Alpine is a city and the county seat of Brewster County, Texas, United States. The population was 5,905 at the 2010 census. The town has an elevation of 4,475 feet, and the surrounding mountain peaks are over 1 mile above sea level. The university, hospital, library, and retail make Alpine the center of the sprawling 12,000 square miles but wide open Big Bend area (combined population only 12,500) including Brewster, Presidio, and Jeff Davis counties.
The area had been a campsite for cattlemen tending their herds between 1878 and the spring of 1882, when a town of tents was created by railroad workers and their families. Because the section of the railroad was called Osborne, that was the name of the small community for a brief time. The railroad needed access to water from springs owned by brothers named Daniel and Thomas Murphy, so it entered into an agreement with the Murphys to change the name of the section and settlement to Murphyville in exchange for a contract to use the spring. In November 1883, the Murphys registered a plat for the town of Murphyville with the county clerk of Presidio County.
The town’s name was changed to Alpine on February 3, 1888, following a petition by its residents. At this time, a description of the town mentioned a dozen houses, three saloons, a hotel and rooming house, a livery stable, a butcher shop, and a drugstore, which also housed the post office.
Alpine grew very slowly until Sul Ross State Normal College (now Sul Ross State University) was opened in 1920. The development of Big Bend National Park in the 1930s and ’40s spurred further growth. The population was estimated at only 396 in 1904, but by 1927, it had risen to 3,000. The 1950 census reported Alpine’s population at 5,256, and a high of roughly 6,200 was reached by 1976. In 1990, the population was down to 5,637. In 2000, the population grew modestly to 5,786 and 5,905 by 2010.
The town was always small enough that no one insisted on tearing down old buildings to make parking lots, and it is still too small to interest most big-box store chains. The Holland Hotel, built during a brief mercury mining boom, was designed by Henry Trost, a distinguished regional architect. Today, it helps to anchor a traditional downtown of early 20th-century buildings still occupied by family-owned retailers and restaurants.
As of the 2020 United States census, there were 6,035 people, 2,886 households, and 1,414 families residing in the city.
Sites on National Register of Historic Places
The Brewster County Courthouse and Jail was built in 1887–1888 by Tom Lovett, a local contractor, who apparently designed the buildings, as well (documentation is scarce). Open to visitors, historic photographs are displayed in the great hall.
The red brick courthouse is a fine example of the American Second Empire Style. The rectangular mass has five bays of paired round-arch window openings on the longer north and south facades. The shorter east and west facades have three bays. On three facades, the center bay contains a doorway at ground level, set in a thin, barely protruding pavilion. The second-story windows are slightly taller than the first-floor openings, a trick of the eye making the two-and-a-half-story building seem even taller. The walls are topped by a pressed-tin entablature composed of a frieze and cornice. The mansard roof is marked by steeply hipped pyramidal towers with pressed-tin cresting. The interior retains exemplary pressed-tin ceilings and some original woodwork. A wooden staircase with Eastlake-type details rises to the general courtroom on the second floor.
The adjoining Brewster County Jail is distinguished by a crenelated brick parapet wall, suggesting “a fortress-like impregnability”.
Alpine makes a central base for exploring area attractions: the Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Fort Davis National Historic Site, Davis Mountains State Park with its Indian Lodge, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens, and the McDonald Observatory, perched atop Mt Locke at 6,790 feet. Also worth visiting are Marathon with its iconic Gage Hotel; the historic hotel Limpia of Fort Davis; Marfa with the Chinati Foundation Museum of Minimalist Art; the ghost town of Terlingua and the golf resort of Lajitas; and the River Road, FM 170, a 120-mile scenic route through the majestic Rio Grande Valley between Presidio and the Big Bend parks.
Attractions in, or close to, Alpine
Museum of the Big Bend has fun and informative displays, a children’s corner, and a gift shop on the campus of Sul Ross State University, giving background information on sights in the Big Bend region.
Turner Range and Animal Science Center hosts several rodeos and horse shows during the year at the covered S.A.L.E. Arena. At other times, students can be seen practicing their skills in the outdoor arena. The facility is near the main campus of Sul Ross.
Blue Creek Trail follows a scenic hiking path, mostly along dry stream channels, passing towering rocks of vivid earth tones. The first part is easy going, easy return, but the trail extends for many miles with greater challenges. Summer is hot, so take plenty of water, or hike in the fall, winter, or spring.
