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Olney, Texas

Olney began in 1889 when John W. Groves took a section of land from the Texas Emigration and Land Company [Peter's Colony] and donated two acres for the town site.

J.M. Brisco arrived in the area about 1880 and built the first store. The second store, which stands today was a grocery store and now houses the Sam Furr Company on Ave. C.

Early settlers included Robert Bruce Neely, J.T. Hunt, G.W. Hutchings, the Kunkels, the Junkers, the Lebermans, the Campbells and Donald Payne.

In 1881, there was no town by the name of Olney, no schools, no churches and no cemetery.

The first church organized in Olney was the Methodist which started with seven members in 1884 in the home of G.M. Donnell.

In 1884, William Bernhardt received a visitor from Lee County, his cousin, William Meissner, know as "Shuster" Meisnner. He brought with him a Bible, a prayer book, a devotional book, a so-called "Hauspostille." With the aid of these books, the Kunkel families resolved to assemble in their rock and log cabins for religious services. