Since moving to Texas in 1989, every time I drove on US 290 from Austin to Houston, I passed a little abandoned hamlet full of colorful but faded old buildings. It was a neat little place as seen from the highway and I'd always wondered about it. Well, finally this last weekend I stopped to get some photos, and when I got home I did a little Google research on it. Winkelmann, TX was not a real town and it's not a real ghost town, at least in the common sense of the word. Apparently a businessman in the nearby town of Brenham had been collecting old buildings from around Texas. In the 1980s he installed a couple dozen or so at a site on 290 near Chappell Hill with the idea of creating a tourist stop populated with quaint shops, a restaurant, a saloon, and even a few residences. Winkelmann TX was in fact a tourist stop for a time, but an economic downtown killed the tourism and eventually all the shops closed down. Later, the original owner died and the property passed hands a few times. Now the buildings are in a state of progressive decline and they've boarded up the windows and doors to keep squatters out. I said Winkelmann wasn't a real ghost town, but technically it is because although it's not as old as it appears, and it was never a state-recognized town, it is a community that has been almost completely abandoned by its inhabitants and so it meets the basic criteria in my book. In any case, it still makes a nice picture. There does appear to be at least one occupied home on the property and that kept me from getting as many photos as I would have liked. There was after all a very conspicuous "No Trespassing" sign that I ignored to take the dozen or so shots that I did get.
It wasn't the economic downturn of the "80's" that closed this place down. It was the fact that the owner and creator of this little town was gay. The "old" guard just couldn't get past that fact. It's said that the decline practically happened over night.ReplyDelete
My husband and I recently purchased a historic property in Brenham, and in our research of the building, keep running across photographs by Winkelmann. So sad to hear that he was shunned by the town. Is Mr. Winkelmann still living?ReplyDelete
Ray Winkelmann, Jr. died of AIDS over 20 years ago. He was buried in Brenham at the Prairie Lea cemetery, just southwest of downtown. The large and fairly ornate gravestone (which mentions "Winkelmann, Texas") shouldn't be hard to locate, presuming you're interested.
Thank you for the information. I am hoping that the Brenham Heritage Museum has some of his photos stored. We'd love to find out more about the history as we renovate.Delete
Does anyone know who currently owns the area? We are business owners in Houston and would like more information if anyone knows anything we can be reached at 281-415-8944Delete
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I've heard conflicting reports about that. I've no reason to doubt that he was gay, and I'd be surprised if there wasn't some amount of backlash over that. It's small town Texas, after all. But as I said, I've heard conflicting reports as to whether that was ultimately responsible for the financial collapse of Winkelmann. There was a recession going on in the early '90s. It would certainly be a sad and shameful situation if it's true.ReplyDelete
Ray is my father in law's brother. He has passed and was in fact gay, but I don't know if that was the reason for Winkelmann not catching on.ReplyDelete
Am I related to your wife?Delete