It's not hard to notice Saint Jo is a city with a plan. Set foot in the town square, and you'll witness something beautiful. All four sides are alive with people working to revitalize an area that once serviced cowboys on their treacherous trip along the chisholm trail. This revitalization effort, according to mayor Tom Weger, is part of a larger plan meant to set up Saint Jo to be a viable community with a bright economic future.
"The most important thing about here is, how are we successful in this economy? The first thing is that we started with a diamond in the rough. It was already here and it was significant and there were people here who are committed. So how do we attract business back on the square? It's historic, got great bones, a wonderful skyline, a rural turn of the 1900s skyline."
Howard Davies is the former president of the chamber of commerce in Saint Jo, and on the current board of directors for the city. He says, restoring the square in Saint Jo accurately is important to the community because of its rich history.
"There are several people in town that are very active in the square and the historical parts of the square, making sure things get restored properly, the way they used to be We're building new and old construction. That's very interesting if you're a historical person, if you like history, if you like the chisholm trail, this is where the chisholm trail ran," said Davies.
Mayor Weger adds, "In Texas the first thing people want to capitalize on is this great cowboy history. We can honestly say, we have the historical data to back it up, this is truly a cow town. Essentially strip the asphalt away and put some board sidewalks down and this is what it looked like."
The mayor is passionate about sharing the storied past of this small Texoma town. "We have a photographic history of Saint Jo. We're opening a museum in a cow town saloon. In 6 months they'll be able to see historical documents including a mural that dates back to the times that cattle drivers came thru here and went in there to knock the dust off. If someone wanted to come see rural Texas, cow town, see our history and our heritage, if they come to Saint Jo, they can see it."
Another item of importance to Mr Davies, mayor Weger and other like minded citizens was that they needed to attract new kinds of businesses to the square if it was to be a success.
"We've got to be viable in the economic world we live in. How do we make that viable without becoming a museum. We determined that we needed to have opportunity for activity in the evenings, activity that brings people to the square that then might snowball into additional businesses," mayor Weger said.
One such way that Saint Jo is providing an opportunity for activity in the evenings, is by legalizing the sale of alcohol.
Davies said, "We have a city that's been dry since 1897. People had no clue as how to drink. They would go over to Muenster or to Nocona and buy whatever they wanted and drink it on the way back and that was kind of the way it was."
"In today's world, if I don't have the ability to have a glass of wine or beer, then the chances of having a sustainable restaurant are slim to none," said the mayor.
Having to drive to nearby cities to buy alcohol changed three years ago
"We changed that, we took the city wet, our revenues, our tax revenues increased, we have monies to do projects. Most of that started with the wet dry vote. Now its been perpetuated by grocery stores and convenience stores, they're all starting to be able to carry a better product because now they can sell beer and wine. Were in the process of getting our very first class restaurant, said Davies.
So how does a city with an authentic cow town history and opportunities for a first class restaurant further compete in the modern era?
Mayor Tom Weger said, "We're a society that has to compete in the technology age, and we have to compete with interstate and bedroom communities, which tend to create difficulties for smaller communities to be economically viable."
Donna Howell-Sickles, was picked as one of the top forty prominent people in the western art world in the may issue of Southwest Art magazine. In 2007, she was inducted into the national cowgirl hall of fame. Mrs. Howell-Sickles opened an art gallery on the square that is a great example of how a business can compete in the technology age. Being a successful artist means that she can sell her art to anybody, any where, via the Internet.
"It didn't really matter where I lived, I could be anywhere. So we drove thru Saint Jo and it has a good feel. It has a great square, and all of the old buildings are authentic, which is unusual, none of them got dramatically remodeled, at any point in time so it has a refreshing look. So we found a piece of property and proceeded to invest our hearts and our life in this area," she said.
"The gallery sells the world class art. Donna Howell-Sickles is a fabulous person, she is way ahead of the curve on the business side of Saint Jo, everything she sales is subject to sales tax that comes back to the city," said Davies.
A lot is changing in Saint Jo, but as mayor Tom Weger points out, even though it might seem like it to some, these changes have not taken place over night.
"It's been a ten year process to get to this part. We've made strides through those ten years. You just cant go into it and say this is going to be an overnight change, it just doesn't happen. You have to be in for the long haul, and that's what happened.
Howard Davies is confident and hopeful of a strong economic future in Saint Jo.