside for the foundation, all to be preserved, maintained, and operated by the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas for agricultural research. The Stiles family main house on the property was demolished by the Trustees soon after they took possession. Another home was constructed and the model farm is still under the jurisdiction of the present A. and M. University.

Bibliography

Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sunday Publishers, 1973, Fifth printing, 1998).

Photo caption: Saint John Lutheran Church Photo Courtesy Nancy Bell April 2017