by John L. Baldwin
Ghost Towns of Walker County
Walker County has five ghost towns which were once flourishing and prosperous communities. Four of these were located on the Trinity River, in the northern part of the county, and owed their existence to the steamboat traffic on the river. they were Cincinnati, Newport, Carolina and Tuscaloosa. The fifth, Elmina, was located in the southern part of the county, about one mile north of the present day town of New Waverly. It was at one time a busy lumbering community. These are the five ghost towns to be considered in this chapter, although there are some others, but of lesser size and importance when they existed.
Cincinnati was founded 1837-1838 by James C. DeWitt, and was an important port until it was ravaged by the yellow fever epidemic of 1853. It was at that time almost wiped out, but later regained a portion of its importance, only to die once again as a result of the decline of steamboat traffic on the Trinity, which had brought it into being in the first place. By the year 1884 the population of the area was given at 35 and even those people gradually left, until today there are no residents at all to be found at the location of the former town, which at one time numbered 500 or 600 people, and was even larger than Huntsville in the earliest days of the two settlements. (W. R. Webb, The Handbook of Texas)
Today the visitor to the site of once busy shipping port will see very few reminders of the old town; the area is used as grazing land for a large number of cattle. There are a few scattered bricks and stones which were once part of some of the buildings there, but most of such evidence had been removed. There is an old well still to be seen, which was used by the people of the town to supply their water, but it is no longer in used. A marker was erected by the State of Texas in 1936 to indicate the town site, and to the casual visitor unfamiliar with the area, this marker would be the only thing to show that there had once been a town there.
The site of the old settlement is located on a high bluff overlooking the Trinity, from which may be obtained a very picturesque view of the river. Off to one side of the town site there is an old cemetery, with only a few tombstones remaining. One lot enclosed by an iron fence, and the graves in there have been better preserved than others within the once large cemetery area. Traces of some of the old roads leading into the town may still be seen id one looks carefully.
In 1837 H. M. Crabb deeded to James C. DeWitt on labor of land "...to be selected by him as his natural headright..." the area DeWitt selected had been granted to Crabb by the government of Coahuila and texas from the allotment of the empresario, Joseph Vehein, and was located on the Trinity River. Shortly after this grant was made, DeWitt began selling lots in the surveyed area known as the town of New Cincinnati. The area was surveyed by William Charles Brookfield, who was granted 5 town lots in Cincinnati as payment for his work. The town was well laid off and was divided into 40 blocks fronting on the Trinity River. One block was set aside as a public square. The streets running to the river were Water, Brookfield, DeWitt, Hall, Commerce and Grimes streets, and the cross streets were Trinity, Jackson, Richie, Main, Fowle, Walnut, Milam and Pennsylvania.
James DeWitt died in the latter part of 1838 or 1839, shortly after getting his town underway. DeWitt's wife, Sarah Ann, married Frederick Pomeroy, a leading citizen of Cincinnati, in 1839. Pomeroy later appointed Isaac Tousey as attorney to settle the estate of DeWitt.
The development of Cincinnati seems to have gotten off to a rather slow start. The town was visited in April, 1839, by Adolphus Sterne, who wrote in his diary, "Mr. Clapp has built a good home for travelers, about 8 or 10 others smaller, saw only one store." When Sterne visited the place again in August 1843 he wrote, "Cincinnati has not much improved since I saw it last." Miss Melinda Rankin, a resident of Cincinnati, also writes of the slow growth of the settlement during its first few years. She seems to attribute this to a great extent to the poor moral standards of the town which she thought discouraged others from moving into the area. However, at the time she wrote, she said things seemed to be improving and that the prospects for the town were looking better. A building had been constructed which was to serve as both church and school, and this, she felt, would greatly improve the moral and intellectual standards of the community.
