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Conroe hotel offers sanctuary to
the ordinary and the infamous

By Brad Meyer

There’s no hard evidence that the infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow spent time in a local Conroe hotel during their reign of Depression-era robberies, but there are several stories to that effect and a number of locals who believe it’s highly likely they did.

The State Hotel was constructed in 1932 when Conroe
was a “boom town” because of a major oil find.

The State Hotel, located at the northwest corner of Thompson and Metcalf Streets, was constructed back in 1932 – a time of great prosperity and opportunity in Conroe’s history following the major oil discovery by George Strake.

With rooms at a premium, the facility became home to a significant number of workers in the oilfields and the fast-growing retail community that came from a rapid expansion.

Local historian Larry Foerster said Conroe’s population of less than 2,500 more than doubled in a month and continued growing to perhaps as many as 15,000 people in 1932. He said local jails were so full that trouble makers were chained to water troughs outside the courthouse.

Homeowners in the area were taking in boarders and tent cities sprung up overnight. The 37-room brick hotel was built by local dentist Dr. John L. Hicks and Houston architect Blum Hester – who would later design the Crighton Theatre.

According to Foerster, oil field workers rented beds or cots for eight-hour shifts – sleeping in the same bed, with the same linens, as the man before him. It was an approach to housing that is surprising to many in the modern era, especially thinking about south Texas summers without air conditioning.

“Times were tough and it was matter of survival for many,” said Foerster. “A good eight hours of sleep was a premium for these hard-working men.”

In June of 1932, Strake Petroleum Corporation’s South Texas Development Company No. 2 well came in at a depth of 5,026 feet. Conroe would eventually be described as “The Miracle City” because of the amazing transformation to boom town during the Depression. Within a year of Strake’s discovery well, there are 431 producers and 65,102 barrels of oil produced daily in the County. Conroe briefly claims more millionaires per capita than any other town in the United States.

Such wealth attracted a number of interested parties looking to cash in.

Local lore told by long-time residents states that the infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow passed through Conroe on numerous occasions and that they likely stayed in the State Hotel.

“Clyde Barrow had family in the area,” said Rodney Poole, current owner of the State Hotel building. “It’s said they used to meet up with them under the bridge on FM 2854 near McDade Estates on a regular basis to get supplies and visit.” Rodney Poole, current owner of the State Hotel Building.

Poole has access to some of the registration information of the State Hotel, but hasn’t been able to confirm the alleged sightings – adding that it is unlikely the pair would have registered under their real names since they were being sought by law enforcement. The pair of outlaws were ambushed and killed by law enforcement in May of 1934 in Bienville Parish, La.

The Barrow clan still has family in the area, but did not respond to inquiries about the lodging practices of their infamous relative.

As the oil boom faded, the State Hotel became a more traditional lodging facility, offering rooms for the day, week or month. Gertie Spencer, 78, recalls the hotel as a busy, popular place in Conroe.

“It was across the street from my dad’s Pontiac dealership – now the Owen Theatre,” said Spencer. “I spent a lot of time around there in the 50s and people were coming and going all the time.”

Poole said the hotel had 15 day rooms on the second floor when he purchased the building, but he has converted the space to six full-sized apartments. Four are long-term rentals and two have been furnished for nightly or short-term use.

“We’ve kept the original hardwood floors and most of the original cabinetry,” said Poole. “It has a nostalgic look to it.”

The former State Hotel, above and below, now has apartments on the second floor and houses the Montgomery County Republican Party headquarters and offices on the first floor.

Poole said he has no plans to name one of the apartments after the infamous couple that may or may not have spent a few nights there coming in and out of town. The first floor is rented out to a number of organizations, including the Republican Party of Montgomery County.

For information on Conroe and Montgomery County history, visit www.heritagemuseum.us or call 936-539-6873.

The Courier
March 10, 2013

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