VAN ALSTYNE PUBLIC LIBRARY
FREE LAND DREW SETTLERS TO CROSS ROADS
by Julie S. Morris
"Gone to Texas" was painted on fence posts and door jambs across
the midsouth section of the United States during the 1848's as whole communities
pulled up stakes and headed for lands promised - if not exactly the Promised
The Republic of Texas, which came into being in 1835 was land poor,
and her leaders realized immediate and sizeable immigration was crucial
for the survival of the new country.
In 1838, the Republic authorized a military road from Austing throught
the Three Forks of the Trinity and on to the Red River and Holland Coffee'
A line of forts built along the road was intended to protect settlers
from hostile Indians. The road, Preston Trail, soon became a major
way into the state.
In 1841, the Republic passed the first empresario bill soliciting
settlers and offers of free land in the vast and fertile prairies of north
On Nov. 20, 1841, the Texas Agricultural, Commercial and Manufacturing
Co., better known as the Peters Colony of Louisville, Ky., was established.
Under the terms of this contract with the Republic, Peters Colony was to
settle 600 families within three years. A family man would receive
clear title to 640 acres while a single man received 320. The requirements
of the grantees were that they "shall have built a good and Comfortable
Cabn upon it, and shall keep in Cultivatin under good fence, at least fifteen
acres on this tract."
By 1844 the Peters Colony had re-established under the official name
of the Texas Emigration and Land Co., and their eastern boundary then covered
over half of present-day western ......
After homesteading on land and receiving clear titles, settlers would
often sell, make a profit and move on to new frontiers. So it was
that many early pioneers were not the original survey holders.
Two early settlers in the area west of Van Alstyne were Rev. Thomas
Benton McComb and David Elliott. Both were to have profound impact
on this area by their influence in establishing churches and school.s
In January 1854, Rev. McComb came from Missouri with his wife and
family to the area known as Cross Roads, just to the east of Preston Trail.
He bought 170 acres for $500 from George and Bintha Burns. The place
was partially on the Samuel Pruitt survey along White's Creek.
Records for the Peters Colony indicate that Pruitt migrated to the
colony before 1848 and received 570 acres of his headright in Grayson and
the rest in C ollin County in 1850. This survey, as was so many others,
was quickly divided and sold. Early Texas pioneers became land speculators
- also desirable for the area's struggling economy, even after it because
a part of the United States.
Cross Roads marked the juncture of two wagon trails. Dr Morris
L Britton of Sherman, who has done extensive research on early Grayson
C ounty roads, said the north-south trail eventually became a stage route
from Sherman through Farmington, Elmont, Weston and on to Dallas, but probably
not until after the Civil War, when the travel business picked up enough
to support a stage.
The east-west trail connected Pilot Grove to Preston Trail.
Also known as the Airline Highway, it was surveyed by J. P. Dumas.
No one seems to know where the road got its name.
Rev. McComb was a farmer and blacksmith, but his real calling was
a a Baptist minister. Ordained in 1848m he was among the first ministers
of any demonination in this area. He pastored churches in several
communities, including Weston and Farmington, and helped organize the First
Baptist Church in Sherman.
In 1860, Rev. McComb was part of a Cross Roads group organized to
establish a church. They bought an acre and a half of land for $30
from Joseph and Mary Jackson and founded the New Home [sic Hope] Baptist
Church, now known as Elmont Baptist Church. rev. McComb was New Hope's
first pastor, and remained pastor until he retired in 1894.
Casah was hard to come by, and the group met under brush arbors and
tabernacles made of cotton bagging thrown over pole frames. Finally,
in 1888, John Bowen led a cavalcade of seven wagons to Jefferson to obtain
lumber to build the first permanent church house, which served until 1949.
The round trip to bring lumber took six weeks.
John Bowen's daughter Nova rode on horseback throughout the community
raising money for an organ for the new church.
Another early settler, DAvid Elliott, and his wife Nancy bought 400
acres for $5 an acre a little west of Cross Roads in 1855.
Many years later, their granddaughter Willie Webb Judd wrote a rememberance
of her chldhood years spent on her parents' and grandparents' farms.
