by John L. Baldwin
Other Walker County Settlements
The towns to be considered in this chapter are Waverly, New Waverly, Phelps, Dodge, and Riverside. There are a great many other communities in the county of lesser size, with many of them having histories dating back to the very early years of the county, but it is not the purpose of this investigation to make the extensive survey which would be required were they to be included. Rather than ignore them completely, however, there are here mentioned by name, with the possibility that some have been overlooked.
|Loma||Moores Grove||Mossy Grove|
|Oak Grove||Pine Hill||Pine Prairie|
|Pine Valley||Round Prarie||San Jacinto|
Waverly is located in the southeastern corner of Walker County. Today it is little more than a "ghost" town, with only a few houses still there, but it was once a prosperous community. the town was named by Maxey Lewis, and early settler, for Sir Walter Scott's Waverly Novels, which he was so fond of reading. (Mrs. G. B. Oliphant, Huntsville)
The first man to come to the Waverly vicinity was James W. Winters, who arrived from Alabama in 1835. He cleared land and built a house with the assistance of some friendly Indians in the neighborhoods. Next came Col. John C. Abercrombie, who made a preliminary visit to the Waverly area searching for a suitable location to settle and secure land.
Abercrombie was also from Alabama, having made the trip to Texas on horseback in 1850. The year 1851 saw the departure from Alabama of Hamlin Lewis, Maxey Lewis, Robert Lindsey Scott, John Elliot Scott, Dr. Townsend, and William Lovett, in addition to many other planters and a great number of slaves, on their way to settle in the Waverly region. The party traveled by the land route, riding in carriages, buggies, wagons, and on horseback. While passing through New Orleans many of the group were stricken with cholera and died, among them Hamlin, Lewis, Townshend and the two Scotts. The remaining members of the party reached Waverly safely.
In 1851, William P. Fletcher, his sons Horatio and Lorenzo, Dr, J. A. Thompson, and several friends came to Texas with a view to buying land, and purchased several hundred acres in the Waverly area of Walker County. two or three years later they moved their families to Texas, having sent the overseer and slaves prior to that time for the purpose of hewing and dressing logs and constructing houses. In 1856, Dr. John Fletcher Fisher, son of William Fisher, moved to Waverly to settle, after having made trips to visit his father. (Mrs. J. A. Hill, History of Fisher Families, in possession of Mrs. G. B. Oliphant, Huntsville)
The main industry of the Waverly area was cotton farming, as might be expected from the type of men who settled that region. The climate was mild and humid, and the long growing season with the hot summer days, yet plenty of rainfall, was ideal for that particular crop. The settlers brought many slaves with them, and soon had large and prosperous plantations in operation, with many of them having a great number of slaves. In addition to cotton, each plantation produced other crops and products needed to make them as nearly self-sufficient as possible. there was an abundance of meat, vegetables, meal for making bread, fruit, eggs, butter and milk. The surrounding woods abounded with game and wild fruits, berries and nuts.
A necessary part of each plantation was the cotton gin. the gin-houses were constructed of large square logs hewn from timber cut in the surrounding woods. the gin was operated by wooden-geared machinery' with each gin also having a cotton press made of wood. Power for the operation of the gin was supplied by mules or oxen, and a good days ginning usually produced about 3 bales. Some of the cotton was retained on the plantation to take care of the needs of it's inhabitants, but most of the crop was sold.
Waverly was surveyed in 1858 by John R. Johnson, surveyor of Polk County, and the town was marked off in blocks. The streets of the town were North, Main, Concert and Amity streets, running form north to south; and College, Commerce, and Forrest streets, from east to west. the town was incorporated and the papers recorded on July 10, 1858.
In the earlier period the town of Waverly was very prosperous. Several stores and businesses were to be found there, and the town was proud of its Waverly Institute, a school incorporated by an act of the Texas legislature on August 29, 1856. It was so successful that Waverly soon became a noted education center, with many students attending from the surrounding counties and some even farther away. Col. John Hill of Waverly was instrumental in bringing teachers to the community to operate the school.. The first teachers were: Miss Shackleford from LA; Mr. Davis; Professor C. Gustav Fitze, teacher of music. (Minnie Fisher Cunningham)
Waverly Institute was actually composed of two school buildings. One was the Female Academy, located on the southwest corner of College and Amity streets, while the Male Academy was on the northwest corner of College and Concert streets. Both were constructed of logs. During the Cicvil War the two academies were combined, with the Old Male Academy building, thereafter serving as a church.
