Posted on October 18, 2017

You’ve seen them in every rural town in Texas and across the country. They are the old, faded, and slowly disappearing advertisements speaking to past generations of shoppers, promoting businesses long gone. Some call them “ghost signs.” In their hey-day, the signs’ bright colors captured the attention of passersby, but over time, the faded designs have become town backdrops, or go unnoticed altogether.

It was around the end of the 19th century that these signs were meticulously produced by hand. Sign painters, also known as “wall dogs” since they worked “like dogs,” were often tethered to the wall, showing off their artistry. Though the signs were considered ordinary and he artists simply laborers, they were the first to add a layer of artistry to otherwise dull landscapes. Within hours, a building wall was transformed into a lively illustration boasting a witty, entertaining message advertising everything from candy to cigars.

The shop found its name when the ghost sign, hidden for nine decades, was revealed. It is so well preserved, it looks brand new.

Bastrop County is home to many of these authentic “ghost signs.” The Owl, Elgin’s home goods store and wine bar, sports a ghost mural (circa 1900) of Owl Cigars, hidden for more than 90 years.

Few remember the Piggly Wiggly on North Main Street, downtown Bastrop, Texas.

But not all “ghosts” are real, even when it comes to signs. The Star Biscuit Co. sign, for example, appeared prior to the move, Hope Floats, which was filmed in Smithville in 1993. Whether there was ever really a Star Biscuit Co., however, is a mystery.

The Star Tobacco ghost sign dresses up an old, vacant building on Avenue C in Elgin, Texas.

Ghost signs were, and still are, forms of downtown art. They are there for those who appreciate the quirkiness of small Texas towns, yet unobtrusive for those who may not have time to stop and look.

The Star Biscuit Co. ghost sign in Smithville, Texas isn’t “real,” but has been here since 1998.

On that note, there are plenty of saloon ghost signs in Texas. Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville, not to mention the rowdier McDade, all had saloons.

The faded Gin-U-Wine Oyster Bar sign on the side of the Bastrop Abstract building.