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.
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.
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.
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?