Big Spring is a city in and the county seat of Howard County, Texas, United States, at the crossroads of U.S. Highway 87 and Interstate 20. With a population of 27,291 at the 2010 census, it is the largest city between Midland to the west, Abilene to the east, Lubbock to the north, and San Angelo to the south. Big Spring was established as the county seat of Howard County in 1882; it is the largest community in the county.
The city got its name from the single, large spring that issued into a small gorge between the base of Scenic Mountain and a neighboring hill in the southwestern part of the city limits. Although the name is sometimes still mistakenly pluralized, it is officially singular. "To the native or established residents who may wince at the plural in Big Spring, it should be explained that until about 1916, when for some unexplained reason the name dropped the final 's', the official name of the town was indeed Big Springs." Also, a small community named Big Springs, Texas is located in Rusk County in East Texas.
Although the area had long been a popular watering hole for Native Americans and other prehistoric residents and nomads, including members of the more recently established Jumano, Apache, and Comanche tribes, the first European to view the site now known as Big Spring was probably a member of a Spanish expedition, possibly that of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, although the record of his travels cannot confirm his visit.
United States Army Captain Randolph B. Marcy's expedition was the first United States expedition to explore and map the area in 1849. Marcy marked the spring as a campsite on the Overland Trail to California. The site began to collect inhabitants and by the late 1870s, a settlement had sprung up to support buffalo hunters who frequented the area. The original settlement consisted largely of hide huts and saloons. Ranching quickly became a major industry in the area; early ranchers included F.G. Oxsheer, C.C. Slaughter, and B.F. Wolcott.
One notable early rancher was Briton Joseph Heneage Finch, the Seventh Earl of Aylesford. Finch purchased 37,000 acres (150 km2) of ranch land in the area in 1883, and is credited with building Big Spring's first permanent structure, a butcher's shop.
The completion of the Texas and Pacific Railroad led to the founding in the early 1880s of Abilene, Colorado City, and Big Spring, three railroading and ranching cities where saloons and gambling dens flourished.
More important in the city's history was the discovery of oil in the region during the 1920s. The early discoveries in the area marked the beginning of the oil industry in the Permian Basin area of West Texas, and the oil industry has continued to be a dominant part of the area's economy. The oil industry in Big Spring reached its peak during the oil boom of the 1950s.
Another major part of Big Spring's economy and life during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was Webb Air Force Base. It initially opened during World War II as the Big Spring Bombardier School. Following the war, it was converted to a US Air Force training base and was named for James Webb, a Big Spring native who died in action during World War II. Webb Air Force Base was active until 1977, when the base facilities were deeded to the city.
Big Spring was also featured in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, and received the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1969. The opening scenes featuring Voight, then a relatively unknown actor, playing the character Joe Buck, were filmed in Big Spring and the neighboring city of Stanton.
In 1980, Hollywood returned to Big Spring with the filming of Hangar 18. It was a low-budget science-fiction movie about a space shuttle's collision with an alien spacecraft and the ensuing government cover-up. It starred such big names as Gary Collins, James Hampton, Robert Vaughn, and Darrin McGavin, and a host of other B-list actors, including Stuart Pankin, who at that time was relatively unknown. The film received low marks, both in critics' reviews and box-office earnings. Despite its poor performance, it became an instant cult classic, appearing on television under a different title and featuring an alternate ending. Several local residents were used as on-screen extras.
The World Hang Gliding Championship was hosted by Big Spring in August 2007.
Origin of the name "Big Spring"
The area's "big spring", long dry but recently modified to draw water from Comanche Trail Lake, was of major importance to all life in the surrounding area. In the early 1840s, it was the center of a territorial dispute between Comanche and Pawnee tribes, and has been a major watering hole for wildlife and prehistoric man in this semiarid area. Early military scouting reports and pioneer accounts describe the water as cold, clear, and dependable; the spring pool was about 15 ft (5 m) deep, with the overflow going only a short distance down the draw before it sank beneath the surface. The spring has mistakenly been described in other writings as being located in Sulphur Draw. It is actually located to the south, near the top of a small, rugged, unnamed draw running eastwards from the spring, and is itself a tributary to Beal's Creek, the name given to Sulphur Draw as it flows into, through, and past the city of Big Spring.
Long used by regional inhabitants, both permanent and nomadic, with a large number of locally collected artifacts testifying to its heavy occupation, the spring sat astride the several branches of the later-developed Comanche War Trail as they converged on this important water hole from beyond Texas, coming south across the Northern Plains and the Llano Estacado. From the Big Spring, the war trail continued south via three branches, one to the southeast through the western part of the Concho country; one going almost due south, heading for Castle Gap and Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River; and one heading west to Willow Springs in the sand country southwest of present Midland, before turning south down the Pecos, all headed ultimately for Mexico. As whites began to settle the western territories, the spring continued to serve as a major watering place on the southern route of the Gold Rush Trail of the early 1850s and continued in use well beyond that time, as the cross-continental trail turned into a major road for later pioneers coming into the area.