Friday afternoons were set aside at the Institutes to give the students opportunity to demonstrate to their parents the skills acquired during the week in declamation composition, and music.
The main church groups in Waverly consisted of Methodist, Presbyterian, and some Episcopalians. Dr. James E. Scott, a Methodist preacher, built a church for his congregation at the corner of Main and College Streets. The Presbyterians organized their church under the Presbytery of Brazos and held their first regular services in 1860, with R. H. Byers as the first pastor. The Episcopalians did not have regular services, but conducted them occasionally in the Methodist Church building. (Lewis, Retrogression of a Rural Community, 13-14)
Following the Civil War, Waverly began a period of decline. When the slaves were freed there was insufficient labor to work the plantations so the farmers tried to organize a company for the importation of Polish immigrants, who would work the plantation in return for advancement of transportation costs in coming to this country. The scheme was somewhat like the old indentured servant system of colonial times, except that the Polish immigrants were to be paid salaries, and were to replay the funds advanced for transportation. the plan did not succeed and only six immigrant families were ever brought over. In addition to the labor problems, the land had been worn out by careless use.
The final blow to prosperity of the community came about by failure to permit the Houston and Great Northern Railroad to build a line through the town. the citizens feared that if would be against the best interests of the community, and, as a result, the track was laid 10 miles west of Waverly. Most of the families then moved from the dying town.
The town of New Waverly had its beginning with the sounding of the death knell of "Old" Waverly. the Houston and Great Northern Railroad Company, unable to obtain the land in the vicinity of Waverly through which it had originally intended to build the new line, was forced to lay it instead approximately 10 miles west of Waverly, at the point they erected a station. The building was known as "Waverly Station", even though it was several miles from the community of that name. When the area around the station began to be settled, a post office was established and was called "New" Waverly, to distinguish it from the post office in the older community. Finally, to avoid the confusion of having a Waverly Station at New Waverly, the station took the name applied it to the post office.
Many of the first residents of the new railroad town came from the older community to the east, which could no longer provide a living for all of its citizens. Among these were the A. T. Hill family, the Traylors, the R. A. Thompson family, the J. A. Hill family, and some of the Fishers. Other settlers living in the New Waverly area, some of whom had been there long before the towns came into existence, were the Powells, the Scotts, the Harts, the Clarks, and the Bass, Spiller and Derry families. Most of these people owned farms in the vicinity of the new town. (Felix Hardy, New Waverly)
The first store to be established in the new settlement was operated buy John McGar, and carried general merchandise. Other stores were run by J. C. McKibbin, J. R. Hill, who had a grocery business; S. Brown , general merchandise; a store run by Mrs. Gatz; and a dry goods store by a Jewish man named Strange. A hotel for the accommodation of any train passengers who stopped over was operated by Mr. McKeen. (A. C. Kmiecik, New Waverly).
The first cotton gin in New Waverly, other than those on individual farms, was established by J. R. Traylor, and was hand operated. A more modern gin was later built and operated by Mike Skropenski.
The protestant church groups existing in the community were primarily Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptists. the establishment of church building was not accomplished for some time, but most of the denominations used the one-room school for their services.
A map of New Waverly filed in the Deed Records of Walker County. on February 2, 1881, showed the town to be divided into about 10 blocks, ,all east of the railroad tracks. The street were called Front, Elmore, Fisher, Walker, Gibbs, and Sleight. One of the oldest roads in the state, from Swartwout to Longstreet, passed through New Waverly, over Fisher Street. Another road went to Huntsville, and a third to Willis. these were the only roads of importance in the early community, although there were others leading to the nearby farms.
In 1872, a number of Catholic families immigrated from Poland and settled in the vicinity of New Waverly and Danville, which was a farming community located about 4 miles from New Waverly. Father Orzechowski built a Catholic Church in Danville, but it was closed a few years later by his successor, Father Victor Lincki, and a new church was begun in New Waverly to serve the Catholics of the area. Father Lincki was called away before the church was completed, but his successor, Adam Laski, finished the church and also constructed a small rectory. Laski's successors were Fathers Polyanski, Wilninowicz. Grabinger, Litwora, and Jacob Chakearz. In 1892 the Reverend Theodore Jarron was appointed to the church and under his administration, the church was improved and a Catholic school built. (History of St. Joseph's Parish, in possession of A. C. Kmiecik, New Waverly)
Phelps got its name form Phelps-Dodge Corporation that financed the building of the Houston and Great Northern Railroad through the area. It was the plan of the railroad company to have towns placed about 8 miles apart along the track between Conroe and Trinity. This plan was originally carried out and the designation of Phelps was at first midway between New Waverly and Dodge, about 8 miles distant from each. the town was laid out and began at the point where the old Black Jack Community is now located. When Huntsville built its branch railroad line to connect with the main line it was through the connection point that would be a better location for a town site, so Phelps was moved there in 1872-1873. The families at Phelps still bury their dead in Black Jack cemetery, and no other has been established in Phelps itself. (P. H. Singletary, Huntsville)
From the beginning, the main source of revenue in Phelps was from the passengers for the railroad who came there from Huntsville to catch the main line train. The "Huntsville Tap Line" did not operate at night, consequently, the persons desiring to catch mid-line trains often had to go several hours ahead of time then wait in Phelps until their train arrived. A large hotel was built, and it carried on a prosperous business with these guests who had difficulty in making connections. Besides the hotel there was, in the early years of Phelp's existence, a general merchandise store, run by Ed McGar, and another store operated by a Mr. Edmunds, who is also the agent at the depot. A post office was established at an early date, and the first post master was a Mr.Winters. A one-room frame building was erected to serve as the Phelps school house and church combined, with the various denominations al holding services in the same building. (rs. L. R. Swearington; Mrs. J. B. Wooten; Mrs. Ella Sloan, Phelps, Texas)
As time went on more families moved into the area, and farming and cattle raising came to be the principle industries of the region. Lumbering was also undertaken, and two saw mills were established, one in Phelps and another , Sloan's Mill, about 3 miles from town. the mills prospered, causing an even greater growth of the town.
Some of the early settlers of Phelps were the Watsons, the Fergusons, the McGars, the Taylors, the Stricklands and the Sebruns.
Charlie Sebrun, who ran the hotel, had quite a reputation, not only as a hotel man, but for his occasional escapades with firearms as well. There were a few of the 4th of July barbecues that were not enlivened by a shooting scrape in which he was not involved. On one such occasion, when the dancing was at its liveliest and the colored orchestra was rendering music, Sebrun opened fire and killed a man right by the bandstand. The musicians, with instruments dangling from cords around their necks, lost no time in getting back to the passenger train that stood waiting on the track some 200 yards away.
Later in the 20th century, with the development of better roads and highways, the branch line from Huntsville ceased to do as much business as formerly, and Phelps began to lose much of its patronage. The two old sawmills of the town eventually closed, causing further decline of the community. Today, Phelps has lost the glamour and size of its earlier years, but it still remains as a fairly substantial farming community. The railroad still runs through the town but Phelps is no longer the important stopping point it once was. ( P. H. Singletary)
Although Dodge did not become a town until Houston and Great Northern Railroad built its line between Houston and Palestine, in 1872, it is one of the oldest settlements in the community. William H. Palmer settled in the Dodge area in 1825, with his wife, after coming here from Tennessee. Palmer was followed in 1830 by William H. Barker from Monroe, Louisiana. Barker was a grandfather of the late Dr. Eugene Baker, a well known Texas historian at the University of Texas. Next came John Roark and family from Tennessee, followed in 1834 by John Carothers, who received a league of land from the Mexican government on which the town of Dodge was laid out. By the time of the Battle of San Jacinto the community was a thriving settlement, and a few of the settlers of that area fought in that engagement.
