The abandoned town of Halsell slowly reappears as drought shrinks Lake Arrowhead
4:03 AM, Jul 27, 2014
11:06 AM, Jul 28, 2014
WICHITA FALLS, Texas - Few people today remember a time before Lake Arrowhead existed.
Fewer still may know that a town named Halsell has been lying underneath the lake’s waters for nearly 60 years.
Now that Arrowhead is less than a quarter full, Halsell has risen from the depths like a visible history lesson of the pioneer past.
People had been slowly moving into the area, about 20 miles southeast of Wichita Falls, since the 1860s.
Comanche and Kiowa Indians regularly raided in Clay County and the surrounding area until the establishment of the reservations in the 1870s in present-day Oklahoma.
Information from the Clay County Historical Museum says Halsell was formally established in 1900, named for local rancher Henry H. Halsell.
Halsell was from a wealthy ranching family and he built a general store, two Methodist churches, and financed houses for several former cowboys.
The town of Halsell also had a second general store, grocery, domino parlor, blacksmith and cotton gin.
In 1900, when the nearby town of Shilo lost its one-room schoolhouse to a windstorm, town leaders combined the two school zones and built a new schoolhouse in 1901.
In 1913, the school was revamping into a two-story, six-room school housing about 150 students and three teachers at its peak.
The Southwestern Railway Company established a railroad line connecting Henrietta with Archer City in 1910, and Halsell grew quickly. After a population high of about 600 residents in 1920, the bankruptcy of the SWC rail line spelled the beginning of the end for Halsell.
Oil was discovered in the area in the 1930s, but this had little effect on the town’s population.
Halsell retained about 36 residents until the 1960s when Lake Arrowhead was in planning stages.
In 1965, residents were forced to move as the land was taken by eminent domain to establish a new water supply for the booming area.
The remaining residents left and about 125 of Halsell’s deceased were moved from the cemetery to other gravesites throughout the county.
Years passed and Halsell’s memory washed away with each lapping wave of the new 16,000-acre lake.
Lake Arrowhead residents Tammi Brown and Bud Gossett moved to the Bunny Run area about 16 months ago and said they had no idea the town existed.
One day last spring, they were driving along the shore in a golf cart and came upon a perfectly round reservoir full of water.
“I said, ‘Why is there a tank in the middle of the lake?” said Brown.
After asking around they found a couple residents that had heard of Halsell, with one saying she had lived there as a child.
The friends visited the Clay County museum and looked at a map of the layout of the old town.
When they returned to Halsell in April, they were able to spot the foundation, fireplace and plumbing of the old schoolhouse.
They found a well, cistern and dozens of horseshoes and railroad spikes.
Some of the most intriguing finds are those that tell of everyday life in pioneer North Texas.
Marbles that a child may have played with — belt buckles, bits of a leather saddle.
A blue basin where someone may have washed their face with precious water from the tank.
Glass bottles marked Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic and Hind’s Honey and Almond Cream held toiletries, perhaps brought in on the Southwestern rail line.
After recent rains, the town of Halsell is once again hidden, this time under dense vegetation and not water.
Raised areas seen near the middle of the lake show where the main road into town and the rail line used to be.
Hopefully rain will return to the area and the little town of Halsell will once again rest under the blue waters of Lake Arrowhead. For now its remnants show there was a time in the not too distant past when Lake Arrowhead was nothing but an open plain full of tall grasses and brave pioneers who worked for a chance at life in Halsell.