The spring was sourced from a relatively small aquifer situated on the northern end of the Edwards Plateau and the southern end of the High Plains, being, structurally, a collecting sink of lower Cretaceous (Fredericksburg) limestones and sands. The spring aquifer held a large quantity of water due to the great number of fractures, solution channels, and interstices in the rocks and underlying sands, although the aeral extent of the Big Spring sink is estimated to be only 1 mi (2 km) in diameter, with the main area only 3,000 ft (914 m) wide and almost circular, with some ellipticity trending towards the west. The Cretaceous beds subsided about 280 ft (85 m) below their normal position, centered on the SE quarter of Section 12, Block 33 T1S; T&P RR Co survey, and the entire stratum appears to be preserved within the sink, the surface topography roughly following the subsurface subsidence. This writing identifies the sink as one of a number of similar subsurface geologic features in the surrounding area, differing from the Big Spring sink only in the fact that the surface topography above the others, while showing some decline, does not dip low enough to intersect the top of the water tables; hence, no springs could form from the other aquifers. In a passing comment, enigmatic in its content and disappointing in its brevity, the report states no other comparable deep sinks formed elsewhere on the Edwards Plateau.
The same publication suggests the spring's discharge volume was in excess of 100,000 U.S. gallons (378,541 L) per day at the time of the railroad's arrival in the area in the late 1880s. The water was heavily mined by wells built by both the railroad and the early town of Big Spring, greatly in excess of its modest recharge rate, until the water table first dropped below the level of the spring outlet, and, finally, was completely depleted by the mid-1920s. The city now artificially fills the spring from its current source of water as a means of allowing residents and visitors to maintain some idea of how it appeared in times past.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.2 square miles (50 km2). About 19.1 square miles (49 km2) of it is land, and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) of it (0.42%) is covered with water.
As of the census of 2000, 25,233 people, 8,155 households, and 5,463 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,320.4 people per square mile (509.8/km²). The 9,865 housing units averaged 516.2 per square mile (199.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 76.69% White, 5.31% African American, 0.59% Native American, 0.63% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 14.41% from other races, and 2.35% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 44.64% of the population.
Of the 8,155 households, 32.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.3% were married couples living together, 14.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% were not families. About 29.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51, and the average family size was 3.10.
In the city, the population was distributed as 23.6% under the age of 18, 9.9% from 18 to 24, 32.7% from 25 to 44, 19.7% from 45 to 64, and 14.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females, there were 125.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 132.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,257, and for a family was $35,448. Males had a median income of $27,636 versus $21,863 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,119. About 17.1% of families and 22.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.0% of those under age 18 and 18.3% of those age 65 or over.
Arts and culture
Big Spring is the site of several major hang-gliding championship tournaments, including the U.S. Hang Gliding Nationals. The city was also the site for the filming of parts of Midnight Cowboy and Hangar 18.
The Big Spring Heritage Museum contains pioneer and Indian artifacts, art exhibits, and the largest collection known of Texas Longhorn steer horns. Its rare and unusual phonographs include models by Thomas A. Edison. It also houses a large collection of dolls. The museum is located at 510 Scurry; an admission fee is charged.
Points of interest
- Settles Hotel
- Howard County Courthouse
- Big Spring Municipal Auditorium
- Delek US Refinery (formerly Alon USA)
- Comanche Trail Park
- McMahon-Wrinkle Industrial Airpark
- Big Spring Vietnam Memorial
- Big Spring State Park
- Signal Mountain
- Heritage Museum of Big Spring
- Hangar 25 Air Museum
- VA Medical Center
- Scenic Mountain Medical Center
- Dorothy Garrett Coliseum
- Panther Creek Wind Farm
- Big Spring Independent School District
- Howard College
- South West College for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- Big Spring Herald
- KBST/KBTS Radio
- KBYG-AM Radio
- KWDC (FM) Radio (and translators)
- KBXJ (FM) Radio from neighboring Lamesa, Texas
Services and facilities
The Texas Department of State Health Services operates a 200-bed psychiatric hospital, opened in 1939. The hospital has reduced its number of beds over the years, but remains one of the largest employers in Big Spring.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) operates the Federal Correctional Institution, Big Spring in Big Spring. The nearby Big Spring Correctional Center is privately operated (GEO Group) on behalf of the BOP.
The Colorado River Municipal Water District operates a reclaimed water treatment plant in Big Spring, the first of its kind in Texas, the product of which is then delivered to the potable water treatment plants of Big Spring, Stanton, Midland, and Odessa.
- Big Spring Economic Development Corporation
- Big Spring Area Chamber of Commerce
- Big Spring Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
- Big Spring Concerned Citizen's Council
- Downtown Revitalization Association
- Keep Big Spring Beautiful
Major roads and highways
- Larry Arnhart, a writer and scholar, graduated from Big Spring High School in 1967.
- Betty Buckley is a Tony Award-winning theater, film, and television actress and singer.
- Carl Bunch was the drummer for Buddy Holly during the "Winter Dance Party" tour in 1959 in which Holly died (the Day the Music Died), and later for Hank Williams, Jr. and Roy Orbison.
- Putt Choate was a National Football League (NFL) player for the Green Bay Packers.
- Mike Christie was an NHL player for the California Seals and Cleveland Barons.
- Ainslee Cox, conductor
- Tony Franklin, professional football player
- Bubba Franks, former NFL tight end for the Green Bay Packers, was born in California, but was raised and played high school football in Big Spring.
- Jeane Porter Hester, oncologist and co-developer of IBM 2997, the computerized blood cell separator
- Charley Johnson, NFL quarterback for the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Oilers, and Denver Broncos
- Dave O'Brien, Western actor
- J. J. Pickle, Democratic United States Representative from the 10th congressional district of Texas from 1963—1995
- Stephan Pyles, creator of New Texas Cuisine and a founding father of haute Southwestern cuisine.
- J. T. Smith, professional football player
- Tom Sorley, president/CEO of Rosendin Electric
- Ryan Tannehill, quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.
- Jesse Whittenton, NFL player for the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers, was a member of the 1961 and 1962 NFL-champion Packers.