Balmorhea State Park

History

Precious water

Canal meandering through trees.San Solomon Springs has provided water for humans and animals for thousands of years. Big game hunters may have gathered at springs in the Balmorhea area around 11,000 years ago.

Native Americans also used the springs before explorers and settlers came to the area. In 1849, the springs were known as Mescalero Springs, for the Mescalero Apache who watered their horses here.

Agriculture

Mexican farmers called the springs “San Solomon Springs.” They dug the first canals by hand, and then used the water to irrigate crops. They sold those crops to residents of Fort Davis.

With plentiful water and the arrival of the railroad, a cattle ranching industry emerged in the 1880s.

In 1927, the Bureau of Reclamation dredged the springs and constructed a canal to better harness their flow.

Today, after the spring water flows through the pool and cienegas, it enters irrigation canals and travels about 3.5 miles east to Balmorhea Lake. Farmers today use that water to irrigate thousands of acres of crops such as alfalfa and cotton.

Creating a park

The State Parks Board acquired nearly 46 acres around San Solomon Springs in 1934. Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1856 built the park between 1935 and 1940.


CCC workers and supervisors pose in the bed of the pool.

Civilian Conservation Corps

Imagine yourself with little food, less money and no job. This was the case for many Americans during the Great Depression.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The CCC provided jobs and job skills by hiring young men to work on conservation projects. The program enrolled men between the ages of 17 and 25 who qualified for public assistance. They earned clothing, food, medical care and $30 a month; they sent $25 of that home to their families.

Building Balmorhea

CCC Company 1856 arrived here in July 1934. They first built barracks, a mess hall and a kitchen to support 130 to 200 men and their supervisors. This would be home for the next few years.

The CCC men crafted a 1.75-acre pool around the springs, along with a concession building, two bath houses, San Solomon Courts, and other improvements in the park. They used local limestone and fashioned adobe bricks for building materials.

After laboring all day, the men enjoyed evenings in the rec hall and an occasional baseball game, dance or play. Many worked on skills training or correspondence courses at night.

What’s in a name?

The park’s name comes from four men’s surnames:  E.D. Balcom, H.R. Morrow, Joe Rhea and John Rhea:  Bal-mor-hea. These men formed an irrigation company in the area in the early 20th century.

Vacation destination

PostcardPostcardIn the 1930s and early 1940s, troops and horses of the 1st Cavalry from Fort Bliss, Texas, camped nearby. They were among the first to enjoy the newly-built park.

The park became a center for travelers touring the area by car and a gateway stop for those heading to the popular Davis Mountains.

Private concessionaires ran the park for many years, until the state took over in 1968. Today, more than 200,000 people visit Balmorhea State Park each year.

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