During the years of the Republic of Texas the community continued to grow and prosper. Among the settlers coming were James Gallaspie, Haden Watts, Green Webb, Russell Roark, and others, whose prosperity was to give the historic town of Dodge most of its families of later years. (William Watts, Huntsville)
An interesting story is told about Russell Roark, a dealer in livestock. He fell in love with Sarah Ann Palmer, daughter of William Palmer, the community's first settler and proud and successful farmer. When Sarah Ann's father refused to let her marry a "horse trader" she and her beau eloped, riding all night on mule back to find a preacher to perform the service. In due time they were forgiven by the girl's father, and remained all their lives in the Dodge community. (Morely, Dodge Community History)
Dodge was chiefly a farming community first, and in the earlier days most of the farming was done on a large plantation with slaves doing the work. Later, cattle raising came into prominence, and eventually the lumbering industry began to figure in the development of the community. Several saw-mills were established near by to take advantage of the timber to be found in the region.
Other than those already mentioned, some of the early heads of families of Dodge were DeWitt Carter, Justice of the Peace, and also a school teacher; Buck Webb, a farmer; Jim Vann; Jim Jefferies; E. T. Josey, who operated a grist mill; Jim Burke; Joe Wooten; Bob Weisinger; Jim Lewis; John Morse; Dr. Randolph; Dr. Love; Dr. Hale, who ran the drug store; Ab Wyatt, the saloon keeper; and others. The citizens were for the most part, a very religious group, and churches in the community were well attended.
For their social activities, the people of Dodge often had all day singings and "dinner on the ground", dancing and other activities.
The town of Riverside is situated on the John J. Porter league on the west side of the track of Houston and Great Northern Railroad and consists of eight blocks. The town failed to develop as expected, however, and a short time later it was redesigned, this time consisting of only one block, but other blocks were eventually created.
For many years there was no railroad bridge crossing at the Trinity River at Riverside. The trains going from the south would discharge passengers at Riverside, back up to a turntable at Dodge, and then make the return trip to Houston; while those coming from the north would also discharge passengers at Riverside a, back to the turntable at Trinity and then return to Palestine. A ferry operated at Riverside carried the passengers across the river so they could continue their journey. This break in the rail line worked to the advantage of the town. A large hotel was built to accommodate the overnight passengers, and several stores were opened. to take care of their needs. C. E. Heald opened a saloon and a livery stable, while his wife ran the hotel. A Mr. Bethea put in a grist mill, and a drug store was established, as well as several mercantile businesses. (Helen Walterman, Riverside)
While the town in general prospered with the coming of the railroad, there was only one project which had to be abandoned. This was an oil mill being erected on the banks of the Trinity to serve the riverboat trade. Realizing that the railroad would seriously reduce the steamboat traffic, the mill construction project was abandoned before completion. The remains of the old brick building can still be seen on the river bank. (Mrs. Dave Dominy, Riverside)
Riverside also grew into a prosperous farming area, and at one time held the distinction of being a very important cotton market, but the town began a period of decline. A contributing factor to this was the building of a new railroad bridge across the Trinity, so that the passengers no longer had to stop at Riverside. At the peak of its growth, the town had a population of approximately 400, but by 1890 it had been reduced to 178. (Richardson, East Texas Its History and Its Makers) In later years with the establishment and operation of Fuller's Earth plant in the town, a small measure of the former prosperity returned, but that industry itself ha since suffered a decline.
Riverside may boast of having had hardy pioneers of good stock, who believed in the importance of adequate schools and churches. the first school house opened in 1875, and a Baptist and a Methodist Church have existed there since the early days (John Weinzerl, Riverside)
Among the early settlers who now rest in Riverside Cemetery the following families are represented: The Wilsons, the Kellys, the Vickers, the Traylors, the Kohls, the Werners, the Warrens, the Rigbys, the Domineys, the Clintocks, the Burkes, the Fitzgeralds, the Healds, and many others. Most of the people who make up the present population of Riverside are members of those old families.
Not far away from Riverside there was once located one ot the oddest plantations in the county, established by the Thomas family. It was situated on the banks of the Trinity and maintained its own landing for shipping cotton. Two cemeteries remain on the old site today, with one containing members of the Thomas family itself, and the other one containing graves thought to be those of slaves.
This work written and researched by John W. Baldwin in 1954.
copyright 2000 - 2003 Charlotte Sandel Beck