The Cross south of Ballinger rises 100 feet above ground with a wingspan of 70 feet and welcomes all to come enjoy the serenity of the surroundings
The Cross sits on a hill south of Ballinger. From the highway, especially in the summer heat, its massive silver arms seem to hover above the mesquite-tree-covered prairie.
Everyone in town knows it simply as "the Cross" – a man-made landmark on U.S. 83 about six miles south of town. The small park under the arms of the towering icon is a peaceful place as the West Texas wind keeps the dry air in constant movement. From the vantage point of the hill, the valley spreads out below, and the sky opens up above. On most days, the reflective metal of the Cross seems to welcome everyone and no one.
Rising 100 feet above the rolling landscape, the Cross was installed in 1993. The 10-foot-square arms stretch 70 feet from tip to tip. The base of the structure is an open-air covered pavilion reminiscent of the old brush arbor revival halls. At night, floodlights make the Cross visible for miles.
This is by no means the largest cross in Texas. The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ towers 190 feet above the plains near Groom east of Amarillo. With a wingspan of 110 feet, the Groom cross is visible for more than 20 miles from I-40.
The Ballinger cross was built by a local construction company and commissioned by Jim and Doris Studer, owners of Buddy's Plant Plus. The company is the only U.S. factory making water-soluble fertilizer for Miracle-Gro. After 20 years of making fertilizers in Florida, the Studers went looking for a drier climate. In 1988, they moved the company to Ballinger, where it quickly became one of the largest employers in the county. Their son, Ed, is now president of the company.
On the hillside below the giant cross, a small chapel and a grotto to Our Lady of Guadalupe blend into the rocky terrain. Built with native stone and decorated with pieces of colored glass, the two man-made caves have a very communal look and feel. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas and a national religious icon of Mexico. Her grotto at the site is often decorated with flowers and mementos left by visitors.
Ballinger is about 60 miles due south of Abilene and 36 miles northeast of San Angelo at the confluence of the Colorado River and Elm Creek. It was this water supply that made it attractive to the Santa Fe railroad as a site for a terminal in 1886. The young settlement became a wide-open frontier town with more saloons than any other businesses.
Things began to settle down by 1904 when farmers began moving onto the land that had traditionally been used for raising livestock. By 1910, the Runnels County seat had a population of nearly 4,000 and a new library donated by Andrew Carnegie. Many of the farmers left when a major drought hit in 1916, and ranching and oil wells became the major employers. The population of Ballinger is about the same as it was 78 years ago.
On the courthouse lawn in Ballinger is one of the saddest monuments in the state. The beautiful bronze casting of a young cowboy standing next to his horse remembers the only son of a local rancher. Charles H. Noyes was killed when a calf he was roping collided with his horse causing both to fall. The boy's parents commissioned Pompeo Coppini to make the monument.
A native of Italy, Coppini moved to San Antonio in 1901 where he made several of the statues on the Capitol grounds, on the South Mall at the University of Texas, and many other landmark monuments around the state. The sculptor was working in Chicago when the Noyeses approached him about doing the work. Originally, the statue was going to be placed on the ranch where the boy fell, but the family decided on the courthouse square after they sold the ranch and moved to Florida. They never saw the installed piece that was officially titled Spirit of the Texas Cowboy.
The Cross is open to the public daily. A nondenominational sunrise service is held there every Easter. For more information about Ballinger, call the Chamber of Commerce at 325/365-2333.
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