Big dreams at auction

Editor’s Note: Check back The Dallas Morning News Archive.

“Welcome is the stranger in my doors who finds me with more properties of beauty and health than Venice, more culture than Athens. I must have more history than Rome. Fate has given to the world, but a of my kind I AM TIOGA.

WA McDonald, extract from “The fountain of youth” in Herald Tioga (1919)

Part of Sanborn’s Fire Insurance Card (1914), courtesy of the Library of Congress. Tioga is highlighted north of D-FW.(Sanborn fire insurance card)

The original 1982 headline read: “FOR SALE: TEXAS TOWN”.

The city? Tioga, Texas, in the middle of “Horse Country” just north of Dallas-Fort Worth on US Highway 377. Later that same year, an auction was held and a Houston buyer made the winning bid. . Tioga, or at least 6.27 acres in its downtown area, was sold for $ 200,000.

The 1982 sale was not the city’s first foray into offers to revamp the community. The morning news from Dallas returns to the small town which attracted patrons and buyers to major projects.

The backstory

The history of the city neither began nor ended with this sale.

Tioga is best known for his famous son, Hollywood star Gene Autry. Before Autry, “America’s favorite singing cowboy,” the main draw was its mineral waters renowned for their healing properties.

A 1902 advertisement for Rains' Tioga mineral water wells.
A 1902 advertisement for Rains’ Tioga mineral water wells.(DMN)

According to I remember Things: One Informal The story of Tioga, Texas, originally from Ross Estes, originally from Tioga, the mineral water industry has helped it become a bustling city. He said: “… it was a destination: people came by train, wagon and horseback to bathe and drink Tioga mineral water.”

From the 1880s to the 1930s, Dallas residents listened to advertisements in The news and headed north in search of cures for ailments ranging from indigestion to rheumatism.

A 1912 advertisement for the Tioga Commercial Club.
A 1912 advertisement for the Tioga Commercial Club.(DMN)

Over time, the city’s popularity waned, and industry-related businesses went out of business. By the time Autry rose to fame in the 1930s, the mineral water industry had almost dried up.

Auction number one

Tioga is called Autry’s hometown, as is the Texas State Historical Association and Gene Autry’s official website, but the claim is disputed by Oklahoma historians. What is agreed is that Autry was born right next to Tioga in 1907 and eventually moved to the Northern State before becoming a Hollywood star.

Undated photo of Gene Autry.  © Buena Vista Home Entertainment.  All rights reserved.
Undated photo of Gene Autry. © Buena Vista Home Entertainment. All rights reserved.(Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

In the 1930s, when it became famous, Autry offered to restore the city in exchange for a name change. The name? Autry Springs.

According to Ross Estes, there were several sides of the story. One version said it was Autry who wanted to build a hotel for visitors seeking spa treatment. A second iteration had Autry supporters pushing the offer with their eyes set on revitalizing the mineral water industry. To sweeten the deal, they promised to shoot a movie in Tioga if the name was changed.

An opinion piece in The McKinney Examiner from 1936 listed the arguments against the change. The author claimed that Autry was born in neighboring Cooke County and not in Tioga, that he had only lived in Tioga for two years, and that his family no longer resided in the area.

Different versions, same result. Tioga remained Tioga and Autry remained in California.

Auction number two

In the mid-1970s, Dallas residents Jim and Deedie Wendover began purchasing buildings downtown

Tioga. First, they opened an antique store called The Gilded Cage and nicknamed the town “Antique Town, USA” (also spelled “Antiquetown”). One of their main goals? Revitalize the city’s mineral water industry.

Jim Wendover outside his store, The Gilded Cage, in downtown Tioga (1982).
Jim Wendover outside his store, The Gilded Cage, in downtown Tioga (1982).(DMN)

Wendover’s story: According to a 1975 article in The news, the Wendovers wanted to renovate the buildings in downtown Tioga in an Old West style and reopen a health spa. Rather than bidding to buy the whole city or part of the city, they made several purchases over a few years.

Part of their plan was the creation of a company, Tioga Mineral Water, and the now defunct monthly event, Western Trade Days, which drew crowds from D-FW. They also encouraged others to open businesses in Tioga, such as the Clark’s Outpost restaurant which still operates today.

1974 advertisement for the Tioga Western Trade Days.
1974 advertisement for the Tioga Western Trade Days.(DMN)

Coverage of the Wendover-Tioga story waned with Deedie’s death in 1977. For a few years Jim remained the primary landlord of downtown Tioga, but in 1982 he decided to leave it behind.

For sale

In August 1982 Jim Wendover put the town of Tioga up for sale.

At least, that’s what the headlines were saying. In fact, it was 6.27 downtown acres that included Wendover’s business, The Gilded Cage, as well as around $ 100,000 in antiques. In total, these were 14 of the 18 downtown buildings.

A headline on the front page of August 15, 1982.
A headline on the front page of August 15, 1982.(DMN)

The news asked Autry if he was interested in making an offer, but he declined, citing his age.

Two months later, in October 1982, the Austin American-Stateman reported that 1,000 visitors attended the Wendover property auction because they mistakenly thought the whole town was sold.

At that auction, Houston developer John Grice bought 80% of the city for $ 200,000. About the purchase, Grice said The news, “I can wake up tonight and say, ‘My God, what have I done? “”

Photo of developer John Grice in downtown Tioga after his purchase of the Wendover property on October 3, 1982.
Photo of developer John Grice in downtown Tioga after his purchase of the Wendover property on October 3, 1982.(Jan Sonnenmair)

A week later, when Grice was arrested for writing hot checks, he may have repeated the question.

How was his arrest related to his purchase of Tioga? Well the purchase was covered in Texas newspapers including The news, and some have printed his photo. In Houston, as reported in an October 9, 1982 article, a Harris County agent recognized Grice, which led to her arrest. The officer asked, “I wondered how a man can buy a city when he can’t even pay a few bad checks.

Headline from the Dallas Morning News from October 9, 1982.
Headline from the Dallas Morning News from October 9, 1982.(DMN)

An insured real estate agent The news that the Tioga sale was still despite Grice’s arrest. Agent Corkey Grundei said Grice was only an intermediary for another buyer. Wearing multiple hats, Grundei was also the Grayson The County Constable and Arrested Grice on the charges.

This is where things go wrong.

In February 1983, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported that Wendover continued the couple Grice and Dallas Charles and Shirley Thedford for breach of a contract to purchase his Tioga property. Their down payment failed due to insufficiency fund, leaving Wendover as owner.

In March 1983, the Kilgore News Herald updated the North Texans once Following. This time, Wendover said he would wait for the land value to increase before listing your Tioga property again. Today most of the city center the properties belong to different people.


Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner Mark Cuban did what Grice and Wendover ultimately couldn’t, or didn’t want to do. He recently bought the whole town of Mustang, Texas, an hour south of Dallas on Interstate 45 near Corsicana.

Steve Brown from The news reported that the Cuban purchase was for Mustang’s 77 acres. Tioga’s land area, on the other hand, is more than 10 times larger than 1.3 square miles or 832 acres, while the land area owned by Wendover was only 6.27 acres.

A call to Tioga Town Hall illustrated the fame and the passage of time. City workers on the other end of the phone immediately recognized Gene Autry’s name, but not Jim Wendover or John Grice. The era of Wendover and Grice was short-lived, while one street was named after Autry, and in the early 2000s, Tioga hosted the annual Gene Autry Music Festival.

The Gene Autry Music Festival 2002 featured entertainment, cowboy games, live music and more.
The Gene Autry Music Festival 2002 featured entertainment, cowboy games, live music and more.(DMN)

Although Tioga’s business enterprises do not have The news recently, according to the city of Tioga website, the city has a growing business community and is actively seeking new establishments. Whether it’s mineral waters, antique shops or restaurants, the options aren’t limited to stories from the past.

Want to learn more about local history? Become a Dallas Morning News subscribed to

Comments are closed.