A Brief History of Kerens
Navarro County, Texas


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A Brief History of Kerens, Texas
By Joe M. Daniel
October 3, 1961
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", 1961
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

CHAPTER I - The Texas and Saint Louis Railway

On May 17, 1879, the Texas and Saint Louis Railway Company of Texas was organized at Tyler, Texas with James P. Douglas as President; posed of J. L. Sloss, W. M. Center, M. C. Humphrey, J. D. Golden, all of Saint Louis; J. P. Douglas, C. Goodman, J. H. Brown and A. W. Ferguson of Tyler, Texas.

Originally, the purpose of the Texas and Saint Louis Railway was to operate as a feeder line to the Iron Mountain railway, beginning at Texarkana and extending to Waco, Texas, a distance of two hundred sixty-six miles (266).   Later, however, the promoters decided to expand their project by joining with the "Palmer & Sullivan" railway system of Mexico at either Eagle Pass or Laredo, Texas, thus giving Saint Louis a direct connection through Arkansas and Texas to the City of Mexico.  At that time the Sullivan interests had about four hundred miles completed and expected to reach the capitol of Mexico in the year of 1880.  Parrimore estimated that the two thousand two hundred miles from saint Louis to Mexico City could be made in about seventy-two hours time.  This proposed railway was the first scheme for an international railway system ever attempted on the American continent.

The route specified by the charter passed through the following towns: Texarkana, Mount Pleasant, Tyler, Waco, Gatesville, Leon Junction and then either Eagle Pass or Laredo.

The company started operations with only two locomotives, two passenger cars and fifteen freight cars.  The railway construction between Tyler and Texarkana was completed in 1879.  The contract west from Tyler specified that all work to the Trinity River must be completed by December 1, 1889.   The contract called for a forfeit should this not be done.  Another contract, given to the same contractors, called for completion of the line to Waco by December 21, 1881.

While the construction of the bridge and trestle across the Trinity River and its bottom lands was under way, other crews were busy grading, building bridges and preparing the roadway farther west.  About the first of February, 1881, the first construction train reached what was to be the town of Kerens.

At the same time as the construction gangs were completing the railway through the country.  Surveyors were busy laying out townsites at convenient distances from each other.  The town of Kerens was surveyed and plotted in the spring of 1881.  The town was named for Colonel R. C. Kerens of Saint Louis, who had become a director of the railway.  He held in fee simple the most of of the lots in the newly surveyed town.  The surveyor named many of the towns for directors of the railway: Sloss Avenue, Goodman Avenue, Humphrey Avenue and Senter Avenue.

The original plans of the railway company called for a branch line from Kerens to the City of Fort Worth.  The original plot of the town, made by surveyors, provided for such an extension by dedicating the right-of-way through the North-West part of town.

In 1882 the line was extended to Gatesville, Texas, giving it a Texas mileage of three hundred-five miles.  Originally the entire Texas mileage was a narrow gauge line and remained so until the late nineties.  The original rails were thirty-five pounds to the yard.  Now they are one hundred-fifteen pounds to the yard.

CHAPTER II.

In the spring of 1881, the township of Kerens was plotted by the engineering staff of the new railway and the lots were largely owned by R. C. Kerens of saint Louis and two attorneys of Corsicana, Sam Frost and Bryan Barry.

Most of the early settlers in Kerens were from Wadeville and the surrounding community.  The first sale of lots in the new town was by auction and the first four were for business houses.  The highest bidder for the first lot was W. W. Loop who bid $120.00 for lot 16 in block 46 which was North of the railway and on Sloss Avenue and North First Street West.  The second lot went to Mr. W. L. Cherry who bid $110.00 for lot 5 in block 47 also North of the railway and on the East side of Sloss Avenue and at North First Street East.  The third bid was by Mr. W. C. "Will" McClung for lot 12 in block 58.  This lot was South of the railway and on the East side of Sloss Avenue at South First East.  The fourth lot went to T. S. Daniel for $98.00 and was for lot 1 in block 59 also South of the railway and on Sloss Avenue and South First West.  Mr. Cherry was the first man to complete his business building and the first groceryman in Kerens.  Later in the year Colonel S. P. Day, as he was known, who had been the postmaster at Wadeville, received the appointment as postmaster at Kerens and opened his office in the Cherry store.  All of the new stores ran parallel with Sloss Avenue and faced the railway.  The Loop store was a combination grocery and hardware as was the McClung store.  The Daniel store was a dry-goods and clothing store.

