Understanding directions to Amarillo's historical buildings and houses is on par with understanding why Amarillo's historical structures were built on the High Plains in the first place.
Envision a treeless landscape surrounded by miles of featureless prairie, hacking up the earth and hammering home miles of track for Fort Worth and Denver Railroad in 1887. Suffering great extremes of heat and cold, you would have lived in the dusty-slash-muddy construction camp known as Ragtown, the first settlement of what would later become Amarillo.
The unruly and unsettled life of the pioneer cattle town gradually evolved into a more balanced society thanks, to a reliable base of livestock and crops. Despite a lack of outstanding features, the area did have playa lakes, underground reservoirs and fertile soil. The farming, ranching and, later, oil were the underpinnings that created many wealthy Amarillo families.
In 1881, Henry B. Sanborn, who is given credit as the ''Father of Amarillo,'' set out to sell barbed wire for a company based in Illinois. He eventually came into a partnership of land called the Frying Pan Ranch that lied in both Potter and Randall counties; much like present-day Amarillo, which lies in both counties. While Sanborn was busy barricading his land with barbed wire, James T. Berry was establishing the original Amarillo development in early 1888. Sanborn quickly built a rival town site and, as fate would have it, Berry's town site flooded during a wet spring in 1889, making Sanborn's neighborhood somewhat more attractive.
The point of this brief historical overview is that the National Register of Historic Places recognizes Amarillo's first developments for the unique collection of 20th-century architecture and the weathered people who saw fit to develop this western town. Amarillo's historic homes and buildings reflect the economic surges from about 1900 to the start of World War II.
The Plemons-Eakle Neighborhood District, named after early developers, is a good choice for a historical tour you can take yourself, with its great diversity and early Amarillo beginnings.
The district is located just south of downtown Amarillo. The neighborhood is marked with special signs at the boundaries and street signs are black and white. The majority of homes in Plemons-Eakle are one-story brick or frame in styles ranging from bungalow and Tudor revival to minimal traditional.
Out of the entire neighborhood, Polk Street is probably the best viewing opportunity for both historic downtown buildings and, to the south, impressive homes. Polk Street Methodist Church, with its Gothic towers, helps the transition from city to residential, although the Georgian-revival style Lee & Mary Bivins Home, now the Chamber of Commerce, is found nearly downtown. The buildings and some of the homes are accessible, because they are bed and breakfasts and, in the case of the neoclassical Harrington House at 1600 S. Polk, you can call for a tour. Down the street, you can stay the night at Auntie's House or next door at the craftsman-style Galbraith House with its rich mahogany interior. La Casita del Sol bed and breakfast, offering a 1926 home built in the Spanish eclectic style, is a few blocks away on Harrison Street.
The large historic homes on Polk Street were built prestigiously close to downtown, and homes were located on the west side of the street as a symbol of status, noted Daphne Adkins at Daphne's Tour & Travel. ''They faced the east so they were the first to greet the new day,'' she said.
In all, the Plemons-Eakle area offers many prominent homes, although it must be said several other large homes and historical areas can be found throughout Amarillo. The Route 66 or ''Sixth Street'' business district is on the National Register along with an area called the Llano Cemetery District. Still, non-designated neighborhoods such as Wolflin, located just to the west of the southern part of Plemons-Eakle, offer magnificent home viewing.
As for the treeless landscape of early Amarillo: that was eventually addressed when, in 1914, an article in the newspaper promoted the planting of trees as a sanitary asset. The author cited studies by the New York County Medical Society and the New York City Park Commission, which believed ''air in the vicinity of trees contains less bacteria and fewer dust particles than does air outside the influence of trees.''
The trees that lasted in this harsh High Plains environment line the streets in Amarillo's older neighborhoods, seeming to illuminate the spirited personalities who settled here.