It seems that Cincinnati never had a very good reputation for morality, however. In 1868 John F. Kelly, a newcomer from Ireland an an employee of Dr. J. H. Smith, who ran a store in Cincinnati, made several entries in his diary concerning the character of many of the persons with whom he had dealings. "Oh, Texas, thy youth are truly demoralized." In his opinion, "Very few of them are truly faithfully honest -- very few indeed." In describing what he considered to be the average character of the Texans, Kelly said, "They lack (very much indeed) the experienced ingenuity and skill as well as that indomitable spirit of the go aheaditiveness so prevalent in the Northern character... They have been too much accustomed to leading an easy, indolent life, hence their lack of enterprise and haste..." In regard to promises made by Texans Kelly had this to say; "But. 'Shaw' talk about the people of this state being punctual to what they promise. this in undoubtedly less principal and honor attached to these people in that respect than any I have ever known. May I never experience such a collection of beings in any part of the union." (John F. Kelly, Diary, entry of April 3, 1868)
Frederick Pomeroy and Isaac Tousey seem to have been two of the town's most prominent citizen. They ran a store in partnership, and each owned large areas of land in the vicinity of the town. Pomeroy also owned a ferry, a brickyard, and a tanyard. A license to keep the ferry was necessary, for which the operator has to pay $25 a year in addition to posting bond. The ferry was necessary for the stage line, and there were quite a few people living on the other side of the river from the town itself who crossed to trade in Cincinnati. When the water was high there seemed to have been a difficulty in crossing the river. Kelly mentions in his diary on April 19, 1868, that on that day they had the first customer from over the river since the overflow 3 weeks prior.
The business establishments in Cincinnati were numerous, in addition to those already mentioned as being operated by Pomeroy and Tousey. Robert and John Matthews were ginwrights and wagon and furniture makers. An advertisement placed by them in the Item, January 29, 1853, gives us a description of their business: R. & J. Matthews - Ginwrights, Wagon, and Furniture Makers, Cincinnati, Texas. WOuld again inform the planters and public generally, that they have on hand a supply of Gin Stands, which they warrant to be equal to the best and if not proved so, on trial, the money will be refunded. Also wagons of the most approved style and finish on hand. Wagon repairing, etc. Furniture of their own make, bureaus, bedsteads, folding tables, workstands, etc. Blacksmithing neatly done. They also keep a good tavern where travelers can always find every accommodation."
Dr. J. N. Smith erected, in 1853, a new warehouse for the accommodation of shippers and receivers, and also operated a general merchandise store in the community. (Mrs. I. B. McFarland, Houston)
George Hunter, mentioned in Chapter IV in connection with the wreck of the Fanner, was a tavern owner in Cincinnati. Adolphus Sterne spoke of having eaten there on his visit to the town in 1843. He "took dinner at Mr. Hunters, a tolerable good tavern for Texas."
Dr. J. H. Morgan was a dentist and surgeon who seems to have divided his time among Cincinnati and other East Texas towns. The Huntsville Item February 5, 1853, carried an advertisement of his which stated that he was then in Cincinnati but would soon return to treat his Huntsville patients.
In December 1849, Rev. Robert Waters and Miss Melinda Rankin opened a school in the town, known as the Cincinnati Academy. This school was rather short lived, however. By the year 1851 Miss Rankin was helping Rev. Weyman Adair in his Cincinnati Classical and Collegiate Institute, which prepared older boys for college, but also accepted younger boys and girls.. Rev. Adair taught the older boys while Miss Rankin taught the girls and younger boys. (Thomas Campbell, History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church)
Yellow fever struck Cincinnati in the fall of 1853. By the end of the year the town was reeling from the staggering toll of lives taken. Panic seized many of the people, most of those who were not struck down by the fever abandoned the town. In September 1853 a traveler stopped at Hunter Tavern after having become sick while returning to his home in Palestine from Galveston. Mrs. Hunter waited on him until he left on the next stage. It was later learned that he died shortly after this. No one knew just what his illness had been, but shortly after his departure, Mrs. Hunter had taken with the same disease. the people of the town still did not suspect yellow fever, and several of the women visited her before she died. Thus the fever was rapidly communicated throughout the town with the aid of the many mosquitos from the muddy riverbottom lands. (History of the Hunter and Stevens Family, in possession of Willene Story, Tyler, Texas)
An interesting theory held by some of the towns people as to how the fever got its start was told in the Telegraph and Texas Register of November 4, 1853; a visitor to the town inquired if the source of the fever were known, if it had been brought from Galveston or Houston. the citizens at that time seemed to be unable to account for its appearance. Some had believed that it started through a dead horse that had been permitted to remain close to the town, the stench of which had been diffused through the area.
The doctors of the community were kept constantly on the move, trying desperately to halt the rapid spread of the disease, but yellow fever was a relatively new disease in Texas, and very little was known about it. The Negro slaves of the community did not seem to be susceptible to the ever as did the whites, and they performed invaluable service in caring for the sick. Cincinnati had been dealt a terrible blow, and it seemed for a time that it was completely wiped out.
Newport was begun around the year 1849 by Joseph Werner, a German immigrant who had come to America and to Texas while still a young man. He and his brother owned a steamboat, with which they intended to freight goods up the Trinity River to serve as many parts along its banks, but the boat was wrecked in Galveston Bay before it could ever enter into the Trinity trade. After the loss of the boat Werner worked for a time for other riverboat owners, making many trips up and down the river before eventually deciding to settle on the site which was to become Newport. Werner first erected a log cabin there, and eventually replaced it with a larger and better constructed cabin, which in turn gave way to a third and larger house and one and one half stories, containing 8 rooms. All the materials and furnishings for the house except the window glass were made in the community which had by this time grown up around the house. (The Beaumont Enterprise, September 3, 1939, R. Werner, son of Joseph)
Newport was located 4 miles down the river from the present town of Riverside. the river-port sites were generally chosen for their geographic positions, and from the standpoint of beauty, health and safety. The Newport area met these exciting requirements and was located on a high bluff above the banks of the river, yet it provided a good landing place for steamboats. today the only things to be found on the old townsite are an abandoned Negro shack and a cemetery. Among the graves to be found in the cemetery is that of the former founder of the town. The State of Texas erected a marker in 1936 to designate the location of the former town.
At the peak of its growth Newport had a population of 200-300 persons. the town had a post office, 2 large general stores, drug store, warehouses, blacksmith shop, woodworking shop and various other businesses. the woodworking and blacksmith shop were particularly important, for they provided plows, furniture, nails for building, iron tires, horseshoes, and other such articles of great importance to the citizens. the blacksmith was a respected old negro who was a slave prior to the Civil War. there was also a school and a church in newport.
The main purpose of the town; of course, was that of a cotton port. There were two great cotton warehouses, and the farmers of the county and other surrounding areas would bring in their cotton loaded on ox or mule wagons. Newport had a cotton gin, and a typical scene of the old town was the carrying of the bales down to the river to be loaded on the boats by the deckhands. In periods of dry weather, when the water wa low and the steamboats could not navigate the river, the farmers had to make the long and tedious overland trips in their ox wagons to carry their cotton to markets in Houston and Galveston.
Another important business of this town was a freighting concern - West, Werner and Company, operated by Joseph Werner and partner. Deliveries were made by ox wagons to such surrounding settlements as Moscow, Centerline, Peachtree Village, Sumpter, Colito, and Mount Hope. their consignments included casks of bacon, kegs of butter, barrels of ham, barrels of whiskey, kegs of spice, slabs of iron, boxes of snuff, boxes of axle-grease, and boxes of bitters. (Harold Werner, Trinity)
As a general rule the town was a peaceful and law-abiding place, but there were occasional fights, and many of the men carried cap and ball pistols on their belts. There was no established law in Newport for several years after the founding of the town.
The founder of Newport died in 1872, and was thus spared the sight of the decay of the town which had meant so much to him. Newport ended with the end of the riverboat traffic, and by the year 1878 the town had been generally abandoned.
