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April 24, 2013

Like history? Take a driving tour of it through Palo Pinto County this weekend


Johnson League Ranch and Mausoleum

Let’s head west for a few miles and then turn south down FM 919 toward Gordon. It’s time to pay a visit to Johnson League. William Whipple Johnson and his brother, Harvey, came to Palo Pinto County from Michigan in 1878, lured to the area by the building of the railroad and the promise of new enterprise. Together the brothers settled in a small community of settlers that would eventually become Strawn. There they established a successful business selling cedar post to the westward-advancing Texas Pacific Railroad.

In 1905, following the death of his second child, Johnson purchased a league (4,428 acres) north of Gordon, where he and his wife then moved and where he hoped to build a community large enough to rival Thurber, the company town built by his business nemesis, Robert Dickey Hunter.

No visit to the Johnson League Ranch would be complete without first stopping by the Johnson League Mausoleum, the history of which speaks to both the love of parent for child and the heartbreak of loss. As previously mentioned, William and his wife Anna lost both of their children to disease prior to moving from their home in Strawn to Johnson’s League.  

Opal Guest Chapel

From Johnson’s League, we will head over to Strawn to the old Presbyterian church.

Built in 1917 at a cost of $10,000, this beautiful building was home to the North Fork Congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for over half a century before being closed to weekly services in the early 1970s. After having sat vacant for almost 30 years, the little church might have  succumbed to the wrecking ball had it not been for the loving attention given it by local rancher Jimmy Guest, who purchased the old building in 1997.

Guest’s father, James, had been an elder of the church and his mother, Opal Hodgkins Guest, had been his Sunday school teacher there. He’d also been baptized in the church. Motivated by childhood memories and a desire to honor his parents, Guest began restoration efforts soon after the purchase was finalized.

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