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Your Town, Texas: Granbury

By BJ Austin, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Granbury, southwest of Fort Worth, is best known for its historic courthouse square and quaint shops. But it's also home to 400 millionaires, and some residents who are struggling. This month, the KERA series "Your Town, Texas" visits four cities to see how the economy has affected people, and what they want from government. BJ Austin traveled to Granbury in the Brazos River Valley.

Granbury's slogan is "Where Texas History Lives. Buildings on its historic courthouse square date from the 1800's. And, the courthouse clock tower is among the world's "elite".

Henderson: There are only two Seth Thomas hand-wound clock towers in the world. One is right here, and can anyone guess where the second might be? Big Ben.

That fun factoid, however, is not getting many social media tweets from tourists. Tourism dropped 20% last year. Merchants on the Square are hurting, and banking on Granbury's "spirited" past to scare up some business.

"Welcome, my name is Brandy. I'll be your tour guide this evening

After nightfall on the weekends, Brandy Henderson leads a Ghosts and Legends Tour on the Granbury Square.

Henderson: Now there are several historical figures associated with Granbury, some of whom we may even meet tonight.

The new walking tour, at ten dollars a head, introduces Granbury ghosts: including John St. Helen, a Shakespearean actor who reportedly haunts the historic Opera House. Legend says he was really John Wilkes Booth. And there's the outlaw Jesse James. Residents claim he did not die in a Missouri shootout, but lived to104 in Granbury, and is buried in the town cemetery.

Henderson: Granbury was named after General Hiram Bronson Granbury. That's him peeking through the trees there on his pedestal.

Granbury's Ghosts and Legends tour is a new attraction launched at a time when businesses in the historic district are struggling. Granbury may be home to a lot of wealthy citizens, but many neighbors are scrambling to make ends meet. Dianne Davis owns two businesses on the Square.

Davis: I'm 38% off in one of my restaurants, and 42% off in another. It is in the decline of tourism, the historic district.

Along Highway 377, Granbury's retail strip, business is better. Million-dollar homes and high-rise retirement communities along scenic Lake Granbury bring shoppers and diners to a growing hub of national retail and restaurant chains. Even so, Granbury sales tax revenue is down 10%. And while the unemployment rate is below the state average, jobs are difficult to find.

At the historic Nutt House Hotel on the Square I sat down with several Granbury residents to find out how they're faring, and what would help their community. Troy McMillian is a 25 year old father of two who came to Granbury after he lost his roofing and auto repair jobs in nearby Commanche.

McMillian: It's hard to find a job because there are so many people looking. My wife just went to Job Corps to get special training. I'm networking with everybody I can to try to find something.

Austin: Are you living with relatives?

McMillian: No I'm homeless. And, I live in a tent.

Austin: Where?

McMillian: In the woods. I'm not going to say where.

Austin: And where are your kids?

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McMillian: They're at my in-laws house. I signed over custody to them.

Troy's wife is in Arkansas for six months of Job Corps training. He's depending on the new Granbury Christian Center's food bank for help. Reverend Harold Durham runs it.

Durham: People come by everyday for different needs: clothing, furniture, money, money to meet their bills.

Melinda Ray wishes she could offer Troy a job. She owns the Nutt House Hotel. (That's Nutt with two T's for the Nutt Brothers, among Granbury's founders.) But she had to lay off her hotel manager, and now runs the hotel and the adjoining bookstore herself.

Ray: I had to let my hotel manager go because I couldn't afford to pay a management salary and insurance. That person still hasn't found a job.

Dianne Davis and Bed and Breakfast owner Ron Bleeker have similar stories.

Davis: I've had to cut hours. We've lost a couple of employees, servers and they don't make enough money to stay.

Bleeker: Two years ago, compared to today, we saw a drop off on some dates as much as 50%. You have to divide the hours up as best you can between those staff.

Austin: Is there anything you guys can do to bring back the tourists?

Bleeker: Step back up to the plate with a viable Convention and Visitors bureau. Our city opted to dissolve the Convention and Visitors Bureau. It was we have austere times and so we need to cut salaries, with the exception of staffing at our convention center. And when that happened, when you graph it, whoa, there was another significant drop.

Davis: I agree totally with Ron, that a viable CVB, we need that.

Over the past couple of years Granbury shifted its limited advertising budget to the new, five million dollar Resort and Conference Center on the lake. Charlie McIlvain runs it, and defends the focus on the new conference center, plus its adjoining "beach" and hotel. He says the Center is creating a lot of buzz among regional convention planners, and bookings are ahead of projections.

McIlvain: This has certainly been a positive influence. And this is something else, if this facility had not been here the last two years, with the economy being as flat as it has been, we would have really felt, you know, the economic downturn would have been a lot more critical here in Granbury than it was.

But, Melinda, Dianne and Ron want to see more focus on locally-grown, small business. They say that's where the jobs are.

Melinda: When it comes to providing some kind of incentive to help businesses already here, or to help the small businesses that are a part of the tourism here in Granbury, we don't see this happening.

Dianne: I guarantee if Barnes and Noble raised their head and they thought that they could be convinced to come out on 377, you know they'd be falling all over themselves.

Ron: Go incent her, and enable her to provide those jobs because she can create a job. Now, I can go back and say now I can rehire that hotel manager. And Dianne can say now I can hire one more waitress.

About two weeks ago, the Granbury City Council fired the City Manager over the drop in tourism. The interim manager promises a new tourism-focused advertising campaign soon. Dianne Davis calls it encouraging, and a step toward restoring a balance between the "new" Granbury along Highway 377, and the historic town around the Square. Granbury Finance director Wayne McKethan sees future business for "both" when gas drilling on the Barnett Shale resumes, and the nearby Commanche Peak Nuclear Power plant is expanded in the next few years.

McKethan: And when that comes, they're projecting three to four, or five thousand jobs. And you don't build a nuclear plant with people off the street. You bring in people from all over the world. Which is exactly how Granbury grew back in 1970 when they first built the nuclear plant.

McKethan says a lot of that income will be spent in Granbury: on the retail strip and on the Granbury Square, "Where Texas History Lives."

Henderson: We like to say it's where Texas history never left.

City of Granbury:

Granbury Convention and Visitors Bureau:

Hood County Historical Society:

Email BJ Austin