Tumbleweed Smith
Tumbleweed Smith
Some people say Terlingua has the brightest moon in Texas. “You can read a book by the moon out here,” says Bill Ivey, owner of the Terlingua Ghost Town. “At times you can almost read a book by the stars. I’ve seen people walking to their car at night, stop and look up. They’ve never seen the Milky Way.”

Things are booming in Terlingua. Bill says land values are increasing. “We’ve become the last best place in Texas and maybe the United States. Folks have discovered the Big Bend in general. This place has its own spirit and people coming here can feel it. The word gets out that this is a pretty cool place to be and now we’re seeing an influx of folks that like it so much they want to move here.”

Bill’s dad, Rex Ivey, bought Terlingua in the 1940s after the mines had shut down.“It was after World War II and he bought it for salvage. Building materials were scarce, so he tore down a lot of the structures. Now, I’m trying to put them back together. When my dad came down to see what he had bought, they handed him a three-pound coffee can full of keys and said ‘it’s yours.’ Everything was just like they left it.”

A man by the name of Howard Perry owned the mercury mine in Terlingua.“He was from up east. When he found out what he had won in a poker game he came out here and found people mining mercury. His mine became one of the largest mercury mines in the world. He built a town. There wasn’t anything here before and it ended up being the largest town between Del Rio and El Paso. Terlingua had a population of around 3,000. It had the first ice cream parlor in West Texas. It had Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It had a cavalry post for a while, tennis courts and three schools. It was very much a thriving community in the early 1900s.”

Mr. Perry built a mansion on top of a hill so he could watch over the activities at the mine. The mansion is where Mr. Perry had a meeting with Bill’s dad.“They sat and visited in this very room. It’s what we call the great room. It was never closed in with windows. And sitting right in the middle of this room was a Gatling gun. Mr. Perry was scared to death Pancho Villa was going to raid his town and he wanted to protect it.”

Bill, who bought Terlingua 30 years ago, has restored the Perry mansion using the same techniques used when it was originally built nearly 100 years ago.“We made the adobes right outside here and put them in place. Hauling those 40-pound adobe bricks up two stories was a tiring job. We didn’t use any heavy equipment. When we started it was just a ruin. Hadn’t had a roof since the 40s. No windows or doors. Never had water or electricity.

One of the back adobe walls was starting to come loose, so we had to act fast to save it. We spent a year just on the outside. Some of my kids and I spent another year detailing the inside. We’re building a fountain outside.”

The mansion opened as a bed and breakfast on March first of this year. “We had a full house last night.” Terlingua has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for 25 years. “We want to keep it a ghost town. I want to preserve the culture and the history. There are few jobs here so people live here because they want to.”