Jazz-Age Boomtown
Texana - Photography
7 x 10, 160 pp.
100 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 05/01/1997
Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Texas Photography Series
  paper
Price:        $20.95

978-0-89096-757-7

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Jazz-Age Boomtown

By Jerry Rodnitzky and Shirley Rodnitzky

The 1920s oil boom changed every aspect of life in the sleepy town of Breckenridge, Texas--employment, social activities, housing, religion, and education--and with these changes came the beginnings of modern American culture.

Suddenly ranchers became oilmen, public school teachers became oil wildcatters, and enterprising businessmen moved in to provide this small town with sustenance, housing, and entertainment. Within two years, Breckenridge's population grew to nearly thirty thousand, and this roughneck oil boomtown became a vigorous commercial city of schools, churches, and modern housing.

Jazz-Age Boomtown: Basil Clemons's Photographs of Breckenridge, Texas, in the 1920s depicts the social history of small-town America and the oil boom phenomenon in a stunning photographic essay. Photographer Basil Clemons photographed not only the oil fields but also many other aspects of Breckenridge's boom--views of main streets, fires, floods, the circus, movie theaters, sporting events, schools, ranches, shops, and restaurants--capturing the essence of the boomtown atmosphere.

Clemons, the town's only professional photographer and most eccentric resident, traveled to California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska before returning to Texas in 1919 and settling in Breckenridge. His pictures reflect the transformation of rural to urban values in the early twentieth century, providing a visual history of modern American culture.

Jerry Rodnitzky, professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington, is the author of many articles on twentieth-century American social, intellectual, and cultural history and popular culture.Shirley Rodnitzky is manuscript archivist in the Special Collections Division, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.

What Readers Are Saying:

“The editors correctly say that these photographs of the awakening of a sleepy West Texas town are ‘treasures, because they so vividly captured that formative modern, national, Jazz-Age culture’. . . This book is valuable not only to Texas buffs but to all people interested in photography, Texas, and American culture.” --Journal of Popular Culture

“ . . . these photographs illustrated the first really national American culture shaped by mass media [and] documented the vivid drama of an oil boomtown.” --Fronteras

“. . . Breckenridge itself, seen through an unfiltered lens, is the strength of this collection. . . . Clemons reveals Breckenridge as an incipient Thalia, maturing into a raw community of paved streets. . . .” --Preservation

“. . . The authors of this magnificent book have written a vivid and fascinating narrative to accompany the pictures but have wisely kept it brief. Mr. Clemons’ images are each worth several thousand words.” --Dallas Morning News

“. . . Living as a bohemian himself, he looked with a gimlet eye upon the world that passed before his lens, from Ma Rainey’s Jazz Hounds to Presbyterian women in starched Mother’s Day finery to a Ku Klux Klan parade. Breckenridge itself, seen through an unfiltered lens, is the strength of this collection. . . . Clemons reveals Breckenridge as an incipient Thalia, maturing into a raw community of paved streets. . . .” --Preservation

Jazz Age Boomtown is, in short, a notable contribution to the literature of Main Street America and particularly to the popular cultural history of Central Texas. The book should be of value to all those interested not only in the Jazz Age itself and in historical and archival photographic research but also to scholars interested in the development of rural Texas during the period of elation and depression bracketed by two world wars. In addition to its interest for Texas scholars and historians, Jazz Age Boomtown is a handsomely produced volume that is easy to digest and thought-provoking to contemplate. The book leaves one wanting to see even more of Clemons’s photographs and to learn even more about Breckenridge and its citizens.” --Jack Rhodes, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“Highly recommended for history buffs, both professional and amateur.” --JASAT

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