She said the original tract was bought from a man named Stanley who had
homesteaded in the Peters Colony.
Elliott was a Baptist circut rider instrumental in organizing the
Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. Elliott's daughter Betty married Joe
Burke, and they lived clos by on land given to her by her father.
The Burkes donated part of the land for the Pilgrim's Rest Church and for
a school, known as Burke School #91.
Mrs. Judd's account recalls many good and happy times at the Burke
School. money for supplies was raised by holding box suppers.
A magic lantern show especially impressed the crowd, with images flashing
in a darkened room. Many young couples paid little attention to the
magic lantern and instead found privacy in dimly lit corners.
Another favorite spot for young couples was Lover's Leap on East
Fork Creek. The swirling waters had carved out a swimming hole at
the base of the limestone cliff and a picnic area promised an enjoyable
day. The high bluffs just south of Mrs. Judd's childhood home was
a site for Sunday school picnice and reunions, or just family fun.
Many carved their names into the rocks of the high bluff, and it
was a favorite place to take photographs. Mrs. Judd described a "lover's
pose as holding hands and looking into each other's eyes with silly 'dying
claf grins' on their faces, which was plenty daring in those days!"
The rich farmland in the area continued to attract settlers, and
in the 1870's Andrew Neill arrived from Tennessee. He bought a 240-acre
farm south of Cross Roads and later married Lura Cotton, a daughter of
another Cross Roads pioneer family which arrived in 1854.
The Neills had eight children. One son, Hugh, married Ruth
McMillan of Van Alstyne in 1925. Ruth Neill said her father-in-law
built a beautiful two-story house on the farm and raised mules. "Mr.
Neill in the early days drove herds of about 30 mules to Sherman to sell,"
she said. "The heard was headed by a lead mule and they all went
right through Elmont. It must have been used as a stage stop, called
the Buckhorn Tavern. All but oneo f Neill's eight children began
married lif in the Buckhorn Tavern.
No record can be found to indicate when or by whom it was built.
A Sherman Democrate article dated Aug. 19, 1962, tells some of its history.
"Settlers recall having seen the Daltons, Youngers and other outlaws using
this tavern as a hiding place after raids in Indian Territory," the article
said. After the humbling use as a hay storage in its declining years,
the old rminder of times past was torn down in 1962.
As the Cross Roads area grew in the last part of the 19th century,
the need for quality education became a local priority. A community
committe consisting of J. M. Jackson, J. H. Arnspiger and J. A. Simpson
enetered into an agreement with S. P. Evans, B. L. Harshaw and E. H. Pritchett
to form the Cross Roads Institute, in 1883.
Evans, a Grayson County native, graduate from Savoy College in 1881
with a bachelor of arts degree. He went on to Mahan's Commercial
College in Cleburne, graduating in 1882.
Ruth-Lee Cason, a granddaughter of Evans, has the original agreement
dated Feb. 2, 1883, forming th Cross Roads Institute. Articles stated
that a two-story bilding was to be erected by private subscription by stock
holders of the school. The school house was to be furnished with
two tabs, 20 chairs, and "good black boards" sufficient for fifteeen pupils
exercising at once.
The departments of the school consisted of primary, intermediate,
collegiate and the department of elocution and commerce. This department
offered courses in such areas as merchandising, farming, mining, commission
insurance, steamboating, polotical economy and banking.
Rates ranged from $1.50 to $7 per term and the public free school
was at a time set by the trustees. The dicipline "shall be as mild
as possible but positive and shall e entirely in the hands of the faculty,"
accourding to the school prospectus.
On Aug. 24, 1884, Evans wrote to Laura Bell Armor of Reinzi, Miss.,
offering her a teaching position at the new Cross Roads Institute.
She gladly accepted for she had lost both parents and she already had frinds
living in the Cross Roads area. Miss Armour, who was 19 when she
arrived in Texas, boarded with REv. and Mrs. McComb and began her new life
as a teacher in Cross Roads.
Apparently the position agreed with her, for Miss Armor married Evans
on Easter Sunday, April 19, 1885, in the McComb residence. Rev. McComb
performed the ceremony and Mrs. McComb Prepared what was called an "infair
dinner." She served fresh English peas and asparagus from her garden.
