Spring Break – while many are sleeping in or vacationing at South Padre Island, I decided to kick off my week of R&R with a flight to check out Falls County, located southeast of Waco. Explored its county seat, the city of Marlin.
Although I had already planned to check out Marlin at some point in time, it wasn’t until my friend Mitchell told me that he would be coming there to pick up his grandfather, and asked if we wanted to meet up that I really put it on my agenda. He said that they would be more than happy to show me around, and I just so happened to have an airplane reserved that day. Decided to make it happen!
Although Marlin has its own airfield, I decided on landing at the Waco Regional Airport, since there isn’t anywhere to fuel up, or any ground support facilities for that matter in Marlin.
Following a quick 35 minute flight down, Mitchell and his grandfather Raul met me at the airport. After showing them around the plane and both the private and airline terminals, we made the 40-minute drive to Marlin.
Along the way, Raul talked about his many years spent in Marlin as a ranch hand, and told many stories about its history. Some tales mentioned were how the Native American Comanche tribe attacked settlements, and how that forced the moving of said settlements. Raul was very well versed in the geography of the county as well, talking about different points in the county, and their historical significance. Before long, we had entered the city limits of Marlin. After doing a quick drive of the downtown square, we parked the car and started checking out places up close and personal.
Marlin’s claim to fame is their mineral waters. First discovered in 1892 while searching for an artesian well, people from all over the county rushed to this tiny Texas town to test out its supposed healing powers. As if that wasn’t enough, the New York Giants(now the San Francisco Giants) held their spring training here starting in 1908 for 10 years! Other baseball teams that held their spring training in town included the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.
Unfortunately, the number of people interested in “The South’s Greatest Health Resort” faded out as the mineral water industry declined over the years, especially around the 1950s. Today, the only place that mineral water may be obtained is at a public fountain located outside the Chamber of Commerce.
Wanting to know what it tasted like, I first put some on my tongue. My first impression was that it was quite salty, which added up to what Mitchell said earlier. I then got a handful and just put it in my mouth, making sure not to swallow it. As it was salt water, drinking it wouldn’t have been a smart choice..besides I’m sure those pipes aren’t the cleanest in the world. The intended use of the water was to bathe and soak feet in. Speaking of which, right behind the fountain was a public foot bath!
No water was flowing in the bath, and it looked like it had been shut off for a while. The tub was covered with leaves and old coke bottles. Imagine how busy this place must have been during its heyday! Behind it, in a little shed, was what looked to be the control unit for the whole setup.
Next, we went across the street to look at something not usually found in small towns: a relatively tall, old building. Not just any building – it was no other than Conrad Hilton’s eighth hotel. Opened in 1929 as the Falls Hotel, it had nine floors and contained 110 rooms. As people came from all over during the mineral water era, they could use an underground tunnel to get from the hotel to a bathhouse across the street.
A fire has since destroyed the bathhouse and the underground tunnel, and today a park is in the place where it once stood. With the hotel closed for many years, there have been efforts to reopen it and even build a bathhouse or two, but nothing has come to fruition yet.
After we got done with the hotel, we went to look at the Allen Hospital just down the street. Yet another abandoned building, it was built in 1916 by Dr. Walter Allen, a prominent resident of the town. Over the years, the building has taken on many roles: hospital, halfway house, and finally apartments before being damaged in a fire in 2014.
Upon finishing up at the hospital, we then strolled down the street to another out of place sight: a mansion style house. Built in 1911, this house belonged to Dr. Allen and his wife Nettie, and was occupied by members of the Allen family up until a year after the death of Dr. Allen’s wife in the mid-1950s.
It was then donated by a member of the family to the community for use as a social and community center. Today, the house is open for tours and can be booked for events and private gatherings.
From there, we went to check out the City Hall. I have to say, this is one of the smallest City Hall buildings I have seen to date. I could see a man in there, seemingly just sitting around lazily. Typical for a small town.
Before heading back to Waco, we passed by the Falls County Courthouse. The design kinda reminded me of the Jack County Courthouse, more squarish than grand on the architecture side of things. This courthouse serves a population of 17,142 people across 774 square miles. On a Monday, there were a few people coming and going to conduct business, unlike the rest of Marlin which was pretty much dead.
I’m sure there was more we could have seen, and Raul offered to show us the original location of Marlin as it existed (possibly in the 1800s) down the road, but we had to head back so that we could all enjoy lunch before heading to the airport.
Once in Waco, we went to Fazoli’s Italian, one of my favorite Italian places. Those breadsticks are so delicious I’ll fly down here just to get some! The entrees are very reasonably priced, and the portions are quite big. A top notch choice for sure.
After lunch, Mitchell and Raul took me back to the Waco Regional Airport. As we pulled up to the private terminal, we noticed that there was a military aircraft expo going on, and we got to take a look inside a bomber aircraft. In the hangar, a guy was selling helicopter rides in a Vietnam era helicopter for $100 a person..maybe next time! Definitely cool.
The flight back was a bit bumpy due to the cold front that had just moved thru yesterday, but it wasn’t too bad. Got back to the Grand Prairie airport just in time, even with a bit of a headwind from the north.
All in all, this was one of the most interesting small town trips I have gone on, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Mitchell and Raul showing the way and telling stories that only the insiders would know! When I initially heard about all the cool history surrounding “the Hot Mineral Water City of Texas”, I was intrigued and knew that this was a trip I had to take, if just to experience those magic waters for myself. One more county crossed off the list!