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Julia Cauble Smith

BIG LAKE, TEXAS. Big Lake is on State Highway 137, U.S. Highway 67, and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway seven miles north of the Crockett county line in south central Reagan County. In 1905 the Coates family settled on the west side of the water-filled depression called Big Lake, a landmark holding the only fresh water between the Concho rivers and Comanche Springs at Fort Stockton. The Taylor family took up land on the east side of the water. In 1911 T. H. Taylor sold 320 acres of land to the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway of Texas for a townsite and station. The townsite, named for the lake located two miles to the south, was laid out, and a stock pen was built to hold cattle for railroad shipment. A boxcar became the depot, and a hotel with family-style dining was established. The Nairn family opened a grocery store near the tracks, and the Anderson family began a general mercantile store. W. W. Coates and A. H. Garner installed a line from Stiles, the county seat, to Big Lake to give the community telephone service. A public school was started with fifteen students in a small building that later became the Methodist parsonage. The town was ready for the arrival of the railroad. In 1912 the KCM&O built tracks from Mertzon to Girvin by way of Big Lake, and a post office was established. By fall of 1915 forty to fifty people lived in the community.

On May 28, 1923, oil was discovered in Reagan County near the town of Big Lake (see BIG LAKE OILFIELD). That summer, oil leases sold for quick profits for local landowners and out-of-town speculators. Several new cafes, a hardware store, and a lumberyard opened to profit from the expected Big Lake boom; the hotel was expanded by a twelve-room addition; and Big Lake citizens voted to incorporate on August 15. In 1925, when a population of 100 was reported and when Big Lake appeared to be the most important town in the county, it became the county seat. The town grew to a population of 1,500 by 1927 and to 2,000 by the next year.

But the Great Depression brought the population down to 832 in 1931, when the number of businesses was reported at sixty. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Big Lake settled into the role of a supply town for the local oil industry; the population dropped as low as 763, and the number of businesses varied between twenty-five and sixty-five. On May 23, 1951, the Spraberry Trend area was brought into production in Reagan County. Big Lake experienced another modest but sustained oil boom. Its population increased to 2,140 in 1952, to 2,600 in 1956, to 2,668 in 1961, and to 3,098 in 1966. The number of businesses during these years was about seventy-five. During the 1970s the population remained between 2,345 and 2,942, and the number of businesses bounced between fifty and seventy-eight. From 1982 to 1991 Big Lake had a population of more than 3,400 and between seventy-five and 100 businesses. In 1990 the population was 3,672. In 2000 the population dropped to 2,885.

Julia Cauble Smith, The Early Development of the Big Lake Field, Reagan County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas of the Permian Basin, 1988). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. J. L. Werst, Jr., ed., The Reagan County Story (Big Lake, Texas: Reagan County Historical Survey Committee, 1974).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Julia Cauble Smith, "BIG LAKE, TX," accessed July 12, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/HGB07.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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