There was never much to Bankersmith, Texas -- little more than a post office and general store at its peak -- but it wasn't a ghost town. Maggie Montgomery made sure of that.
Maggie -- she promptly disabused me of the notion that I would call her Mrs. Montgomery when we spoke on the phone -- moved to the Hill Country outpost around 1997 to man the NOAA rain gauge. "The place was in horrible disrepair," she recalls, but she immediately set to work cleaning, remodeling, rebuilding.
In back of her house, she built a stage. For those who knew it, Bankersmith was like Luckenbach, only more so. People would gather and "listen to people pick and sing and do whatever they do on stage." One of the people who picked and sang there a lot was Maggie's son, Monte Montgomery, an accomplished guitarist and singer-songwriter.
Maggie welcomed all comers, be they weekenders looking for some good music or hard-luck drifters looking for a place to kill an evening. Her friend, terminally ill of cancer, checked out of his hospice in 2005 to spend his last days in Bankersmith.
"He died there at my house, and it was a beautiful thing," Maggie says. "We were all there."
And then they weren't. During one of the weekend shows, a man from Missouri or New York or somewhere that wasn't Bankersmith came talking about wanting to buy the place. The barbecue guy, who put on the shows with Maggie, overheard him and spoke up.
"It turns out he owned pretty much the whole place and said 'I'll sell it to you right now,'" she says.
Maggie didn't pay much attention. She heard occasionally that some documents were being filed in court or that this-or-that was happening, but she'd always been told and had always assumed she'd be allowed to stay there forever. Forever didn't last as long as she'd hoped and, just a few weeks ago, she was given a month to vacate the property.
The new owner was Doug Guller, and his plans for the area were much bigger than Bankersmith or Maggie Montgomery, as he revealed last week when he issued a press release announcing that he was naming it Bikinis, Texas after his Austin-based breastaurant chain, and turning it into a "world class destination."
Guller's publicity stunt worked wonders as the news spread nationwide, fueled partly by Guller's hubris of buying a town but mostly by the prominence of breasts. No one -- yours truly included -- dug too deeply into the press release. We were aware that Bankersmith wasn't a town in the traditional sense, with land and buildings and people, but it made a fun, quick story. And, like I said: boobs.
Locals knew better. Phil Houseal, who writes a column for the weekly paper in Fredericksburg and once lived in Bankersmith, debunks some of Guller's claims here. For one, Bankersmith is not in Kendall but in Gillespie County, and the so-called "town" isn't a town at all but 1.6 acres with a building and a shed. As for the claim that Guller saw the property listed on Craigslist, that seems to have been cooked up after the deal was done.
The most galling part of the whole thing was that Guller had scrubbed Maggie Montgomery from the history of Bankersmith since, in many ways, she is the history of Bankersmith.
She lives in Comfort now, a dozen miles away, and says she is comfortable there. She misses her old place and is understandably a little put out at how the whole thing has transpired, but just a little.
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"I kind of feel like big corporate America just stepped on me," she says.
But she's not one to hold a grudge, and she even laughs a bit a the thought the Guller is going to turn the place into anything but a world-class press release. The German neighbors in Gillespie County are none too pleased at the thought of living on the outskirts of Bikinis, Texas, not to mention that the water there is too terrible for anyone not accustomed to it to drink.
Whether or not Guller turns Bankersmith into a colony of his breastaurant empire doesn't matter much to Maggie any more. He can't erase the music or the fellowship or anything else that's happened there during the past 15 years.
"I just want the story about the beautiful little place told."