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Robertson County




County Coordinator is Jane Keppler.

County Co-Coordinator is Jean Huot Smoorenburg

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Port Sullivan

Early in the 1830's, when the fertile fields of Robertson County were inhabited by the Indians, buffalo, wild horses, deer, wild cattle; when the pioneers of Texas traveled by course and by prominent objects such as clusters of trees, rocks and certain creeks; when the Mexican hogs, wild turkeys, bears, panthers and loafer wolves claimed this section of the state as their home, Augustus W. Sullivan drifted with Robertson's colonists to Texas and settled at the place later to be known as Port Sullivan.  Sullivan later became a member of the Texas army at San Antonio, and played an important part in the development of this country.

Both Port Sullivan and Wheelock are important to the history of Hearne.  Many of Hearne's early citizens came from Wheelock and Port Sullivan.  Christopher Columbus Hearne for whom the town is named, first settled in Wheelock, and many of our early businessmen and town leaders were from Port Sullivan.

Port Sullivan was described in the very early days as being situated on a high prairie bluff, on the west bank of the Brazos River, and commanded an excellent view of the surrounding country.  There were about twenty business houses, a good hotel, and a college.  The inhabitants were principally intelligent, wealthy cotton planters who settled in that area after Texas had won its independence from Mexico.  This group of hardy pioneers developed the fertile soil and established Port Sullivan as a real trading center for the surrounding settlements.  Port Sullivan was one of the most important stops on the main traveled road from Belton to Houston in the early teamster days.

At one time, all eyes of Port Sullivan were turned toward the progress of the H. 9: T. C. Railroad when construction of this railroad began to push northward from Houston.  It was hoped by the settlers of the Port Sullivan area that the railroad would be built near that settlement or that a tap line would be built from Hearne.  Neither the main line of the H. Sc T. C. Railroad nor the tap line were constructed in the Port Sullivan section and this helped seal the doom of Port Sullivan.  The railroad was built through the area that was later to become the town of Hearne.

In the early days goods were shipped from Houston in ox-wagons as the nearest railroad was in Houston.  During the Civil War, much of the southern cotton was carried to Brownsville by wagons because of the blockade at Galveston.  At this time there was a ferry at Port Sullivan which carried the wagons across the Brazos River.  It was a two weeks trip from Port Sullivan to Houston by wagon.  Old timers of the Port Sullivan area said that it was a common sight to see wagons drawn by oxen passing through Port Sullivan en route to Houston to pick up supplies and merchandise.

For many years, Port Sullivan was the post office for the whole section of the country.  There were plenty of saloons and every trade was opened and closed with a drink.  This was especially true among the horse traders, and there were lots of them in that area.

Several steamboats came up the Brazos River to Port Sullivan in the early days, but they were not able to go farther upstream on account of the shoals at this point.  The Houston Morning Star of June 15, 1843 stated, "The Steamer Mustang, lately ascended the Brazos to the shoals above Nashville.  The river was falling rapidly and Captain Moore did not consider it safe to ascend to the great falls as he intended."

In 1916, the federal government attempted to build locks and dams at Port Sullivan in an attempt to make the Brazos River navigable from Houston to Waco, but this project was abandoned when the United States became involved in World War I. The citizens of Port Sullivan thought that the head of navigation on the Brazos River would be at Port Sullivan during the 1850's and accordingly built a large warehouse for storage of merchandise and supplies.  Remnants of the foundation of the old warehouse still remain on the farm land once belonging to James Archie Peel.

According to James Archie Peel, a pioneer of Port Sullivan, the old town was a flourishing community before and during the Civil War.  "When I first moved here it was the finest community I ever saw, but when the railroad was located at Hearne and Calvert, the trade as well as the people moved away." 

Continuing, Mr. Peel said, "It was the only town accessible to ,the people in the early days and was the largest town in all of this section of the country.  There were at least 20 business houses as well as a fine college which drew students from the surrounding country.  James Sampson Ferguson had the largest general merchandise store here.  They went to New York to buy their goods.  This was a big event in the early days.  Captain Lenard and William Anderson had a nice general merchandise store also.  W. T. Watt was the saddle maker and had a saddle shop.  Mr. Watt moved to Hearne from Port Sullivan and operated a saddle shop and hardware store on the corner of Magnolia and Third Streets.  He later established the Provident National Bank of Waco and was president of this institution.  Colonel W. H. White was the only lawyer in town.  John Sailors was in the real estate business, Mrs. Duncan ran the hotel, and Dr. H. C. Ghent and Dr. Wilson opened a drug store and brought their drugs from Galveston by ox-wagons.  The town proper had about 1000 inhabitants.  Tom Anderson, William Anderson, C. G. Wilcox, E. Harlan, Alf Harlan, H. A. Foster, J. A. Foster, R. J. Davis, R. A. Smith, Dr. F. Hall, Dr. Hightower, William Easterwood, George Wagner, William Duncan, Charles Duncan, and Pastor Whippie were a few of the other leading citizens of the frontier town of Port Sullivan."

In describing the old college that was once located at Port Sullivan, Mr. Peel said, "The old college was located on the outskirts of the town in a grove of fine trees.  The large wooden building was two-story and had very large rooms.  Large hallways ran through the center of the two floors and the building was heated by broad fireplaces.  There was a boys dormitory called Steward's Hall."

    Mr. Peel said that Port Sullivan as a frontier town had played her part in the role of civilization.  But the day of the pioneer colonist is gone in this country.  Wealthy towns have taken the place of Indian camps, and the old battle grounds of yesterday have been converted into fertile fields.  Many of the pioneer citizens of Port Sullivan left this area in the days long past, and with the exception of a state marker erected in 1936 near the site of the old town, the only monument erected in the memory of these worthy citizens is the accomplishments of this group as they spread over Texas helping to establish other towns.


Used with permission of Norman Lowell McCarver, Jr.  These electronic pages may not be reproduced in any format by other organizations or individuals. Persons or organizations desiring to use this material must obtain the written consent of McCarver family relatives.


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State Coordinator: Shirley Cullum
Assistant State Coordinators: Carla Clifton, Jane Keppler

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Page Modified: 01 February 2015

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