Cross Roads had these two teachers just through the end of the 1885
term, when the Evans moved to Van Alstyne and opened the second school
In 1884, the Cross Roads area was officially named Elmont when a
post office was opened and William A. Rexwah became postmaster. Elmont
had groun into quite a bustling community. Another church, the Church
of Christ, had opened across the road from the Baptists, and W. D. Benton
in some handwritten notes described early Elmont as having general stores
run by Ed Ball, Sam Chambers and Bob Parish.
A dry goods store was operated by Mr. Cambell (sic), Benton wrote;
and barbers were Joe Wilson and Earl Whitaker. The blacksmith was
Jake Douglas and Frank McMahan and Coleman Watson operated a gin south
of the Van Alstyne highway. Dr. Morrison was one of at least two
medical men in the area.
Cary Milton Elliott, grandson of David Elliott, organized the Woodman
Lodge at Elmont and the lodge building also was acrss the road from the
Some things changed more slowly, however. On the 1908 plat
of Elmont, a narrow sliver of land north of the road was still under the
name of The Texas Emigration and Land Co.
In 1929, Hugh and Ruth Neill opened a grocery store in Elmont, after
buying it from Bill Nixon. The Neills moved from the Buckhorn Tavern
to a house next to the store, and next to Charlie Brown's blacksmith shop.
Mrs. Neill described the family business as a general merchandise
store carrying food and basic hardware such as nails. The only meats
sold were dry salt bacon and bologna. "The bologna was a fast seller,
but I never cared for it," remembers Mrs. Meill. Her husband bought
ice in Van Alstyne in 300-pound blocks and kept it in the ice house.
Mrs. Neill remembers chopping lots of ice for customers.
Gasoline was sold from two gas pumps in front of the store.
Claude Hughes supplied the Magnolia gas to the store.
As a promotional for Burrus Mills, the Light Crust Doughboys perfromed
in front of the Neill Store, with people from miles around jamming the
parking lot and requesting favorite songs.
The Neills sold their store in 1942 and moved to Van Alstyne.
Bill Barrett operated the grocery until it burn3ed in the 1960s, after
which he, too, moved to Van Alstyne. The rural schools consolidated
in the early 1940s, and people gradually moved off. Time eventually
took its toll on the little community of Elmont, and one by one the buildings
that comprised the town disappeared.
Today the heart of this area is the Elmont Baptist Church, under
the ministry of Rev. Jim Poole. It is still alive and growing, a
reminder of the way things used to be. New brick homes dot the prairie,
filled with urban emigrants, probably drawn to the area by the same qualities
that drew earlier pioneers some 150 years ago.
* * *
This thumbnail sketch of an area, a community and a way of life is
necessarily brief, touching only on the highlights of 15 decades.
Many people and events who contributed to the local history have not bee
included, due to time and space limitations.
I've made every effort to check the accuracy of my information, but
some of the sources could not be corroborated. Corrections and added
information are always welcome. Send them to me in care of the Leader.
Special thanks go to Ruth Neill, Mildred Kalmbach and Cecil Mayes.
Ruth-Lee Cason shared not only memories but family documents and books.
Rev. Jim Poole, pastor of Elmont Baptist Church, offered several photographs;
and Dr. Morris L. Britton offered much insight on early Grayson County
Additional information on Elmont Baptist Chuch and Rev. T. B. McComb
was published in the Van Alstyne Leader's Progress Edition, March 18, 1993;
and the Grayson C ounty clerk's office has deed records dating back to
the beginning of the county.
Other sources include:
* "The Peters Colony of Texas," bu Seymour V. Connor, Texas State
Historical Association, 1959;
* "The History of Grayson County, Texas," Grayson County Frontier
Village, 1979, contains many family and local histories;
* "History of Grayson County, Texas," by Mattie Davis Lucas and
Mita Holzapplle Hall, 1936, provides much detail on early settlements;
* "My County Childhood, Grayson C ounty, Texas, 1893-1907,: are
her personal memories, written in 1972.
These books and others, along with files on families and places of
Van Alstyne are available in the Van Alstyne Public Library.