When the contractor arrived to erect the depot, he considered placing it on the East side of Sloss Avenue and on the North of the main line.   T. S. Daniel, having erected his store on the west side of the street, gave the contractor a Stetson hat to erect it on the west of the avenue where it has since remained.

Within a few months three more store buildings were erected, one by J. T. Webster, adjoining and east of the McClung store, one by W. P. Parker west and adjoining the T. S. Daniel store, and one by C. K. Melear on the north side of the alley in block 59.  Thirty-five new residences were erected within a few months after town lots were put on sale.  T. S. Daniel moved into his new home in the fall of 1881.  The house was erected on block 70, lot 1, and is today occupied as a residence.

Others who moved into the new town were J. L. Joplin, George Noble, Wm. Noble, R. H. Daniel, J. Y. Carroll, Claude Coates, W. S. Price, Jeff Stockton, Marion Martin, George Washburn, J. E. Bosworth, Walter Smith, J. W. Waters and many others.

Dr. R. C. Mays, a physician at Wadeville, was among the first to erect a new home in Kerens.  Doctors H. C. McKinney and J. H. Herring came about the same time.  A man by the name of Zackery opened a lumber yard on the railway siding close to the depot.  this yard was later purchased by J. E. Whitesell of Corsicana and managed by J. R. Valentine.  this yard was established where the J. B. Reese yard now stands.  Within two years S. Hassell had erected a two story frame building on South First Street West and it became the first hotel in Kerens.   George Washburn opened the first drug store.  J. F. Bosworth opened a cafe or restaurant.  George Tyus opened the first hardware and implement business in the town.  W. E. Smith opened a saloon on the West side of Sloss Avenue and a negro by the name of John Kennedy opened a barbershop next door.  In 1883 a Mr. Norred erected the first gin in town at Humphrey and North 3rd Street.  The Co-op Number 1 now occupies the site.  Jarrett and E. Cherry opened a liverystable in the early eighties, ad did Claude Coates.

In 1883 the building jointly owned by Relief Lodge #236 A. F. & A. M. and the school district at Wadeville was moved to Kerens and located on the Whorton Park block.

Also, in 1883, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which had been using the lower floor of the combination Masonic-School building at Wadeville purchased lots 7 & 8 in block 75 and erected thereon the first church building to be built in Kerens.  This building was jointly used by the Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists.  At first the Presbyterians had preaching services on only one Sunday each month.  On other Sundays any preacher that could be had would hold services.  Later the Methodists and Baptists secured pastors but for only one Sunday a month.  Therefore, there was preaching for at least three Sundays a month.   the Sunday School was shared by all.

This church arrangement sufficed until 1885 when a circuit-riding Methodist evangelist by the name of John S. David held a revival under a brush arbor on Rush Creek.  At this meeting about forty members were organized into a Methodist Church group and from that time the denomination had pastor for one Sunday each month.  In 1891 the First Methodist Church building was erected.

In 1886, Brother Red Ellis, a Baptist minister, organized the First Baptist Church of Kerens.  In 1887 the Kerens group joined with the Independence group of Baptists and held services at Independence.  This did not prove to be a satisfactory arrangement and about 1890 The Reverend W. W. Findley succeeded in organizing the Kerens members of Baptist faith into a Kerens organization.  From this time on they used the Presbyterian Church one Sunday a month and in 1886 they were strong enough to erect their own house of worship.

The town grew rapidly and by the year of 1888 contained about 500 people.  At this time the leading citizens decided to incorporate the town.  A petition was presented to the county Commissioners on April 11, 1888, asking for the election and was signed by the following:

C. K. Melear

J. W. Waters John R. Valentine
R. H. Melear S. O. Scruggs W. H. Sherrill
J. L. Joplin Dr. R. J. Mays T. S. Daniel
J. T. Webster W. A. Price G. W. Lux
R. M. Tyus J. W. Mabry W. P. Noble
J. W. Merrow W. J. Stockton S. Hassell
W. E. Smith C. W. McClung J. Y. Carroll
G. R. Washburn Dr. A. N. Witherspoon R. H. Daniel
W. B. Parker W. S. Price Dr. S. L. Herring
J. A. G. Clements W. M. Seale C. McClung

The election was held on Saturday the 5th day of May, 1888, at the office of B. E. Melear, the Justice of Peace.  The vote was 46 to incorporate and 3 no.

