Ropesville farmers became lifelong friends
by Ray Westbrook Posted: September 29, 2013
Families who settled in a Depression-era farm project near Ropesville still meet in reunions to recall friendships of the late 1930s.
In a recent gathering at Ropesville’s community building, children of the
pioneers — and one original homeowner — remembered farm life on land that was newly broken out from the Spade Ranch.
The administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had bought the land, equipped it with everything from a home to a horse and plow, a windmill and barn, then invited young families to begin farming with the hope of buying the property later.
One of the requirements for a farm of their own was to not be wealthy.
“They were young people — 20s and 30s — with no money, a lot of determination, a lot of will power, and big dreams,” said Jimmie Rice, whose parents were among those chosen.
“I remember walking out in the yard and seeing horses in the fields all around.”
Work was a universal requirement to settle on a 120-acre farm in the Ropesville Project.
“I recall the day started before daylight. Men would go out and feed the horses and milk the cows, then come back in and breakfast would be ready. Then, they would go to the field and plow until noon, come back in, eat, and go back.
“Life was routine then. You did nothing much except go to bed, get up, milk the cows, feed the hogs, separate the milk for cream, and gather eggs. We sold ours to Furr Food in Lubbock on Saturday.”
Ropesville was such a nationally-watched program that Eleanor Roosevelt, wife
of the president, came to take what probably was a ceremonial drink of water from one of the windmills.
The would-be historical moment became a non-event, though, when a dead bird
was found lodged in the windmill’s pipe, and no water would flow until it was
“A high percentage of the settlers went on to become land owners, business
owners, successful,” Rice said.
Ella Mae Ward remembers she and her husband were a young couple looking for a way to make a living in the Depression.
“When Mr. Wilson from the Farm Home Administration asked us if we would be
interested in a farm down at Ropesville on a project ... we had never even heard
of Ropesville. I was raised at Petersburg mostly.”
After a pause, they were interested.
“We came down here in the spring ... and it was a beautiful sight,” she remembers of the land in 1938.
“The Spade Ranch had been broken out, and it was all in cultivation, virgin land. I was 23, and Charlie was 26. Our little daughter was 31/2 years old.”
She recalls, “We didn’t have electricity then. We had kerosene lights, kerosene cook stove, and a heater in the living room.”
According to Jerry Beth Shannon, the Texas Rural Communities, which
administered the project financially, had received funding authorization in the
summer of 1935. A 4,100-acre tract of land was purchased, and 1,200 applications came in from families hoping to be chosen for the experiment.
“Through a screening and interview process, 33 families were selected and asked to meet at the Hilton Hotel in Lubbock where numbers were drawn to determine which unit each family would receive,” she said of the first portion of the project.
Charles Shannon was 7 when his parents moved from New Deal to Ropesville in
Horse and plow
“I got to drive the horses to plow with. I was pretty small, but Daddy would let me
have a horse and a one-row slide where we were knifing cotton. When we
would get out at the end, the horse wouldn’t mind me, and it turned shorter than
I wanted it to and turned the sled over.”
He remembers, “We turned out school for a month and pulled cotton. When I was
in high school, I would ride my horse over, and we played football on Friday, then go back and pull cotton. Next Friday we would come back, play football, and go back and pull cotton.
“We didn’t have to have loud music to psych us up — we pulled that cotton sack off and we were psyched up!”
Frank Condra still lives in the same house that his parents moved into when he was 6.
“I milked cows and helped feed hogs and chickens, gathered eggs. Everybody
had their chores — everybody,” he remembers.
“The inside of my house is still exactly like it was when we moved here — same floor plan, same cabinets, same everything.”
The houses were built of knotty pine, inside and outside.
“There were lots of restrictions. I remember the whole family had to go to
Lubbock and let a doctor examine us before we could move here just to rent the
land before we bought it.”
Neighbors were important in the Ropesville Project.
According to Rice, when a neighbor would be sick and couldn’t work, everybody
would drop whatever they were doing and go do the neighbor’s work.
Rice remembers there were occasional tears. When his sister, Peggy, was born
in 1939, and the family owned a cow they called Peggy, his brother became
“My brother cried — he thought Daddy and Mother named Peggy after a milk cow.”
Charlie and Ella Mae Ward bought their land with all the mineral rights for $35 an acre a few years after they moved to the Ropesville area.
Charlie passed away 20 years ago, but Ella Mae still lives on the farm and tends to the extensive landscaping of her home.
“We had a good life,” she said. “We had a lot of good times down here, we had
Referring to their first friends from 1938, she said, “All of our friends are gone a long time ago. I can’t believe I’m still here. I will have my 98th birthday the 9th of
She plans to remain in her home on the farm in the Ropesville Project for the
Just like she has done since 1938.