You'd be hard pressed to find a place with more country roots than Pleasanton, Texas.
Known to locals as the "Birthplace of the Cowboy," the city of nearly 10,000 holds an annual cowboy festival, country singer Willie Nelson was a radio DJ there in the 1950s and hunting white-tail deer, wild hogs and quail is a favorite pastime.
Located 35 miles south of San Antonio in Atascosa County, this south Texas town is the next largest Pleasanton in the U.S. aside from California's Pleasanton.
And it shares some similarities with Pleasanton, Calif. It's a suburb to a larger metropolitan area, the crime rate is low and the city is in financially good shape. Residents say family life is important as is the good quality of life.
Ranching makes up the primary industry. Known for the longhorns which once led a cattle drive through town, livestock shows and 4-H clubs are abundant, a way of life. In fact, many students attain scholarships through these types of shows and involvement with 4-H.
If residents aren't ranchers, a vast majority of the rest commute to San Antonio for work. But while commutes in California are notoriously horrendous, commuting to the big city from Pleasanton, Texas is relatively gridlock-free.
"Traffic isn't bad. It comes a little bit during the commute times, but nothing like California," said Gerald Black, with a chuckle.
Black knows what he's talking about. A resident of Pleasanton, Texas since 1992, he lived in California, both southern and northern, when he was stationed in the U.S. Navy. He's reported to both Moffet Field in Mountain View and the Naval Air Station in Alameda.
Since moving back to Texas, where he was raised, he covers news for the Pleasanton Express, Pleasanton, Texas' only newspaper.
It was the stress of big city life that brought resident Jack Keller to Pleasanton. Having lived most of his years in San Antonio, Keller, who is originally from San Bernardino, Calif., said he enjoys the traffic-free country roads.
"If you come to town, there's three places that you can go to where you're liable to see anyone and that's the Dairy Queen, the State Stop restaurant...and of course, the bowling alley," Keller said.
Keller started a Web site years ago spoofing the city, comparing such well-recognized landmarks as the Taj Mahal and the OK Corral with structures in Pleasanton. While he still gets emails occasionally from people asking him why he would say the weather there is like Hawaii, Keller said that's tapered off. The idea for the Web site came after Keller underwent heart surgery (which he attributes to the stress of living in San Antonio) and was recovering at home. When he couldn't find any information on Pleasanton, where he had recently moved to, he decided he would create a site on the history of the town--but he ended up getting carried away with the humorous comparisons. But if you read between the lines, there is some truth on his Web site, http://pleasanton.jackkeller.net.
The city got its name from an early settler named John Pleasants in 1858, not General Pleasonton, like Pleasanton, Calif. Before becoming a city, Pleasanton was once a stop along the El Camino Real, stretching from the Rio Grande to San Antonio, where the famous Battle of the Alamo took place. The region was surrounded by longhorns and Pleasanton soon became a cattlemen's capital. In the 1860s, the Stock Raisers' Association of Western Texas met there and the Western Stock Journal, founded in 1873, was published there.
"It's a rural place, so rodeo is big," Keller said. "A lot of people have longhorn. When they first started the Cowboy Homecoming Festival, they really did have a cattle drive through town with longhorns and it turned into a stampede so they never did that again. That's where the cattle tradition came from. They were allowed to roam wild."
"The cattle industry now is not the greatest, so that has spurned people to keep and cultivate deer and game for other people and their families to hunt on and it brings in big dollars," Black said.
Downtown consists of Main Street, which stretches three blocks. Some of the historic storefronts include a photography studio, museum, boutiques and a couple of barber shops. A hardware shop and western clothing store will be closing soon. It's been hard trying to lure new business because most of the stores are family-owned. When a business owner retires, there's often no one to take their place.
"We're losing our center businesses," Black said. "The families are still here, but we're looking for a little revitalization of that."
Residents would also like to see more sidewalks around town. The only ones that exist now are downtown--and those date back to the Depression era.
If downtown isn't exactly thriving, a well-know chain store is. Pleasanton, Texas was one of the first cities in the country to get a Super Wal-Mart--even, Black points out, when San Antonio didn't have any. Next to PISD (Pleasanton Independent School District), which employs 592 people, Wal-Mart is the second biggest employer, with 380 workers. A coal plant has 165 workers and the city of Pleasanton employs just 74.
The median household income in 1999 was $29,644, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Houses are affordable in Texas, especially compared to California. A 2,000-square-foot house on a sizeable lot costs $180,000. Those wanting a larger lot will look to spend $220,000. Gas is also cheaper in Pleasanton, Texas at $2.80 a gallon.
