A man holds a vintage photograph in front of a stained-glass window
Panhandle mayor Doyle Robinson holds a photo of the original building that now houses Buffalo Grass Music Hall.
Originally named Carson City, the town of Panhandle was a community of 30,000 during the late 1920s oil boom. When bigger black gold strikes hit Borger and Pampa, about 20 miles to the north and northeast, respectively, that’s where the jobs and the people chasing them went. Today, the population of Panhandle, not to be confused with the region for which it was named, is around 2,300, and the Pantex nuclear assembly and disassembly plant is the biggest employer. Main Street is in the midst of a rebirth, with the sound of power saws almost drowning out the train horn. “We’re proving that history can be something a community can build on,” says Mayor Doyle Robinson, a born-and-raised Panhandle Panther and retired farmer and rancher who serves in the role as an unpaid volunteer. Four years ago, Robinson and his wife of 51 years, Brenda, bought a 120-year-old building on Main Street with dreams of opening a music hall. The building had been vacant for 60 years and was in such bad shape they had a carpenter friend assess if remodeling was even an option. “Fred [Leisher] saw something in that building that nobody else saw, and with his skills and vision it morphed from an eyesore into a music venue that attracts musicians from all over the country,” Robinson says. It opened in September 2020 as Buffalo Grass Music Hall.

If You Build It

“We had about two concerts a month at Buffalo Grass Music Hall in the beginning, mostly featuring locals. But when word got out there was a listening room with great acoustics and attentive audiences between Colorado and Dallas-Fort Worth, we started getting calls from all sorts of booking agents. On most nights, there are a couple $50 bills in the tip jar at the front entrance.”

Off the Rails

“Our city hall is in a train station. Rent is a dollar a year, but we maintain and insure the depot, which was built in 1926 and is still owned by the Santa Fe Railway. The train doesn’t stop here anymore, but we hear it whiz by.”

 

Fountain of Nostalgia

“Strangely enough, we don’t have any antique stores in town, but Panhandle Drug Store goes back to the 1920s, and it still has the original soda fountain. They moved to the current location in the ’60s, and the place still looks like it did back then.”

 

Fixer Upper

“The Panhandle Inn was once the finest hotel between Denver and Fort Worth. It was built in the Southwest Pueblo style in 1924. The inn closed in 1972 but is still standing. There have been many attempts to restore it, but they’ve all failed. Currently, Amarillo’s Barfield Hotel developers have had architects study the feasibility of restoration. We’ve been told the walls are sound. We’re all hoping this group can bring life back to this unique hotel.”

 

Comfort Food

“If you want a good chicken-fried steak or smothered pork chops, we’ve got Downtown Home Cooking. It’s takeout only, but you can eat at the City Park Gazebo outside the courthouse. There’s also Panther Pizza, and Brickstreet 200 for steaks, burgers, and shrimp.”

 

Caffeine Habit

“The Coffee Break is unusual because it’s run by Catholic nuns from the convent just southeast of town. It’s open only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from
9 to 11 a.m. The baked goods are fantastic, especially the pies.”

 

Town MVP

“We have some special residents like Dixie Surratt, who has been the backbone of just about every civic board. She helped reorganize Garretson Center, which had sat vacant for five years but now serves as a senior and community center that feeds 80 to 90 people twice a week.”

 

Cast of Characters

“Individuals can make a big difference in a small town, but only with the support of the community. You have to listen to each other—that’s the key. Some people call Panhandle ‘the Mayberry of Texas,’ where you don’t have to lock your doors at night. But it’s really about the camaraderie.”

Town Trivia:

Population:
2,284

Number of Stoplights:
1

Year founded:
1888

Nearest City:
Amarillo, 28 miles southwest

Marquee Event:
Museum Day, every September

Map it:

Buffalo Grass Music Hall, 123 Main St.

From the November 2023 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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