Arlington Southwest Cemetery, located 4 miles east of Alpine, is a memorial funded by the Big Bend Veterans for Peace. Each gravestone serves as a memorial for each individual soldier from Texas killed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq of the early 21st century.
Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, usually late February, is a celebration of the oral tradition of working cowboys in poetry, song, and music.
Trappings of Texas, in April, is an exhibit and sale of custom gear and Western art held at the Museum of the Big Bend.
Big Bend Gem and Mineral Show, in April, is held at the Civic Center.
Cinco de Mayo includes a parade, enchilada dinner, music and dancing, car show, and Grand Mercado at Kokernot Field.
Alpine Cowboys professional baseball games take place at historic Kokernot Field.
Theater of the Big Bend, for over 50 years, this local theater troupe has performed various popular plays and musicals at the Kokernot Lodge outdoor amphitheater.
Fourth of July/Fiestas Barrios, July 4, parade, food, music, fireworks
Viva Big Bend music festival, in July, more than 50 bands play at venues from Marathon to Marfa, Fort Davis to Alpine.
Drive Big Bend has driving tours, music, parties, and a car show at Kokernot Field for antique, classic, and performance automobiles.
Big Bend Ranch Rodeo, in August, displays the skills of working cowboys (rather than rodeo professionals).
National Intercollegiate Rodeo
Big Bend Octane Fest, hosted by The Stable Performance Cars in early October. This weekend-long festival includes a car show, driving tours around the Big Bend, Marfa, Alpine, Fort Davis, and Marathon areas, auctions, and more, for antique, classic, and performance automobiles.
No Country for Old Men, in October, this bike race lists itself as “America’s Premiere 1000 Mile Road Race”.
ARTWALK, The weekend before Thanksgiving, art spills from the galleries onto the streets and Arbolitos Park, with chalk art on the sidewalks, live music, and a parade of flags.
Parade of Lights, December
A mural in the former post office at 109 West E St was painted as part of the New Deal public works programs during the Great Depression. Surviving murals from the project are found in 60 or so Texas cities and towns. Completed in 1940, this mural is by a Spanish-born and trained artist, Jose Moya del Pino, who was living and working in San Francisco. In the foreground, three figures recline on a rocky overlook (somewhat improbably, but this is art, not photography). They are each reading: a book, a magazine, and a tabloid newspaper, celebrating how the post office brings information and education to small towns and even cattle ranches. On the horizon, the Twin Sisters Mountain mark the location, with the town in the middle distance, including, at the behest of townspeople, the characteristic red-brick buildings of the Sul Ross State campus.
- J. Frank Dobie, the famed folklorist, author of Coronado’s Children and more than 25 other books, taught at Alpine High School in 1910 and 1911 in his first job after graduating from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.
- H. Allen Smith, the American humorist, author of Low Man on a Totem Pole, Rhubarb, and other bestsellers, as well as thousands of newspaper columns and magazine articles, retired to Alpine in 1967.
- Nelson Algren, novelist The Man with the Golden Arm, wrote his first story while working at a gas station in Alpine during the Depression (after graduating from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana). He was caught stealing a typewriter from a classroom at Sul Ross to continue writing. The months he spent in jail deepened his identification with the losers and outsiders who were the characters of his later fiction.
- Trackdown, the CBS Western television series had “Alpine, Texas” as the title of its seventh episode.
- It is the Texan setting of the film Gambit (M. Hoffman, 2012).
- Boyhood, the 2014 movie starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, and Ethan Hawke, featured places in and around Alpine. It received six Academy Award nominations. Nominated for five Golden Globe awards, it won Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Director for Richard Linklater, and Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette.
- The city is the home of lawyer Rod Ponton, notable for his 2021 widespread appearance, across social media and news outlets, with a Zoom cat face filter.
Individuals of interest from Alpine
- Carl W. Bauer, former Louisiana State Senator
- Pete Gallego, former Texas State Senator and U.S. Representative
- Joaquin Jackson, former Texas Ranger and actor
- Amanda Marcotte, feminist blogger for Slate and the Guardian
- Eric O’Keefe, author journalist editor
- Bake Turner, former NFL wide receive
- John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel and notable climate authority
- Fritz Kiersch, Film Director. Most notable for directing the horror film Children of the Corn and the drama Tuff Turf.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.