By Grant McGee: Local Columunist
I went to Midland, Texas, last weekend. It’s about four hours south-southwest of Clovis. It was a pretty nondescript trip across a nondescript part of the Llano Estacado and the Permian Basin. Along the way there were lots of wild sunflowers, pumpjacks and the gentle, wafting fragrance of raw petroleum processing on the hot, West Texas breeze (an aroma many refer to as “the smell of money”).
It was so different than the road trip through Mineral Wells, Texas, in April.
April in central Texas revealed one of the most wonderful sights I’ve seen: patch upon patch of blooming Texas Bluebonnets.
I’ve always wanted to visit Mineral Wells. It’s an old hotel town, where folks used to come to “take the waters,” a term few use anymore. It was a resort town centered around a series of mineral springs. People believed (some still do) the waters held curative powers.
Mineral Wells was right up there with the other spas of that bygone era like Hot Springs, Ark., White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Saratoga, N.Y., and so on.
The western folk singer Tom Russell wrote a song called “Mineral Wells.” The lyrics refer to an old hotel that’s been closed down. After hearing it I decided someday I had to make it to the city west of Fort Worth. Then at the Texas Travel Center in Amarillo I saw a brochure for Mineral Wells. The picture on the front showed a huge old hotel. I decided I really had to take that road trip.
The hotel on the brochure is The Baker, long closed down and rumored to be haunted.
The Baker looms over downtown Mineral Wells, casting a larger shadow than the Hotel Clovis. The Baker died slowly after Interstate 10 took traffic away from the town and interest in “taking the waters” faded away with changing times.
If you’ve ever been to Hot Springs, Ark., The Baker may remind you of the huge hotel that looms over that city, The Arlington. The owner of The Baker had wanted his hotel to look like the one in Arkansas.
I stood in front of The Baker. The building is 14 stories tall. It is topped with a verandah that covers the top of the hotel. The torn canvas awnings of what was apparently a rooftop ballroom or restaurant fluttered in the breeze. I imagined a summer evening 50 or 60 years ago, music of the day could be heard, people in formal attire on the rooftop.
The Baker is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a young woman. She reportedly wanders the seventh floor looking for her old pals.
Mineral Wells is also home to the Crazy Waters Hotel. While The Baker has become an abandoned hulk like the Hotel Clovis and the downtown Texas hotels of Plainview and Big Spring, the Crazy Waters Hotel was converted to a retirement home.
The folks of Mineral Wells may be wondering what to do with their other huge, abandoned hotel just as we wonder what to do with ours. However, someone in Mineral Wells figured out what to do with the Crazy Waters Hotel so they didn’t have two abandoned hulks on their hands.
Could that be the answer to what to do with the Hotel Clovis?
Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: