EDITOR’S NOTE: Don Abbe, an American West scholar from Lubbock, writes this week’s Caprock Chronicles article. The essay covers a former amusement park located on East 50th Street where it crosses the upper North Fork of the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River just outside Loop 289.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Americans were deeply interested in the American West and the cowboy legend. Western-themed TV shows and movies dominated the airwaves and the box office.
Another byproduct of the Western craze was the creation of Western “towns,” replicas of the typical hamlets that once dotted the West.
Such attractions usually featured board sidewalks, dusty streets and false-front wooden buildings. The recreations were intended to be tourist destinations, and often featured regularly scheduled gunfights, Western-themed miniature golf courses and other such activities.
In Lubbock, the Western phenomena came relatively late.
It came as Rimrock City. The developer, Roland Ponce, built the “city” on the far eastern edge of Lubbock, just outside Loop 289, where it intersects with East 50th Street.
Ponce served as president of Rimrock City and Zoological Gardens. Investors and officers were R.B. Quest, vice president; Kent Clark, viice president; and Mrs. V.V. Clark, A.E. Quest, Carl Clark, George Turner, Ira Williams and Russell Simpkins as officers.
The land, 177 acres, was secured in 1964. Construction began on the first phase of the project soon after, and the complex was opened on May 22, 1965. Many of the buildings and materials were brought from another, but failed, Rimrock City located between Midland and Odessa.
On opening day, Rimrock City contained a variety of structures and attractions. They included a saloon/restaurant (“The Red Garter”), a bank (that was robbed daily), a livery stable, a general mercantile store, a lawyer’s office, a barbershop, a doctor’s office, a blacksmith shop, a small chapel (which held Sunday morning services) and an 18-hole miniature golf course.
Each of the town buildings was a fully functioning structure, complete with antique furnishings and equipment needed to make them “authentic” Western places. The blacksmith could shoe local horses when requested.
The complex also contained a reptile garden, a 2-mile horseback riding trail, a “model” 1863 train locomotive and a track on which it ran, and a private picnic area that was available to visitors. Stagecoach rides were likewise available.
Ponce and the other officers hired C.W. Yeats of Houston to serve as curator of the Zoological Garden. They purchased an elephant and located it in the zoo. They hoped the pachyderm would be a major attraction and draw folks from far and wide.
To feed the elephant, Ponce got Bill McAlister and Lew Dee on their morning radio show in April of 1965 to help raise money to provide food and a good home at the zoo for Norma (the elephant).
Snakes and other wildlife, including bears, buffalo an ostrich and dolphins, were part of the zoo’s many occupants.
The developers hoped to get sponsorships for Rimrock City, with the local businesses taking the lead. The effort did not work.
Plans for a second phase of construction included an 18-hole, regulation PGA golf course, a frontier cavalry post and museum, an indoor/outdoor shooting range, a larger “frontier” restaurant, a trout-fishing pond and a convention auditorium seating 500 people. None of it came to pass.
Fate was unkind to Rimrock City. The interest in all things Western began to fade in the mid-1960s, just when the town was trying to expand.
Besides, Lubbock, with a population of 141,000 , was not large enough to provide a market for a tourist attraction like Rimrock City. Attendance was modest and dropped off dramatically after a few months of operation.
Rimrock City closed its doors in late 1966 or early 1967. Norma the elephant found a new home, and the site entered a long period of decay. The buildings and golf course slowly began to deteriorate. The “alligator” pit (a cement pond) grew only mosquitoes. Many of the buildings, including the chapel and concession stand, were demolished or sold and moved.
By 1971, the town site had come under lease to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Thompson. By 1977, it was crumbling into oblivion and looked like an Old West ghost town. In 1998, it became the property of Brice Chapman, a trick roper and farrier.
Although the old town site has pretty much vanished, Chapman, whose father shod horses at Rimrock City during its heyday, has turned Norma’s house into a blacksmith/horseshoeing shop and the headquarters building into his office. He raises cattle where one can see remnants of the miniature golf course, building foundations and a wall or two that still stand.
People who drive by the site each day can only imagine what turned out to be an ill-timed attempt to bring the Old West back to life along the upper reaches of the Brazos River in Yellow House Canyon.
Chapman hopes to re-establish the miniature golf course and turn old Rimrock City into a company retreat. He has had several weddings at the site he is slowly restoring. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.