History of Spring Hill
Navarro County, Texas


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Spring Hill Community


 

Spring Hill, Oldest Community in Navarro County
Researched by Barbara Davidson Patterson
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XIX 1974
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

 

"The town bearing the distinction of being the oldest in what is now Navarro County is the town of Spring Hill which was settled by Dr. George (Washington) Hill many years before the county was organized.  Spring Hill is located about twenty miles west of Corsicana near Richland Creek and the plentiful water supply from springs and from this stream doubtless influenced Dr. Hill in forming his settlement.  The hills covered with beautiful trees and grassy prairies for grazing on all sides make the location of Spring Hill one of sylvan beauty."   Thus wrote Mrs. Annie Carpenter Love in her history of Navarro County, published in 1933.

Dr. Hill encouraged the settlers to come to the Spring Hill area because there was an abundance of the four things that it takes to build a settlement; namely, water, timber, wild meat and soil for cultivation.

In 1837 Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas, appointed Dr. Hill an Indian Agent, and in 1838 he was sent north to establish a trading post, and to bring about better relations with the many Indian tribes.  He picked a place near some rock-walled springs, an area known to many Indians as a good place to secure their winter supply of buffalo meat.

Great herds of well fed buffaloes could be seen on the open prairies.  In the spring of 1838 over 500 Indians of the Kickapoo Tribes came town from Arkansas and camped at the springs to hunt buffalo.

On only one occasion did they cause any trouble, that when a fight occurred with a surveying party that made camp at  the springs near Dr. Hill's Trading Post and started surveying the land.  A few days later they were attacked by the Indians, and 16 members of the party were killed.

The Hill family originated in Wales, and some of its members came to America during Colonial days, settling in Virginia, and from there drifting to Georgia and later to Tennessee.

Dr. George Washington Hill was born in Warren County, Tennessee, on April 22, 1814.  He attended college both in Wilson County, Tenn., and Transylvania University, from which institution he received his degree in medicine.

In 1837 Dr. Hill came to Texas and settled at Franklin.  He served as a member of the Congress of Texas from Robertson County from 1839 until 1842.  While a Congressman he was appointed to the post of Secretary of War and Marine by President Sam Houston.

It was during this time that President Houston made the secret arrangements t sell the Texas Navy, and Secretary Hill was required to carry out the order.

When Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas, was elected, he asked his friend, Dr. George Washington Hill, to continue as Secretary of War, to which he agreed.  He resigned, however, before President Jones had completed the organization of his cabinet.

In the early 1840s Dr. Hill married Minerva Katherine Slauter, (also spelled Slaughter), widow of Francis Slauter, who had been influential in organizing Robertson County.  At the time of their marriage Minerva Katherine and her three children were living at Franklin in the home of her bachelor brother, Robert Harve Matthews.  the family then moved to Spring Hill.  In addition to his service in connection with the trading post, Dr. Hill was a medical doctor.  Their first home was a double log house.  Many years later they built another home a short distance from the old residence.

In an article dated May 18, 1960, Alva Taylor writes of a visit to the grave site of Dr. Hill:
"...as you go out of the (Spring Hill Cemetery) you will be facing the George Hill home, which sits quietly across a small branch on the slope of another hill.  The branch is the Spring Branch of the Battle Creek fight, when the surveyors were attacked by the Kickapoo Indians in 1838.  There were sixteen surveyors killed in this battle..."

"This is where George W. Hill lived until his death on may 29, 1860.  Next May 29th will be one hundred years since this grand old man, the greatest peacemaker of Navarro County, died."

In 1936 the State of Texas erected a monument at the graves of Dr. George Washington Hill (1814-1860) and his wife, Minerva Katherine Hill (1812-1871) in the Spring Hill Cemetery, which is located on their home place.  In his  will Dr. Hill provided that two acres surrounding their small family grave yard should be set aside as a perpetual burying-place.

The original logs from Dr. Hill's Indian Trading Post, build in 1838, were donated to the Navarro County Historical Society in 1961 by Ottma Slaughter Matthews, a descendant of this pioneer family.  The building was reconstructed in in Pioneer Village, City Park, Corsicana, Texas.

