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Amarillo and Vicinity (Potter County)

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The Amarillo town site was surveyed in 1887 on the Fort Worth and Denver City (FW&DC) Railway. The site was near a lake for water supply but was moved a mile east a year later to higher ground. By 1890 the town was one of the world’s busiest cattle-shipping points and was designated the Potter County seat in 1893. The FW&DC was joined by the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad and by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (AO9), and this conjunction of three railroads established Amarillo as the metropolis of the Panhandle. Amarillo continued to prosper after 1900 when the cattle trade gave way to agriculture, and after oil was discovered in the Panhandle in 1921, the city became a headquarters for oil-related businesses. As Amarillo grew, it expanded, with streetcar and, later, automobile suburbs. Amarillo’s three preeminent early architects, Joseph Champ Berry, Guy A. Carlander, and Macon O. Carder, planned and designed buildings for these new subdivisions and throughout the region. All three displayed a talent for an eclectic combination of styles with a modernist abstraction.

As the suburbs grew in the 1920s, taking downtown churches along, the center of Amarillo became more concentrated with commercial buildings, and oil wealth sustained construction into the 1930s. The Potter County Courthouse (AO1) was rebuilt at a more imposing scale in the 1930s, and Amarillo College (AO25) celebrated its maturity as a four-year institution by commissioning new buildings. Amarillo prospered during World War II due to its proximity to the helium industry (a nonflammable gas, produced from natural gas, used in observation balloons and airships) and to the Pantex armaments plant (originally bomb manufacturing, later a nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility).

Significant modern additions to the city’s postwar architecture include two skyscrapers erected by the Amarillo National Bank (AO4), the Arts Center (AO25.1) by Edward Durell Stone, buildings by Paul Rudolph for TV Channel 11 (AO11) and the Harrington Cancer Center (AO30), and a new civic complex (AO7).

Today, Amarillo continues to be sustained by the same activities that defined its history: ranching, agriculture, and oil and gas extraction and processing. Rail and air transportation make it a distribution center.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.

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