The Fate of The Grove, Texas.
The Historic Ghost Town Is Auctioned Off
The Grove, Texas, was auctioned off with an unexpected result. Photos by Jennings Brown.
She just wanted to say goodbye. After all, the town had been her summer stomping ground from the age of 7 to 17. Fran Moyer’s grandfather W.J. Dube owned the general store and half-acre plot of land that is now all that remains of The Grove, Texas. He was also the postmaster and the president of the bank, as the post office and the bank were both located inside his store. Moyer’s parents were born in The Grove. Both were baptized in the Lutheran church behind the store.
The Grove held Moyer’s childhood. And, until April 25, The Grove held a whole heck’uv’a lot more. It held thousands of artifacts and collectibles gathered over Moody Anderson’s lifetime. Anderson, a self-proclaimed “junk” collector, stumbled upon the genuine Old West town in 1972 and decided the land was an antique that he could not pass up. He bought the property from John Graham, who had purchased it from Dube in 1946. Since the ’70s Anderson had transformed The Grove into his kingdom of junk, turning the general store into the Country Life Museum and luring tourists and filmmakers alike. Props from Lonesome Dove, Two for Texas, The Alamo, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and many other movies filmed in Central Texas over the last 20 years came from Anderson’s collection. The Grove was Anderson’s livelihood. Taking care of it, giving tours, hosting jamborees — Anderson did so much to keep that town alive that the two became one. To know Moody Anderson was to know The Grove, and hearing about the town meant learning about the man behind it. But preserving a town is hard work, and after having a stroke Anderson realized it was time to pass on the lantern to another caretaker.
"I don’t want to get rid of it. But I’m 81 years old — almost 82. And I’ve got arthritis real bad. But I don’t want to sell it. No way I want to sell it,” Anderson said a few weeks before the auction, “But my children are not interested, and my wife is not interested, and my grandchildren are not interested in it. So I figured I might as well get rid of it all. I’ll probably die a couple years later.”
So he enlisted the help of Burley Auction Group to inventory, appraise, and separate all of his items into 1,800 lots so that they could sell 600 lots a day over three days. The entire process took about three months. By April 23 a circus tent was erected and 800 bidders and many more spectators traveled from all over the country to participate in and observe the dispersion of Anderson’s empire.
Fran Moyer was one of those bidders. She flew from her hometown of San Jose, California. She just wanted to see the town once again in case it was snatched up by a developer — maybe take a piece of it back with her. By the end of the first day she knew she needed more than a piece. She called her husband in Silicon Valley. She wanted to buy back her grandfather’s store. They decided on a limit of $200,000. Considering the original plan was to set the starting bid at $250,000, the chances of The Grove staying in the family seemed slim.
After a day and a half of auctioning, Robb Burley started the bidding for the real estate at noon on April 24th. The energy inside the tremendous white tent on that warm spring day was the culmination of 150 years of bizarre small-town Texas history. Starting bid: $100,000. Burley began spitting out a stream of words, serenading potential buyers with the alluring drone of a certified auctioneer. Moyer lifted her paddle. $100,000. Then $150,000 from another bidder. $200,000 — from Moyer. The grumbling began. Some in attendance had met Moyer the previous day and caught on, telling others. The tension was building. $250,000. 250. 250. No bites. Burley dropped. 225. 225. Nothing. It was obvious this was not what Burley had had in mind. He asked Anderson to come onstage and say a few words to entice the bidders. The octogenarian shuffled up to the podium and told the crowd that he could not be happier to hand the town over to the original owner’s granddaughter. Burley’s plan had backfired. There was no way anyone was going to bid on the town after witnessing that emotional announcement. Awkward? Indeed. Heartwarming? Absolutely. Burley slammed the gavel. The crack silenced the crowd. Moyer jumped up, wrapped her arms around her brother, and jumped up-and-down. She ran up to the auction block. “I just bought back my childhood,” she said with tears running down her cheeks. Even though the price was lower than expected, Anderson later said that he would have rather sold it to Moyer for $200,000 than to anyone else for $500,000.
Moyer didn’t have any set plans for The Grove upon purchase. One drastic life decision was enough for the weekend. She did vow to preserve the town and its buildings. It will likely host events, such as Moyer’s family reunions and the screening of filmmaker Lori Najvar’s upcoming documentary about the auction. Performances and weddings are also possibilities.
As for the man who helped turn the dying ghost town into a tourist destination unlike any other in Texas, Anderson is even more uncertain about his plans. “I guess I’ll just be lost for a while.”