Part 1 of a series examining demographic changes in Wise County
When entering Rhome eastbound on Texas 114, a green billboard announces “Elevation: 942 feet.”
If the sign had listed population, somebody would have scaled it a lot in the past 10 years to make corrections. When the U.S. Census released numbers for Texas last month, Rhome jumped past seven other cities to become the county’s third largest.
Rhome posted the largest percentage increase in population by far, boasting a staggering 176 percent growth rate in one decade. With 551 residents in 2000, the city now has 1,522.
And the new Rhomans haven’t been standing idly by either. They’ve been quick to get involved.
“We liked the rural character and the openness of the lots, and we liked the tax rate,” said Evelyn Obenour.
She moved to Crown Point from Indiana five years ago. Now she is mayor of Rhome.
Newcomers moved into houses popping up on the hills, pastures and prairies. Several developments that added to the growth are Crown Point, Ellis Homestead and By Well Estates.
Plenty of others echo her sentiments for moving to Rhome, including city council member Gerry McBride.
“We sold our home in Highland Village and moved out here,” McBride said. “I’m a rural guy, and I liked the lower taxes.”
McBride moved to By Well Estates four years ago.
But as Rhome continues to grow, the rural character and even the lower taxes could be in jeopardy.
“Rhome is better off than a lot of cities,” McBride said of preparing for growth, but he admitted the difficulty of handling it.
“Infrastructure is very costly. You have to spend money to take care of water, sewer and road. You have to take care of it. You can’t let it deteriorate,” he said. “But you also don’t want to raise taxes. It can really put a hit on the people.”
He added that access to water is key to the future of Rhome.
Planning for the future
Today, the city hopes to get a plan in place. The city council was scheduled to discuss at 7 tonight at its regular meeting when to hold a session to create a master plan for Rhome.
McBride encourages public input. He said the city needs to act now to prepare for the coming growth.
“It would be great if we could maintain the feel of Rhome,” said Chris Graves.
Graves moved to Ellis Homestead one year ago with his wife and children. The rural character was a draw for him. But he knows more growth is coming. In fact, it was growth that first got him involved. When he heard that a Love’s Travel Stop was going up by his neighborhood, he had some concerns.
Graves is a broker for a trucking company, Strait Transport LLC. He was initially worried about the truck stop attracting criminals or other undesirables, such as “lot lizards.” But he eventually learned to accept the new store.
“I’m not a big fan of truck stops,” he said. “But it will be good for the town, and Love’s does a good job of maintaining safety at their locations.”
Now Graves is running for city council in the May election.
“I left the meeting feeling like I needed to start getting involved,” he said. “It’s one of those things. You can’t complain if you’re not going to get involved.”
He’s joined in the election by Cole Blanche, another newcomer to Rhome and a resident of Ellis Homestead. Blanche has lived in Rhome for a year-and-a-half. The council currently has no representation from the Ellis Homestead neighborhood.
It can be tough being a newcomer.
“I don’t want to get caught up in the stigma of being an Ellis guy,” Graves said. “I’m here for the long haul, and I want everybody to benefit.
“My first goal is to get a questionnaire out to people in the city. I want to find out what people want to see and don’t want to see with where the city is going.”
In respects to preparing the city for growth, Graves said it’s important to support the police and fire departments.
“We need to make sure we are fully equipping our law enforcement,” he said. “We’ll need them to handle the growth when it gets here.”
It seems like history is repeating itself. In the 1850s, present-day Rhome was located at the site where two stagecoach lines crossed.
Today, the city is situated in the cross hairs of growth, situated on Texas 114 and U.S. 81/287.
“Rhome is going to grow,” McBride said. “There is no doubt about it. The economy of today is not the economy of tomorrow. If it’s down today, it will be up tomorrow. Rhome will continue to grow because people have always moved to the outskirts of town.”
He predicts most of the growth will move in from the east along Texas 114 and from the south from U.S. 81/287.
There are also other areas ready to bloom.
“I think Rolling V will be the next big development,” Mayor Obenour said, “although it may be a couple of years away.”
She also said the quality schools in Rhome will continue to draw residents.
The Northwest school district owns property near Ellis Homestead. It plans to eventually build a third high school there.
“Any time a high school comes, more housing will come in to accommodate it,” McBride said.
City leaders remain optimistic they can handle the future. But they realize it will be a challenge to manage the growth properly and for Rhome to keep its rustic feel.