Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Don Crofton, Part I

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history, Personal History

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

Don Crofton (Photo courtesy of Donald Crofton)

     Born in 1939, Don Crofton moved to Flour Bluff from Corpus Christi in 1946 because his dad, James Albinus Crofton, wanted to live in the country.  Don’s father was a former B-26 bomber crew chief in the army air corps who had taken a job at Dow Chemical, which is what brought him to Texas from Shreveport, Louisiana.  However, it was his job as a draftsman at NAS Corpus Christi that brought led him to Flour Bluff and introduced him to J.B. Duncan, a man whose family had helped settle the Encinal Peninsula. Duncan sold James Crofton an acre of land with a house on it on a sandy road called Flour Bluff Drive.  There, he moved his wife Louise and four of his ten children. The lot where the Crofton house stood is where the small gas plant near Murphy’s gas station is located today, just at the edge of what was then the Burton Dunn Ranch.

     In those days, people didn’t waste materials.  When the base dumped its left-over wood of all kinds – many times at Graham’s dump on Flour Bluff Drive – the civilian workers and the locals salvaged the materials and built their homes.  Such was the case with the Crofton home, which was built by Duncan using quarter-inch plywood from shipping crates off the base.  This attitude of making something out of nothing still exists in the Flour Bluff culture.  People on the Encinal Peninsula understood the concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle long before it became a popular thing to say and do.  They did it out of necessity.

     “We didn’t realize we were poor,” said Crofton, the seventh of the ten kids.  “Our family took care of us and loved us.  What else could we want?”

     The house had no running water, so a shallow well was dug by hand.  “We hit water at 16 feet.  It was a reddish-brown color, and it tasted really bad,” recalls Crofton.  “My mom would ask people if they wanted some tea. To this day, I don’t drink water except out of fountains.”

Johnny Crofton stands looking at the Crofton house with the Tex-Mex railroad tracks and Flour Bluff Drive behind him.  (Photo courtesy of Don Crofton)

     Crofton recalls much about the property where he grew up.  “Our property was lower than the railroad tracks, so it flooded a lot.  We got a lot of rain back then,” said Crofton.  “We had trouble with rattlesnakes, too.  In one day we killed 26 of them, and one of them was in a mixing bowl in my mother’s kitchen!”

     When asked how he and his siblings and friends spent their days at home, Crofton said, “We played football, hunted a lot, chased javelina.  When we moved there, everything was brush except where our house, the chicken coop, and the well sat. Daddy had me, Tootsie, and George clearing the property.  It was so slow cutting that brush.”

One Thanksgiving, just after dinner when Don’s father lay down for his nap, the kids had the idea to burn the brush.  This was at a time when there was no fire department of any kind in Flour Bluff.  “We got it out and saved the cat, but George lost his shoes,” said Crofton, “Boy, was our dad mad!”

     After that, Crofton’s parents hired two old bachelors who drove the area in a Model T boom truck.  “They had two mules that they used to plow and harrow it.  We made a big pile of the roots and burned them,” said Crofton.  “These guys worked all over Flour Bluff clearing brush land.”

     “I heard tell of a place called Welcome Inn, a restaurant on the west side of Flour Bluff Drive at Graham Road, but I never saw it.  J.B. Duncan lived down by the Oso on Graham Road,” said Crofton.  “South of Graham was Tom Graham’s place.  He had a dump and a slaughter house on his property.  Far back on that property was the Hatley house where Charles Hatley grew up.”

     Bobby Kimbrell, long-time Flour Bluff resident, also recalls the Welcome Inn.  “It was owned by a fellow named De Gashe.  He was kin to the Buhiders,” said Kimbrell.  “Don is right about its location.  It sat on Graham Road and Flour Bluff Drive.”

     

The Crofton house located at 1406 Flour Bluff Drive well after Louise Crofton sold it: “Our daddy would have had a fit if he had seen our house looking like this,” said Crofton.  (Photo courtesy of Don Crofton)

 

     Crofton also remembers a house fire that took a house near his when he was about ten years old.  It was the home of Laura Dunn Burton, aunt of Greg Smith, current District 4 Councilman for Corpus Christi.  “They evidently had silver platters and pitchers and such on shelves above the windows.  The fire was so hot that it melted them.  I will never forget the melted silver running down the windows.”

     Smith said the house sat on the Burton Dunn Ranch, 52 acres near Don Crofton’s home.  “It was bought by Burton Dunn in 1919 to hold the cattle that came off of Padre Island,” said Smith.  He couldn’t recall how the house caught fire but said the long concrete porch was the only thing that remained after the fire.  “The cowboys who lived on the ranch tried to put it out but couldn’t.”