On June 10, 1888, an election was held at the office of the Justice of the Peach for the election of the officers for the newly incorporated town.  There were sixty-one (61) votes cast and the following were elected:

Mayor:  W. P. Noble
City Marshall:  S. O. Scruggs
Aldermen: J. W. Waters, T. S. Daniel, C. K. Melear, Press Owen, W. C. McClung

On July 25, 1888, the City Ordinances were passed. One interesting ordinance was that every able bodied man was to put in three days each year in keeping streets clean and in good condition.  He could be exempt from this service by paying $3.00 per year into the city treasury or by hiring a substitute.  A poll tax of $1.00 per year was assessed against all male citizens between the ages of twenty-one and sixty years of age.   It was against the law to hitch a horse in front of any business-house.  An occupation tax was levied against the merchants ranging from $1.00 to $12.50 according to the annual purchases.

"For every billiard table, pigeon hole of Jenny Lind table or any thing of the kind with or without name but used for profit Ten Dollars, and Ten Dollars for any such table used in connection with a drinking saloon or other place of business where intoxicating liquors are sold or given away upon which any money or other thing of value is paid shall e regarded as used for profit.  For every Flying Jenny or hobby horse or any device of that character with or without name, eight dollars per day".

"For every peddler using one horse or one yoke of oxen, Seven Dollars per day."

Space will not permit the quotation of many other ordinances just as antiquated as those mentioned.

After incorporation, the town grew rapidly.  New business building and residences were added monthly and by 1898 the business area on the west side of Sloss Avenue from South First Street to South Second Street was all brick buildings.  The new Miller Hotel on North First Street and Sloss Avenue was completed.  It was a one story brick structure built in the form of the letter H with a patio in the back.   Also in this area several new brick buildings were being erected on the east side of Sloss Avenue.

In 1899 the Kerens Cotton Oil Company was organized.  Shares were sold at $20.00 and many of the young people and some negroes bought them.  The company only hired men who owned stock in the company, therefore it was easy for purchasers to pay for their shares by day labor.  The general manager was J. V. Noble and the superintendent was W. J. Crossland.

In 1900 the Farmers & Merchants Bank of Kerens was organized with a capital of $20,000.00 and $5,000.00 surplus.  At first the bank did business in the Daniel Price & Company's office as they had a large vault and a good safe.  The Officers were T. S. Daniel, President, Wm. Noble, Vice-President, and W. J. Caldwell Assistant Cashier.  In 1904 it became the First National Bank of Kerens with a capital of $25,000.00 and a surplus of $25,000.00.  In the meantime, the bank had erected a two story brick building south of the alley in block 58.

Two fresh water companies, Pugh & Coates and Sam Rowe were covering the business area and the most of the residential section with water lines.  E. F. Ousley and J. C. Hall put in competing telephone systems.  Sam Jennings installed a gasoline power plant and for a limited time each day and night electric service was available.

Two cotton gins were erected and Kerens was fast becoming a well established cotton center.  The site of the school plant was shifted from its original location in Whorton Park to the present school grounds on South Sloss Avenue.  A new brick high school building was erected.  Joplin & Jennings built a two story brick business house 100' X 100' and installed a stock of merchandise that would have done credit to a town several times larger than Kerens.

The First State Bank of Kerens began business in Kerens in 1909.  It occupied the building immediately south of the alley in block 59 and Mr. Mid Westbrook was its president and largest stockholder.  It was the second banking institution in Kerens.  In the same year the second brick school building was added to the school plant.  Spencer Lumber Company established the second lumber yard in Kerens.   Five years later it was completely destroyed by fire but was rebuilt within a few months.  In 1912, Anderson Brothers had four brick buildings constructed on the east side of Sloss Avenue, bringing the total of brick business houses in Kerens to fifty.

In 1910 the first real effort to solve the ever increasing water problem in Kerens was inaugurated.  Bonds were voted to drill a water well and lay water mains over the business section of the town.  The well was drilled to about 3,000 feet where an abundant supply of hot, salty water was secured and not fit for human consumption.  The well was allowed to cave in but the water mains had been laid.

In 1910 the city council employed the law firm of Simpkins & Simpkins of Corsicana to draw up civil and criminal ordinances for the town.  These same ordinances, with some revisions and additions, are those on the statute books of the town.   The city officials at the time were:

Mayor and Recorder: Joe M. Daniel
Mayor Protem: J. C. Walker
Secretary Clerk: J. C. Walker
Treasurer: J. N. Inmon
Health Officer: Dr. K. W. Rowe
Marshall: J. J. Walker
Alderman: J. C. Walker, N. S. Crawford, J. N. Inmon, E. L. Bain, John H. Carroll

In 1915, Joe M. Daniel and Mr. Bergstrom purchased the local Kerens Power & Light Company and began the construction of a "high-line" to Corsicana, there to secure its electric current from the Corsicana Power & Light Company.  This was the first "high-line" constructed in Central Texas.  The new electric service for Kerens was turned on Christmas Eve December 24, 1915.  C. C. Speed was the contractor that built the line.

The revolution in Mexico in 1916 created border troubles that resulted in calling in Federal Service, the National Guard units of Texas, among which was Troop "D" First Texas Calvary of Corsicana.  Ten men from Kerens were members of this troop and they spent nearly two years on the Mexican border before being called into service for World War I.  Thirteen months of this time was a Raids in the Big Ben District.  Soon after being called into service, a headquarters detachment was organized with First Lieutenant Joe M. Daniel commanding, and Kerens was designated as its home station.  This designation made Kerens the smallest town with a complete military unit in service.  This detachment later became the Headquarters Troop, First Texas Calvary and later the Headquarters Battery 132 Field Artillery.

In 1917 when the United States entered World War I, more than one hundred men from Kerens and its immediate vicinity responded to the call and they were stationed on every front and in most of the military camps in America.  many of the Kerens boys participated in every major engagement and some, like Stephen A. Graves, were killed in action.  the people of Kerens purchased in excess of $500,000.00 in Liberty bonds.

It was in 1916 that the Kerens Sewer Company was organized.  It was a stock company made up of local citizens and Luke Miller was the man who promoted it.

At this period Kerens had a population of about 1,500 people.  The area surrounding the town had developed equally as rapidly.   The rich black lands of the area were being put into cultivation, mostly cotton, and twelve to fifteen thousand bales were being marketed annually.  In Kerens and surrounding area were nine cotton gins and the Kerens Cotton Oil Company had more than doubled its capacity to crush seed.

With the ending of World War I. Kerens began another decade of development.  Sloss Avenue, a one hundred foot wide street, was paved from the railway to the school grounds.  In 1921 the Kerens National Bank was organized.  This became the third banking institution in Kerens.  It had a capital surplus and undivided profits of $110,000.00  Its Officers were: J. C. Walker, President; J. L. Whorton, Vice President; E. E. Nettles, Vice President and Joe M. Daniel, Cashier.  It began business in a new banking house that is the home of the First National Bank of Kerens.

In 1922 the Tri-County-Fair Association was created.  Because of the hard work and enthusiasm of Roland Mays and John C. Wells, this undertaking was a phenomenal success for the first year or two and then died out for the lack of some one to succeed the founders of the organization.  1922 was also the year that a battery of artillery was organized in Kerens and became a part of the 132nd Field Artillery.  Its officers were Meridith Quee, Captain; H. C. Johnson, First Lieutenant; Earl McClung and Second Lieutenant Finis Seale.  The unit is still in existence after thirty-nine years of service and an outstanding firing battery of the 133rd Battalion of Artillery.  They will be able to move into a brand new and modern armory to celebrate their forty years of existence in early 1962.

In this decade an ample supply of water became the most urgent need of the community.  Water had been located at a shallow depth and many people had their own water systems until the four large cotton gins and the oil mill put down deeper wells, thereby draining the water from the more shallow wells.  Also the privately owned water systems had been expanded and were running into difficulty because of water shortage.  In 1926 the town voted $30,000.00 to the existing water systems and to extend the water mains.  It was not until 1932 that Mayor Howell Brister envisioned a municipal lake to solve the ever present water problem.  With the help from the Works Progress Administration and with an $85,000.00 borrowed from the Government the city reservoir was completed and a water line constructed into town and connected with the existing water system.  Since that time the city's water supply has been more than ample for all years.  The city lake covers more than ninety acres and holds a two year supply of water when full.

In 1931 the city passed an ordinance conveying to the Texas Highway Department the use of North Second Street for the construction of Highway 31 through the town.  In 1936, while James E. Taylor was Mayor, the city purchased its first fire truck.

It was in the early 1930's (1933) that Kerens received and marketed 23,000 bales of cotton and hung out the slogan "Kerens the Champion Cotton Center."

Kerens continued to grow and in 1941 it celebrated its sixtieth anniversary.  It was the first homecoming the town had ever sponsored and it was widely publicized and drew hundreds of people from all parts of Texas and other states.

With the anniversary of the town's founding, I end this brief history of Kerens, realizing that in a paper such as this that only a comparatively few major events can be enumerated.  Some future historian, with time and patience to spare, can find a wealth of material in the files of The Kerens Tribune, the official records of the city councils, and various church records, the public school records and particularly in interviews and conversations with those who have spent their lives in this friendly community.  It's an interesting story - and it is hoped that someone will tell it in the way it should be told.

 


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox