"Home of the Hereford"

In November of 1874, residents of the newly organized county of Shackelford went to the voting booths and decided where their future county seat would be. At that time, the frontier town of Fort Griffin, also known as "The Flat", on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in the northeastern part of the county below the actual military fort of Ft. Griffin, was the hub of activity in the area. It was chosen as the temporary county seat until this particular election and Griffinites hoped that their town would be chosen as the permanent county seat.  However, many in the county felt that Fort Griffin was too rough and rowdy to be the seat of county government with its many saloons and "houses of ill repute", which attracted the roughest kinds of men and women to town. Conservative ranchers and farmers wanted nothing to do with this "hive of lawlessness" and proposed a new undeveloped area in the center of the county to serve as the permanent county seat. On November 8 of that year, county residents voted 54 to 39 in favor of having the county seat moved permanently from Fort Griffin to the new town in the center of the county, which was named Albany by county clerk William Cruger after his former home of Albany, Georgia.  The land for the townsite was donated by Henry Jacobs.

The first order of business was to survey the townsite and sell lots.  Land in the middle of the townsite was set aside for the building of a permanent county courthouse. Soon, the new town had a post office and a thriving business district with a number of hotels, dry goods stores, government offices, and, of course, a few saloons.  Homes were built, a school was established, a newspaper was begun, and a church was organized.  By 1881, Albany had everything a growing community on the frontier would need to survive, except a railroad. Albany had seen what had happened to other prosperous towns in the area that the Texas and Pacific Railroad had bypassed.  Buffalo Gap was the county seat and major town in Taylor County until the railroad came. Instead of running farther south through Buffalo Gap, the railroad decided to run its tracks through the northern part of the county.  The railroad thus helped create the new town of Abilene.  Since commerce would be centered around the railroad, many Buffalo Gap citizens moved themselves and their businesses from Buffalo Gap to Abilene.  Later, citizens voted to move the county seat from Buffalo Gap to Abilene.  As a result, Buffalo Gap became an obsolete, declining town.  The same thing occurred to the prosperous town of Belle Plain, in Callahan County. When the railroad came, county offices and many businesses migrated northward to the newer town of Baird, which was located on the railroad.  Just like Buffalo Gap, Belle Plain declined afterwards.  The competition between Fort Griffin and Albany was similar to these other situations. Although the Texas and Pacific, which ran east and west, would not come close to either town, another railroad, which ran north and south, could. The Texas-Central Railroad ran from Houston through Waco to its final stop in Cisco, in Eastland County, 33 miles southeast of Albany.  In the future, the railroad wanted to extend its line into the Texas Panhandle and beyond. Albany hoped that the railroad would extend its line at least to Albany.  Citizens convinced the railroad that the Albany area was an important shipping point for cattle and that having the railroad run through there would be most profitable. The land in Albany necessary for the railroad would be provided.  In addition, citizens raised $50,000 to entice the railroad to come. Fort Griffin had hoped that the line would come through their town, but Albany's offer was too good for the railroad to pass up.  In December of 1881, the first train steamed into Albany from Cisco.  After this, the competition between Albany and Fort Griffin was no more. The military fort had already been abandoned and the coming of the railroad to Albany sealed the fate of the town of Fort Griffin. Most of the remaining merchants in Fort Griffin moved their businesses to Albany to be near the railroad.  Thus, Fort Griffin faded into history.

In the years following the coming of the railroad, Albany experienced dramatic growth. The town had become a very important shipping point for cattle, wool, buffalo bones, among other things.  Hereford cattle would play a big part in this growth.  The first of the new breed of cattle was introduced there, earning Albany the nickname, "Home of the Hereford".  In 1884, the construction of the Shackelford County Courthouse was completed.  In 1886, the area was ravaged by a severe drought, prompting a visit to Albany and nearby Hulltown by Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. During these years, the farming and ranching industry dominated the economy of Albany and Shackelford County.  By 1910, that changed when the Cottle No. 1 gas well (located 15 miles southeast of Albany near Moran (formerly Hulltown)) was discovered.  This discovery ushered in the oil boom to Shackelford County. Wells sprung up everywhere and Albany became the hub of a growing oil industry in the area.  Thousands of wildcatters and their families arrived to strike oil and get rich.  Many did, but many didn't. Nevertheless, the oil boom of the 1910's and 1920's made Albany grow even more, both in population and in wealth.  In 1927, the city was finally incorporated. With the end of the oil boom and the stock market crash of 1929 and the following years of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Post-War years, Albany experienced the pains many other towns in the area did.  During the 1950's and 1960's, the population declined as people flocked to larger towns and cities and the automobile enabled people to travel elsewhere to buy goods.  In the 1970's and 1980's, Albany civic leaders and merchants worked harder to keep people home, and they succeeded. In 1978, Albany was tested by the remnants of Tropical Storm Amelia, which dropped over 20 inches of rain on Albany and the surrounding area within a 24 hour period. The flood damage was excessive and Albany received nationwide attention.  It took awhile, but Albany gradually recovered. Another catastrophe also received nationwide attention in 1988 when a huge range fire erupted after a careless person burned tires in Clyde. The dry and windy March conditions enabled the out of control fire to spread quickly north into Shackelford County. The fire burned millions of acres of land and almost led to the evacuations of both Albany and Moran as the fire inched within miles of both towns before shifting in another direction. Luckily, the fire was then brought under control and put out by a blockade of firefighters from all over the country who responded. In both instances, Albany managed to stand tall in the face of adversity.

Today, Albany is a small town that has a lot to offer. Since the oil bust in the mid 1980's, Albany has tried to find other means to keep the local economy going. Tourism has come to the forefront.  Albany receives thousands of visitors each year.  Some come to tour the many historical sites that Albany has to offer.  Some come to tour Fort Griffin State Park north of town.  One of the most noted places in Albany to visit is the Old Jail Art Center. Housed in the original county jail, the center was conceived by citizens as a place to display works of art.  The center became so popular, that an expansion was constructed in 1984.  Still that proved to be not enough space.  In 1997, another addition was added, doubling the size of the center. This newer addition was added for the purpose of displaying artifacts of local history and for enhancing the Robert Nail Archives, a collection of historical material related to Shackelford County, named after a local historian and playwriter who compiled the material and who was instrumental in saving the jail from being demolished. Robert Nail also was responsible for another of Albany's tourist attractions, its most famous, "The Fort Griffin Fandangle".  Created as a senior class play in 1938, the Fandangle has evolved into a yearly Albany tradition. Thousands come to Albany each year to see the locally produced and directed outdoor musical, which tells the story of the settling of Shackelford County and the founding of the military outpost and frontier town of Fort Griffin.  It is ironic that the town that beat out Fort Griffin for the railroad in 1881 would be the one keeping its memory alive in song and dance. This goes to show how proud Albany is of its frontier heritage.     

Much of this history came from an August 16, 1981 article in the Abilene Reporter-News, entitled "Albany Known as 'Home of the Hereford'"                    


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