THE HISTORY OF LOMETA
by Janie Potts
In the late 1800's as the railroads pushed their way north and west across Texas, towns were created, nurtured and even doomed at the whim of railway planners. Senterfitt, a lively stagecoach stop became a ghost town, and Montvale, later to be known as Lometa, became a railroad boomtown in northwest Lampasas County.
The Lometa story begins in 1885 after the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company (GC&SF) pushed its way northwest from the railhead in Temple. The company chose for its first station west of Lampasas, a site in open ranch land near a grassy knoll on Frank Longfield's place. This site was east of Senterfitt by two and one-half miles. (Relighting Lamplights of Lampasas - RL)
Frank Longfield, Executor of the Estate of Arthur North, deeded to the GC&SF the 100 feet right of way on June 8, 1885 for the increase in the value of his property. The railway company bought another 200 acres for $2,000 from Mr. Longfield on July 25, 1885 and built a small depot. (Lampasas County Texas - LCT) This was the beginning of Lometa.
A Mr. Cox was installed as agent and became the first citizen of the new town. Lucy Smith, a Senterfitt school teacher, named this new town "Montvale" in reference to the valleys between the small mountains in the area. The town was platted in May 1886. When the post office was established in 1886 with Frank McKean as postmaster, he was informed there was already a Montvale in Texas. (RL) One morning in Mr. J.T. Brown's store as Tom Kirby, Frank Kirby, Mr.Brown, a Dr. McKean and W.H. Wofford were discussing what the community should be named, two Hispanic men came in to buy groceries. Mr. Wofford asked them what the word for "little mountain" was in Spanish. He had reference to the obvious little mountain located in the eastern part of town looking down on Main Street. The response was "Lomita", little hillock. (Handbook of Texas Online - H of T) Mr. Wofford sent the name "Lometa" to the U.S. Postal Department, and it was accepted.
Not to be left out and without the benefits of the new railroad, the residents and businesses of Senterfitt lost little time moving to become the nucleus of the new town, Lometa. The first store, a grocery store, was owned by Mr. J.T. Brown. The first hotels were opened by Mary Rahl, who moved her establishment from Senterfitt, and Mrs. J. C. Jackson who had the Jackson House that catered to railway officials and passengers. Churches, schools, dry good stores, hardware stores, blacksmiths and eateries followed. One kind of business was not moved, however. Hoping to prevent the new town from being as "wild" as Senterfitt, a group of prominent citizens made a vow never to allow an open saloon in Lometa. (LCT) That vow lasted several decades into the 1900's.
Although drought retarded economic growth for the first three years, the town eventually began to make steady progress. (H of T) The Texas State Gazetteer and Directory for 1892 states that Lometa contained a cotton gin and grist mill, three churches and a school. The town, whose population had reached 200, also had telegraph service. (LCT)
Lometa saw prosperity as never before when the Santa Fe built a branch line to San Saba and Eden from 1910-1913. (Lampasas Dispatch Record, Dec. 5, 2006 - LDR) There were more jobs, more supplies bought and sold and more goods shipped from the Lometa area. Supplies to the working men camping along the way were furnished by the railroad company and brought in from Lometa. Hundreds of men, mules and horses worked with heavy graders, scrapers and large scoops to make the level beds and embankments for the railway.
Using the same equipment, Santa Fe Lake was dredged for a water supply to the steam engines. A locomotive repair shop with three stalls called the
Roundhouse was built north of Lometa served the Eden Branch from 1911 until the diesel-electric locomotives replaced the steam engines in the 1950's. The present tracks go only to Brady where an especially good grade of silica sand is procured, and shipped to main Santa Fe lines. (LDR)
While Lometa was still booming from the Eden Branch, two brothers from Holland, Alfred and Edward Scholten, made plans to build a narrow gauge railway from Lometa to San Saba County for the purpose of harvesting cedar posts to fill the demand in western states where ranches were being fenced.
Farmers and ranchers took advantage of the loading areas to ship some of their produce including onions and pecans. Business was good for several years, but due to the washing away of low water crossings and bridges, a cedar yard burning, a fall in the demand for posts and the effects of World War I, the company went into receivership and all sales had ceased by 1920. (LDR)
Lometa was incorporated on July 16, 1919 with a municipal government composed of a mayor and five aldermen. (LCT) In 1923, one of the first items of business was to control the automobile traffic. Parking areas were designated, turning posts for U-turns at the end of each block were erected and all filling stations were to be "drive-ins".
The modernization of Lometa brought electricity. In 1909, a privately owned generating station provided light until twelve midnight. Due to the lack of business, the company failed. It wasn't until 1939 that the Lower Colorado River Authority provided efficient electrical service. In 1948, the Rural Electric Administration extended the lines to the rural areas, and through the Hamilton County Electric Co-Op has provided service since that time. (LCT)
The economy of the Lometa area had always depended on livestock since the first settlers brought their cattle and sheep. In 1945, the Lometa Lions Club bought land on the western edge of town and the Lometa Commission Company was organized. The first cattle auction sale was February 12, l946.
Lometa became a major shipping point for cattle, wool and mohair. If there were as many as 25 cattle cars at a time, Santa Fe would run special trains from Lometa to Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. At the same time the sheep and goat business was developing into a major industry. The railroads carried several million pounds of wool and mohair from the local warehouses to Boston and other eastern markets. (LDR)
The late 1940s through the early 1960s were good to Lometa. With the return of the hometown boys who had served in World War II and Korea, the town settled into an era of peace and general prosperity. Merchants in town held trade days on Saturdays. The rural people would come to town to buy groceries and bring their butter and eggs to their customers, and the kids went to the "picture show" to watch Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Local entertainers played for the crowd in the back of a pick-up truck. The Rural Telephone Company was available to subscribers for 50 cents a month, and party lines were great sources of information.
A devastating blow came in 1958 when the mail began to be moved by trucks instead of by rail. (LDR) After passenger service was no longer available, there was little reason for the trains to stop in Lometa. Technology advanced so that even the station agent's job, the last close contact that Lometa residents would have with the railroad, became obsolete.
The face of Lometa began to change. Agriculture was no longer the driving force of the economy. The drought of the 1950s, the loss of the federal incentive program and increased numbers of predators forced the sheep and goat ranchers almost out of business. Most local cattle are now shipped by trucks to mega-feedlots. The effects of corporate farming, low market prices and high prices for fertilizers and equipment have made it hard to make a living on the family farm. The young people have moved elsewhere to find better paying jobs. Many of the local ranches have been sub-divided and sold in smaller acreages for recreational and weekend escapes.
Lometa now has about 800 people. It has eight churches, two civic clubs that include the L-M Garden and Civic Club and the Lions Club, the American Legion and Auxiliary, Masonic and Eastern Star organizations and 18 businesses including a bank, real estate agencies, feed stores and metal firms.
The native limestone school building proudly sits at the eastern end of Main Street. Citizens take pride in their school because of the fact that 50 percent to 60 percent of graduating seniors attend college and upwards of $60,000 to $80,000 are awarded in scholarships each year. (Lometa High School Counselor) Many of the community's celebrations and festivals are associated with the school.
The Regional Park south of Lometa is the venue for family and community events such as the Fourth of July fireworks show, the annual rodeo and the celebrated Diamondback Jubilee.
Lometa, like many small Texas towns, struggles to have a profitable existence for its citizens. It seems ironic and a bit sad that in Lometa, whose very existence once depended on the railroad, a train can now pass through virtually unnoticed, unless it happens to block all three crossings in town and stop the normal flow of traffic.
More Lometa history from the
Texas State Historical Association