Much like Pleasanton's California, the city is in financially sound shape. With a $16.9-million budget for this fiscal year, the tax rate is a low 45 cents per $100 valuation.
"Our city here is in very good condition," Black said. "They have to plan ahead a lot. They're looking at the growth continually."
Things are looking prosperous because the population of Pleasanton continues to rise. The small, rural flavor of the city is still intact, but it's become more populated with people who hold jobs in San Antonio looking for the small-town life and cheaper housing.
A new Toyota factory in south San Antonio has led to a number of people looking as far south as Pleasanton for homes, Keller said.
Just like any other city, residents have their complaints. For one, wild dogs have become a nuisance. Those who live in the rural parts defy city ordinances by burning their trash, since they don't have regular pickups like those closer to the city do. Pleasanton has been under a burn ban since last November and wildfires are always a concern, much like in California.
Known as the Brush Country, Pleasanton has two aquifers which supply residents with water. But an ongoing fight with San Antonio has no end in sight.
"The city of San Antonio is coming down and buying pieces of property that are large enough that they can sink wells on and everyone is up in arms about them taking our water," Keller said. "Droughts are a big deal because cattle wouldn't have anything to feed on if there wasn't grass. A lot of these ranchers grow hay based on the natural rainfall here."
"I have a friend who went out with propane tanks on his back and burned the thorns off of cactus to feed his cattle," Keller added. "That's the last straw. There's nothing left after you've burned your cactus."
Crimes committed in Pleasanton only amount to petty levels, mostly burglaries and what Black says is "criminal mischief." There's only been about one homicide on average a year. It's enough to handle for the 19-member Pleasanton Police Department. The city fire department is all-volunteer and has about 40 members.
Pleasanton will forever be a part of national history for its schools. They were the first in the country to integrate. LIFE magazine and hundreds of television news crews were there to document the historical event during the 1950s. The population of Pleasanton is fairly diverse, with about half Caucasian and half of Hispanic descent. There is a very small African-American population. In the same decade, Willie Nelson got his start at a now-defunct radio station in Pleasanton as a disk jockey.
"He has come back on a rare occasion," Black said.
People who move to Pleasanton, Texas love the simple life and slow pace.
"It's a place where you know many, many people," Black said. "I remember my first week on the job, I was driving to work and I was behind City Hall and the mayor of Pleasanton at the time stopped me in the middle of the street to chat."
Despite being one-seventh of the size of Pleasanton, Calif., residents still have many of the same amenities--an 18-hole golf course, a movieplex playing first-run films, a mall, chain grocery store and drive-through ATMs.
Need a couple groceries but don't feel like going to the store? Residents can frequent one of many beverage barns--a drive-through metal building where store clerks will get what you need--anything from candy to milk to beer--all while staying in the comfort of your car.
While raising and showing livestock is what most youths partake in as a hobby, many are also interested in science, math and business. Pleasanton has a community college that recently opened and an extension of Texas A&M University. Educational opportunities such as those are encouraging more and more teens to go to college in Pleasanton, instead of traveling to San Antonio or other bigger Texas cities. It helps that 35 miles is all that separates rural living from city life.
"You go to some of the small towns in Texas and the youth have left," Keller said. "The parents are there, the grandparents are there, the aunts and uncles are there, but the kids have all gone off to San Antonio or Dallas or Houston. That's what's good about Pleasanton. They're close enough to San Antonio that you don't have to move there to enjoy it."
Pleasantons in the U.S.
Median household income: $51,250
Profile: Once a thriving farming hub, the town has dwindled in population. It's located 90 miles from Des Moines, at the entrance to Nine Eagles State Park on the Missouri state line. Many of the stores and remaining homes are gone, shuttered or falling down.
Pleasanton Township, Michigan
Median household income: $33,997
Profile: A township located in Manistee County, Pleasanton covers overs 35.5 square miles.
Pleasanton village, Nebraska
Median household income: $37,656
Point of interest: Situated on the South Loop River, it was once the terminus of the Omaha and Republican Valley Railway, a Union-Pacific line that ended in the 1940s. A flood in 1947 washed away the tracks and the line was abandoned in 1948.
Median household income: $25,714
Named after: General Alfred Pleasonton
Point of interest: Mine Creek Battlefield, located in Pleasanton, Ks., was the site of major battles during the Civil War. A total of 2,500 Union soldiers were under General Pleasonton's command there as they faced Confederate soldiers. The city is located 50 miles south of Kansas City in the Ozarks and is surrounded by dozens of lakes.
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