Tiny West Texas Town Births an Empire

I love discovering historical tidbits in my own backyard. About a month ago, I discovered just such a find on a trip home from Dallas. I live in Abilene, Texas, and whenever I travel to Dallas, I take I-20. Rarely do I stop along the way since the three-hour trip is not so long as to require a potty break. But on this particular trip home, I decided to stop at the new rest area that they’d built atop Ranger Hill in Eastland County, just east of the small town of Cisco, Texas.

Not only did this rest stop offer necessary refreshment and lovely sidewalks to stretch one’s legs, but they offered a mini museum filled with local historical tidbits. The one I found most fascinating was the tale of a name recognized all over the world – Conrad Hilton.

In 1917, oil was found in nearby Ranger, Texas, setting off an oil boom. The Ranger oilfield, along with other nearby wells, gained international fame by eliminating critical oil shortages during World War I. The town of Ranger and the nearby small town of Cisco were soon overrun with those seeking to make their fortune in oil.

Ranger, TX in the 1920’s at the height of the oil boom.

Before the war broke out, Conrad Hilton had been a successful banker in New Mexico. Raised by a savvy businessman father who ran a mercantile, Conrad grew up with keen mind for finance. He began running his father’s store at the age of 21 but hungered for bigger things. He was elected to the state legislature and served two terms. However, he believed banking to be his calling.

Hilton father’s mercantile in San Antonio, New Mexico.

When war broke out, Conrad Hilton sold his successful bank and joined the military to serve his country. When the war ended, he came home in 1919 ready to start again and searched for a bank to purchase. Unfortunately, no opportunities presented themselves.

Conrad Hilton was 31 when he arrived in Cisco.

He traveled from his home state of New Mexico into Texas along the railway and when he heard of the oil boom in Ranger, he traveled to the nearby town of Cisco determined to buy the first bank he saw. He found one willing to sell, but by the time he pulled the necessary investors together, the owner decided to raise the price. Frustrated, he declared the owner could keep his bank and stormed across the street to a two-story red brick building. The Mobley Hotel. 

Henry Mobley was making a solid profit serving the overflow of oil workers from Ranger. He had 40 beds in his hotel, and he rented them in 8-hour shifts to the crowds of tired workers standing in line in the lobby. Conrad Hilton instantly recognized the worth of such an investment and made Mobley an offer on the spot. Profits were so good in the first year, that Hilton opened the Melba Hotel in Fort Worth and the Waldorf in Dallas.

In 1921, the Ranger oil boom busted, leaving scores of failed businesses and banks in its wake. Hilton’s hotel business continued to thrive, however. By 1923, he owned 5 hotels. By 1930, he was the leading hotelier in the region. He managed to survive the Great Depression and went on to become the king of the hospitality empire.

The Mobley Hotel no longer rents rooms. It now houses the Chamber of Commerce, a community center, and several museums. They did, however, preserve a room in the style of of the 1920’s hotel that was the beginning of Hilton’s empire.

Have you discovered historical tidbits in your backyard that surprised you?

When you travel, what type of place do you like to stay?
Hotel – Bed & Breakfast – Campground – Other?

Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

18 Comments

  1. Karen- I loved this story. I am from Stephenville, Texas irginally, although I now live in Kansas. I felt like I was back home reading this. Have you ever stopped off in Thurber and read about the Smokestack? If not you need too.
    Near were I live here in Kansas and I drive past everyday is Wagin Bed Springs. Here’s a link if you’re interested in reading
    It.
    https://www.legendsofamerica.com/wagon-bed-spring-kansas/

    Thanks for a walk down memory lane.

    1. How fun, Tonya. I’m thrilled I could remind you of home. 🙂 One of these days I’m going to have to stop in Thurber. That’s another one of those places I whiz past on the highway. I think I ate at the Smokestack diner many years ago, but I need to visit again and do a deeper historical dive.

  2. When I used to travel, I always liked to learn about the places I was at. A few years back my husband and I took a historical graveyard tour in our town and we learned a lot of interesting facts.

    1. Oooo – I love old graveyards. It’s ironic, but history seems more alive there. Real names, real dates. My imagination always stirs to life.

      1. It was an event out on my the Mesquite historical association. They even had actors at each grave markers telling their story. They did a really good job.

  3. What a wonderful thing to discover. We travel usually hotels but have been switching around lately.

  4. what an awesome tidbit of history – thanks!

  5. Thank you, Karen. What an interesting piece of our history! I love historical photos.

    1. Me, too, Sharon! They just transport you back in time, don’t they?

  6. This is so interesting. I love discovering tid bits of history. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Oh, wow, this was interesting!! When I travel, I like to stay in hotels and B & B’s. It depends on the cost of each for me! And, location! I’ve been to Savannah and stayed in a hotel that I could walk to the Chamber of Commerce from, which is also where all of the tours for the historic district start. I’ve also stayed in B & B’s that were close to historic districts, too. I like learning about places on my vacations, and historic homes and churches, too.

    1. That hotel in Savannah sounds perfect, Trudy! I love it when things are within walking distance. Driving in unfamiliar territory always makes me a little nervous. And historic B&B’s are such a treat!

  8. I live near the Biltmore House in Asheville,NC. There’s a lot of history there, for sure. It’s sad but we live on land that once belonged to the Indians. People have found so many things the Indians used. We lived there since I was a kid so we’ve live here for 40 years. We have found so many arrow heads, pottery pieces and a rock shaped like a tool to grind up corn.

    1. What wonderful history to treasure and preserve on your own property!

  9. prefer staying in a hotel when I can.

    Havre de Grace, near me, at the top of the Chesapeake Bay was very important to our nation during the War of 1812. The name of the town was inspired by a visit from Lafayette. By one vote, it missed out on being the capital of the USA.

    1. Fascinating, Denise. I love learning little tidbits like that. One vote? Wow!

  10. Karen, thank you for sharing this fascinating post!

  11. How fun, Karen! Next time I make that drive from Abilene to Dallas (my brother lives in Dallas), I’ll have to look for Cisco!

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