The town of Spring Hill was located in the northwest corner of a survey which appears on all Navarro County records: "Heirs of A. J. P. M. Smith Survey".  By virtue of service in the Army of the Republic of Texas, Andrew J. P. M. Smith was granted a headright of 1/3 of a league of land, but before title could be perfected, Mr. Smith died.  Dr. George Washington Hill was the Administrator of Andrew J. P. M. Smith's estate, and through his efforts the Smith heirs were granted 1476 acres, Patent No. 58, on April 9, 1847.  The document was signed by J. Pinckney Henderson, the first Governor of Texas.

In January, 1847, Robert Harve Matthews settled at Spring Hill, the area where his brother-in-law and sister, Dr. George W. Hill and Minerva Katherine Hill, had established their home.

Robert Harve Matthews was born in Maury County, Tennessee, on November 3, 1814.  He came to Texas when he was 21 years old as a member of Sterling C. Robertson's Colony, and first settled at Franklin.  In the spring of 1836 he enlisted in the Texas Army under Captain Robertson, and they would have participated in the battle of San Jacinto had they not been ordered back to the settlements to drive off the Indians.  Later he joined the Texas Rangers, serving with Barnes' Rangers under Captain Smith, and then with Eli Chandler's Company, where he remained until Texas became a state.

Robert Harve Matthews owned and operated a store in Spring Hill as early as 1855, as evidence by a deed of November 29, 1855, in which he sold R. A. Younger 3 acres of land, described in part as being " ... 40 feet due north from the N. W. corner of R. H. Matthews store house in Spring Hill ..."

In 1857 R. H. Matthews bought 502 acres extending across the entire north side of the A. J. P. M. Smith Surveying, and including the area surrounding the Spring Hill Community.  A map of the Spring Hill townsite is on file in Volume V, page 1, of the Navarro County deed records, but no date or filing information is given.  It is known that R. H. Matthews donated the land for the school ground area, and it is assumed that he donated land for the streets.  Spring Hill was a lively place in the early days, with cowboys coming into town and visiting the saloons.   On Sunday afternoons the principle pastime was racing horses up and down Broadway Street.

Before settling at Spring Hill, Robert Harve Matthews had served as District Surveyor of Young Land District; he served a term as Justice of the Peace, and was elected Tax Assessor and Collector of Robertson County.   In 1884-86 he served as Commissioner of Navarro County.

At the time of his death, in 1894, he owned 16,000 acres of land in Navarro County, with 400 acres in cultivation.  His widow, Betty (Priddy) Matthews, had a towering granite monument erected at his grave in the Spring Hill Cemetery.

The Post Office at Spring Hill was established on November 5, 1849; it was discontinued on June 15, 1906.  Following are the names of the Postmasters who served, and the dates of each appointment:

PostmastersAppointment Date
George W. Hill November 5, 1849
Robert H. MatthewsApril 10, 1852
James R. SaundersFebruary 26, 1857
Robert A. YoungerAugust 3, 1858
Andrew HansonAugust 9, 1866
Elias LeeJanuary 20, 1868
Elijah J. WardJune 15, 1869
Jerry M. JohnsonMay 5, 1879
Joseph C. MatthewsFebruary 9, 1882

The above information was contained in a letter from the National Archives, Civil Archives Division, Washington, D. C.

Even though the town of Spring Hill was never incorporated, it was a thriving community, and could boast of at least one brick building when frame structures were most commonly used.  An 1879 Deed from T. P. Sparks to J. R. Smith covering a lot in Spring Hill describes the property in  part as: "... Known and distinguished as the lot on which stands a large brick store house, built and formerly owned and occupied by R. A. Younger, at Spring Hill..." Reference being had to a deed made from R. H. Matthews to R. A. Younger, dated Sept. 25, 1860..."

In an 1873 transaction, R. H. Matthews sold J. M. Polk "Lot No. 5 in Block 10, which lot fronts 56 feet on Commercial Street and 112 feet on Mechanic Street", for $900 coin.  Two years later R. H. Matthews bought the same lot back from J. M. Polk for "Eight Thousand Dollars gold coin...", which price also covered: "... all and entire the stock of goods contained in my business situated on said Lot in said town of Spring Hill consisting in part of Dry goods, Boots, Shoes, Hats, Caps, Notions, Hardware, Cutlery, Staple and Fancy Groceries, and a general appointment of merchandise, together with one Iron Safe and all the furniture in said Store House..."; also Mr. Polk agreed not to open another store in Spring Hill within two years, without the written permission of R. H. Matthews.