     Crofton, like so many Flour Bluff residents who lived on the peninsula in 1961, remembers what would become known as the most controversial election in Flour Bluff history.  It was the day that Flour Bluff residents voted to incorporate on the same day that the City of Corpus Christi voted to annex the area.

     “My father used to ask why we didn’t just incorporate the area from our house to Mud Bridge where there weren’t any streets, only houses. He said we didn’t really need to go into the city for anything anyway.  ‘We could call it Plum Nelly – plum outta Corpus and Nelly in Flour Bluff,’ Crofton recalled his father saying.  According to Don, the Flour Bluff sign was much farther inside the peninsula then.

     Don started school at North Beach Elementary and then went to David Hirsch Elementary before enrolling in Flour Bluff when he was in third grade.  On the first day of school in Flour Bluff, George, Johnny, Tootsie, and Don went to school on the bus.  “We used to walk to school and back every day, which was about two miles.  But, on our first day at Flour Bluff, we caught the bus.  Flour Bluff had two bus drivers then, Mr. Meeks and Don Barr,” said Crofton.  When the bus arrived at the school, George asked Don if it was the right place.  Don didn’t know so he asked the bus driver where they were.  When the bus driver told them it was grammar school, a term the boys had never heard, Don looked at George and said, “Oh, no, George, we’re in the wrong place.  Let’s go!”  That was just the start of Don’s days at Flour Bluff School where he excelled.

Charles B. Meeks (left) and Don G. Barr (right) were the “Hive Keepers” of Flour Bluff School, according to the 1947 Hornet yearbook.  (Photo from 1947 Hornet Yearbook)

     Ms. Carter was his teacher. “If you acted up, she’d grab your desk and shake it,” said Don.  “Of course, she used a ruler on our hands, too.  We never wrote in print either; everything had to be in cursive.  I remember that she had a picture of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod above the chalk board.”

Don is in the front row, third from the right.  The teacher pictured is Dorothy Arnold, though Miss Carter was his teacher in third grade.  (Photo courtesy of Don Crofton)

Second Grade page from 1946-47 Junior Hornet Yearbook, proof that the students were writing cursive well in second grade at Flour Bluff School.

     Flour Bluff School was not very big when started there, but it was a place he liked.  “We had Sticker Burr Stadium and Doty’s Beans,” Crofton said.  “We ate in a little wooden building next to the school.  Miss Doty cooked a pot of beans every day for the kids who didn’t have lunch or money for lunch.  We called them Doty’s Beans.  We also got a big spoon of peanut butter and a big spoon of black molasses with every meal.”

     Don would remain in Flour Bluff School until 1957 when he graduated second in his class behind Nora Jean Wright, the valedictorian.  Crofton received the title of salutatorian, which earned him a scholarship from the school. Jim Duncan, who came in at a very close third, received a duplicate scholarship.  Don would find himself back at the school many years later, this time on the other side of the teacher’s desk.

 

Clipping from Corpus Christi Caller Times

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Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read more about the days gone by in Flour Bluff.  To share these stories about Flour Bluff history with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

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Stories of Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was (#3)

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history, Military
Waldron Field, 1943

 

     Since the posting of article #2 in this series, more information regarding the 1943 Flour Bluff High School that was later converted to the junior high has come to light.  On April 1, 1943, Waldron Field, one of the two auxiliary air fields in Corpus Christi still in use, was commissioned. Today, young Navy pilots use it to practice landings, with the southeast corner dedicated in the early 1970s to little league fields for the children of the Flour Bluff community.  The partnership between the United States naval base that sits on the northern part of the Encinal Peninsula and the Flour Bluff School that sits on the southern part is one that changed Flour Bluff forever.

The building in the bottom left corner is the school built by the federal government in 1943, the same year that Waldron Field was built.

    The arrival of military personnel in 1941 often brought families, too. County School No. 22, aka Flour Bluff School, boomed like so many schools in the area with the influx of new residents to the area, attracted to the Naval Air Station.  In response to the need for additional classrooms, the Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency awarded a contract for construction of a junior-senior high school at Flour Bluff to Chamberlain & Strain, Corpus Christi and San Antonio contractors, for $150,872 in April of 1942.  The school pictured above was not completed by the start of the fall of 1942, but it was ready to house the additional students by the 1943-1944 school year.

   In 1948, under the leadership of Superintendent E. J. Wranosky, Flour Bluff residents voted to become an independent school district.  Still the relationship between the base and the school continued to strengthen.  John Wranosky (son of E. J. Wranosky who graduated Flour Bluff in 1964 and went on to work in the Maintenance and Transportation Department of the school for many years) said that the high school remained the property of the federal government until 1953 when they sold it to FBISD for $1.00.  He also answered the questions about the unusual shape of the building.

     “The building was designed to look like a naval facility.  It had a glass enclosure at the top of the office that represented a lighthouse,”  said Wranosky.  This is consistent with the story Don Crofton relates about the structure, and it validates the theory that it was made to look like the ramps and tower at Waldron Field.  “The main part of the building even had circular windows like those found on a ship,” added Wranosky.  “After the school took ownership of the building, we added two more wings, creating a patio off the backside of the gym.”

Blueprint showing wings to be added in 1954 (Thanks to Clayton Pocius, FBISD Director of Maintenance & Transportation, for providing this blueprint)
Aerial view of original 1943 high school with wings added in 1954

     When I attended that school, I remember buying snacks at a concession stand that was attached to the back of the gym and faced into the patio/courtyard area.  I also recall many a naughty boy receiving swats in the middle of that patio.  Our teachers would not allow us to look as the punishment was meted out, but the sound of the paddle echoing off the walls that surrounded the patio was deterrent enough – at least for most of us.  This is not a criticism of school personnel “licks” to students; it’s just a memory of a time gone by.  At least, now we have the rest of the story surrounding the old high school and a bit more information on the active role the Navy took in helping Flour Bluff, the little town that almost was.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

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Stories of Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was

Flour Bluff, History, Human Interest, Local history, Personal History
Flour Bluff School, 1939

     In the past few weeks, I have been inundated with all kinds of stories about Flour Bluff and Flour Bluff Schools.  One of my favorites came from Don Crofton, Flour Bluff resident since 1946. His story is attached to the wooden building just to the right of the main school building in the picture above.  It was a pier-and-beam building that was used as the cafeteria.  As Don tells it, many of the children who attended the school sometimes forgot their lunches, or the family had nothing to send for them.  To fix that problem, the lady who ran the cafeteria, Mrs. Dody, always had a pot of beans ready to serve anyone who had no lunch.  This filling meal became known as “Dody’s Beans.”  She had a free lunch program going even then to take care of the children she served.

Flour Bluff School, 1948

     Crofton also told me that he remembered a “lighthouse-type” structure at the top of the high school building. He said it was lighted by the sun but did not actually send out a beam of light. This really peaked my interest, so I started asking what others recalled.

     Greg Smith, lifetime resident of Flour Bluff, local historian, and current District 4 councilman, told me that he remembers a story about the shape of the building being made to resemble a plane, which would make the “lighthouse” the “cockpit.” Though he admits the story makes good sense considering how much influence NAS Corpus Christi had in Flour Bluff in the forties, but he could not validate the story as the absolute truth.

     Mike Johnson, a member of one of the original families of Flour Bluff said, “There was a dome above the front entrance and offices. All I ever saw up there was sweaty athletic uniforms.”

     Crofton added, “Yes, there were a lot of smelly football uniforms!”

Flour Bluff Football Field, 1956

 

     Another story came to me from John Stanley via Facebook.  Stanley moved to Flour Bluff in 1946 and recalls playing football on the sandy, sticker-covered field near the high school that is pictured.  “I moved to Flour Bluff in 1946. There was a dome on the high school, but I never saw any outside light like a lighthouse. There was a big room up there with various old equipment. When I was in the 6th grade we were taken up there to pick a football helmet. Those helmets were not like anything I have ever seen. They probably came from Navy Surplus, having large, hinged ear flaps. We wore those for the junior high games and played on the field which was located just north of the high school. One end of the field was full of grass burs. We played bare footed, with blue jeans and the helmet…no shirts. Most competitive teams were a little better dressed. On one occasion, the other team complained that our bare bones were injuring their players. We put on tee shirts and continued the game.”

     Joyce Dilley Pfannenstein spoke well of the education she received at Flour Bluff Schools under the leadership of Superintendent E. J. Wranosky.   “I was fortunate to have attended Flour Bluff all 12 years of school. I had the experience in my career of teaching in a parochial school, and I can say that we learned more values and how to treat others as well as the academics under Mr. Wranosky’s leadership. My class’s senior trip was the first time I had ever been outside Texas. I will always appreciate the education and opportunities that school provided. That was way before air-conditioned classrooms. We thought we were fortunate to have electric fans!”

     If you have a story to tell about the history of Flour Bluff, please send it to shirley.thornton3@sbcglobal.net.  My goal is to gather the stories and share them so that they don’t get lost over time.  Together we should be able to piece together the history of Flour Bluff, the little town that almost was.

Note:  All add-ons and corrections to existing stories are welcomed and encouraged.  We want to be as accurate as possible.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Please follow and like us: