By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
The story of how Farwell was founded nearly 100 years ago really begins in Chicago. That’s where two merchandising brothers took up an offer from the state of Texas to build a new capitol building in Austin, and where the transformation of the western Panhandle began.
In September, the town will officially turn 100 years old, local historian Hugh Moseley said. But town folk and chamber members of Farwell went ahead and celebrated the 100-year anniversary at their chamber banquet Saturday night.
“When the railroad came through the little towns began to pop up along the railroad,” Moseley said. In this area the railroad was coming through around the turn of the century.
However, he said the story of how the town got its name really starts in 1882, when the Farwell brothers of Chicago won a contract to build the capitol building in Austin.
The old Texas capitol building burned in 1881, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. In exchange for the building, the State of Texas offered 3 million acres of land along the west side of the Texas Panhandle — what would later become the famous XIT ranch.
In the late 19th century, Texas was rich in land and low on funds, Moseley said.
“The building, when completed, would be the seventh largest in the world,” said Moseley. It was a colossal undertaking, and by the end about $3.7 million would be spent to erect the structure. In today’s dollars, that building would cost more $70 million dollars, according to statistical abstracts from the United States.
The Farwell brothers were the leading investors in what was called the Capitol Syndicate, the company that gathered together the funds for the building project and for operation of the XIT ranch. Those moneys came from many sources, including a rich British investor named the Earl of Aberdeen.
The XIT ranch was the largest fenced ranch in the world in the late 1800s, larger even than the state of Connecticut, Moseley said.
“What are you going to do with 3 million acres out here in no man’s land in Texas? Not but one thing to do, and that’s build a ranch on it, which they did,” Moseley said. “They bought barbed wire by the box-car load.”
James D. Hamlin was the Texas representative of the Capitol Syndicate, and he lived in the area.
He founded Farwell’ in 1905 and named it in honor of the brothers, Moseley said. The Farwell town site was surveyed in September of that year, and on Dec. 26, 1906, the Farwell Post Office was established.
Hamlin believed the town would be a metropolis someday, but his dream was not realized.
“The climate was right, but we just didn’t have the water before irrigation was discovered,” Moseley said. He added, “Farwell is so close to Clovis, that it hadn’t been able to grow much.”
According to recent U.S. Census reports, the population of Farwell has been between 1,300 and 1,500 since 1970.
Today, the Texas capitol building built by the Farwell brothers still stands in Austin. However, over the course of about 30 years, the XIT ranch went bankrupt and was shut down in 1912. Later the land was parceled off by real estate developers in an attempt to draw more settlers, according to the Handbook of Texas Online.
Moseley was the chairman of a historical board for many years that produced books about Panhandle history. He was also the Parmer County clerk for eight years.
Residents of Farwell may also celebrate the anniversary at the annual Border Town Days in July, city officials said.
The Farwell brothers from Chicago:
• Charles B. Farwell was elected to congress as a Republican in 1870. In 1887 he was elected to the U.S. Senate to fill a vacancy.
• John V. Farwell was an elector for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. In 1869 he was appointed a comissioner for indian affairs by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Source: Local historian Hugh Moseley