Blacksmith shops were essential in pioneer days, and among the first to ply that trade in Spring Hill was Lewis Jacob Staaden, Jr., (1817-1888), who was born in Frankfort, Germany.

When 19 years of age he came to America, and in 1844 he came to Texas.  In 1848 he married Christina Hage, sister of Joseph and Frank Hagle; they were also born in Germany.  Lewis Staaden, Jr. became an extensive land owner, and farmed in the vicinity of Spring Hill.  His primary source of revenue, however, was the smithy which he owned and operated at Spring Hill.

Later a man named Morris Williams had a blacksmith shop, and in the recent past, the late Pete Bills practically became a legend in his time with his proficient blacksmith work.  Today all that remains of his shop in Spring Hill is the concrete floor and debris scattered around.

Another business enterprise of long standing was the rock quarry, located in the northern part of Spring Hill, on land that later belonged to Charlie Matthews.  A Mr. Slade was the owner and operator at one time; also a man named Peter Benton owned it at some time.  Elias Fox, father of Edgar Fox, had a store in Spring Hill; Aquilla Herring owned and operated a saddle shop; and J. F. Sims had a wagon shop for five years.

Mrs. Annie C. Love wrote: "Spring Hill is also mentioned in the early records as being the first point at which a raw-hide building was constructed.  This building was erected in 1850 and used as both church and school, the first teacher being a Mr. Finch and the first preacher, Tom Williams.... 

...Flour mill was located at Spring Hill and it operated late as 1884.   The farmers grew their own wheat and had it made into flour, shorts and bran."

The early history of Spring Hill presented by Leonard J. Tanner and published in the 1959 Scroll states in part that: "... from 1836 or 37 to 1880...the early settlement of Spring Hill whose main street I am told was 150 feet wide and perhaps a block or two long (had) wooden buildings on either side and at least one two-story brick building.  There were 2 or 3 saloons, several merchandise stores, a drugstore, and a hotel.  There was also one saloon in a tent.

"Clark Rattan, a one time saloon Keeper at Spring Hill, later became a preacher.  Other business men in Spring Hill, were Dr. Dean, druggist; Joe Shultz and J. M. Johnson in the merchandise business; .... Thad Sparks was also a well-known business man."

From the same source, we are told that Reese B. Marsh, who was born in Greene County, Tennessee in 1849, came to Spring Hill in 1869 and was engaged as clerk for J. M. Johnson until 1871.  He was then in the drug business in Spring Hill with his father-in-law, Dr. Dean, until 1881.

The early business section was located on Broadway Street - the 150 ft. - wide street mentioned in Mr. Tanner's narrative.  Broadway started at the bridge across Treadwell Branch, in the south part of Spring Hill; it continued in a northerly direction, intersecting Waco Street at what was approximately the center of town, and on the north side of Spring Hill it became the county road leading across Richland Creek and on to Navarro Mills.

Commercial Street also started at the Treadwell Branch bridge, running north through the center of town, intersecting Waco Street, and finally converging with Broadway to become a county road.  This road is still used, but Broadway to become a county road.  This road is still used, but Broadway Street has been closed for years between Waco Street and the Treadwell Branch bridge.

In the 1890's a brick building on Broadway which housed the mercantile business of Joseph Calvin Matthews, the Post Office, and the Masonic Lodge meeting place, was struck by lightening and the back part of it fell in.  J. Calvin Matthews' son, Dr. Harvey L. Matthews, told his father he would give him the land if he would put in a business on Commercial Street - which was about 2 blocks west of Broadway.  Some other businesses were already located there.

They both put up buildings on Commercial Street - J. Calvin Matthews had a grocery store, with the Post Office occupying part of it, and Dr. H. L. Matthews opened up a drug store.  He was also in partnership with his brother, Theo Matthews, in the Matthews Bros. General Merchandise store on the corner of Commercial and Waco Streets.

Treadwell Branch was the site of several industries in the early days of Spring Hill, as told to Virgil Matthews by his Grandfather, Joseph Calvin Matthews.  A gin was located on the east side of the road, near Treadwell Branch.  The reason for locating cotton gins on a stream was to make it easier to dispose of the cotton seed.   They were dumped into the branch and high water carried them away.  The ginners complained that the customers would not come and get their cotton seed.