Carolina was the oldest riverboat town in Walker County, pre-dating Cincinnati by 2 or 3 years. On January 5, 1835, John H. Cummings received a league of land from the Mexican Government. His survey was located in the extreme northeastern part of the area which was later to become Walker County, and part of the league fronted on the Trinity River. At the mouth of Carolina Creek, where it empties into the river, the town of Carolina was established. The Trinity makes a decided bend there, and the high bluffs in the are offered a beautiful location for a town which was easily accessible to the water. Carolina was laid into 10 blocks.
With steamboat travel becoming more popular and the town being the first river portion this area, Carolina enjoyed a rapid growth from the very beginning. Another factor in its advancement was that there were a number of sulphur springs nearby along Carolina Creek. In those days people were of the opinion that sulphur water had excellent medicinal qualities, and soon the town became quite famous resort for this area of Texas. People came from all of the surrounding counties to cure their ailments by drinking the water. (Mrs. Helen Walterman, Riverside)
One disadvantage possessed by Carolina was its poor accessibility by road. What few roads were there were usually remained in poor state, and were often impassable because of mud.
Thus in a few short years the prosperous little town dwindles away to nothing. Today there is no indication that a town ever existed on this site.
Tuscaloosa was located on the Trinity River about 2 miles up the river from Cincinnati;. It was in the Jonathan Collard Survey of 369 acres. Gustavas A Wyser acquired one half this property in 1853. After the title to the land had been passed through several hands. Wyser's acreage was located on a big bend in the Trinity, and made a good location for a townsite. When Cincinnati was practically abandoned in 1853 because of the yellow fever epidemic many of the people moved up to Wyser's Bluff, as Tuscaloosa was called at that time. The town was probably named for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as settlers from that city were known to have come to Walker County.
When the town was first settled, and then known as Osceola it was thought that there were great possibilities for mining lignite. The Trinity Mining and Development Company had visions of acquiring riches from this source. Sam Houston, Henderson Yoakum, thinking well of such possibilities, each bought one-half acre of land in the area. Nothing ever came of the project, since, for some reason the mining company gave up the project. After the coming of the railroad the town gradually dwindled away.
Elmina -- named for the El Mina Temple of Galveston - was located about 13 miles south of Huntsville and one mile north of New Waverly, on the Missouri-Pacific Railroad. Today it is one of the ghost towns of Walker County, with only the vault of an old saw mill which once stood there still remaining to be seen. It is hard to realize that here a few short years ago was a thriving saw mill town, second only to Huntsville in population among the towns of Walker County.
The town had its beginning in 1870 when Oliphant's mill was erected there. The first residences were those of mill hands, but soon others began to come to establish businesses. the Oliphant mill was small and had limited capacity, which kept the town from growing a great deal for the first few years of its existence. the erection of the Walker County Lumber Company in later years marked the beginning of the real growth of the community. The company operated with a personnel of some 150 employees, and these workmen with their families brought the total population of Elmina to 700 persons. All of the workmen's houses were constructed by the lumber company and rented to the workers. there were about 180 residences and buildings combined when the town was at its peak. Besides the houses there was a large mill commissary, a drug store, and a big two-story hotel. (Mrs. Ewing Bush, Huntsville, Mrs. Bush's father, R. Miller was once the manager of the Walker County Lumber Company of Elmina)
The workmen at the mill were given time cards each week to show the amount of time for which they were due to be paid. These tune cards were returned on payday to exchange for cash. If, in the meantime, the workers had purchased merchandise or owed rent, the cards were punched to indicate the amount that should be deducted from the pay. T. Frank Ferguson was the time keeper for the mill and did the card punching when the rent was due.
The Walker County Lumber Company discontinued its operation in 1934 because of the fact that timber in the vicinity was becoming scarce, making it necessary to haul the lumber over longer distances and causing the mill to operate at a loss. One by one the houses were sold and moved away from the community until the once busy town ceased to exist.
This work written and researched by John W. Baldwin in 1954.
copyright 2000 - 2003 Charlotte Sandel Beck