North of the gin, and across Treadwell Branch, there was a brick kiln at one time..

During the Civil War years a training camp was located at Spring Hill; also a Quartermaster's Department.

In a county reorganization of school districts in 1884, District No. 56 - Spring Hill - was added, among others.  A new school building was erected in 1892.   It was located on the far west side of town, several blocks west of the stores on Commercial Street.  Mrs. Carrie (Jagjears) Shaw (1887 -    ) reports:
"We lived at one time on property adjoining the Spring Hill school grounds.  The school house had been donated by Harve Matthews.  The school building also served as a meeting place for all the different church denominations, with each congregation being assigned a certain Sunday in the month for worship.  Our house was headquarters for most of the preachers."

On July 5, 1949, dormant School District No. 56 - Spring Hill - was annexed to Dawson.

Spring Hill Masonic Lodge No. 155 was organized in 1854, and a lodge hall was constructed the same year.  Minutes of the lodge meetings show an average of 18 members for the year before the outbreak of the Civil War; in 1864 the lodge returns show that the entire membership of Spring Hill Lodge No. 155 was in the Army.

By 1870 the Lodge was again in a growing organization, with 48 members.   In 1881 it was moved to Dawson, Texas, but the name was not officially changed until 1905.  The seal of Spring Hill Lodge No. 155 is now on display in the Museum of the Grand Lodge of Texas, at Waco - Item No. H-10.

Spring Hill's economy has always been based on agriculture and cattle raising.   Its sandy upland soil was excellent for farming in general, and for truck crops and watermelons in particular.  The rich bottom land along Richland creek was ideal for growing cotton, corn, and other grains.  Both types of soil grew fine grass for grazing cattle.

In the early 1960's the 9-million dollar Navarro Mills Dam was constructed by the Trinity River Improvement Association.  It is approximately one mile Northeast of the Spring Hill townsite, on Richland Creek.

Among the early settlers of Spring Hill were the Ritchies, Treadwells, Onstotts, Fullertons, Stockards, Matthews, Sidwells, Garners, Wilkinsons, Lawrences, Dawsons, Lees, McSpaddens and Cheathams; both William and Samuel Wright located near there.  The Jerry Johnson family, also the Ruckers and Mount families moved there in later years, and two doctors made the community their home, Doctors Dean and Younger.

Dr. H. L. Matthews lived in the Spring Hill community for 43 years, and Dr. B. W. D. Hill, a great-nephew of Dr. George W. Hill, first settled in Spring Hill when he came to Navarro County in 1886.

To many of the southern land owners who had lost everything in the Civil War, Texas seemed to offer a new beginning.  So it was with Joseph Calvin Matthews, of Maury County, Tennessee, who moved his family to Spring Hill in 1960.  He had served with Gen. James Longstreet's Corps.

The decline of Spring Hill began in 1881 when the Cotton  Belt Railroad by-passed the town.  Today nothing remains to suggest that it was once a thriving village.

To reach Spring Hill, drive to Dawson, Texas - between Corsicana and Waco on Highway 31; turn north at Farm road 709 - there is a highway sign that shows Spring Hill to be 3 miles distant.  After driving exactly 3 miles on Farm road 709, the traveler will be in what was the west side of Spring Hill; the school house which was what was built in 1892, and also served as a church and community center, was located in this area, as well as Pete Bills' blacksmith shop.

Leave Farm road 709 at this point (it turns sharply to the left); follow the tree-lines, rock road that winds eastward - this was Waco Street, and intersects Commercial Street some three-tenths of a mile after leaving Farm road 709.  Continue eastward on Waco Street for one block, where the old street ends at a cattle guard.

This is the area of what was Broadway Street, which is now in pasture land.   The narrow county road that turns to the left, and runs parallel to the old street of Broadway, leads to the Navarro Mills Reservoir and dam.

The Spring Hill historical marker is to be located on land that was a part of the Joseph Calvin Matthews and Margaret (Sims) Matthews homestead, on the east side of Broadway, some two-tenths of a mile north of Waco Street.

The people of sterling character who settled at Spring Hill deserve a lasting monument, commemorating the important contribution they made to the development of Texas and Navarro County.

 


Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox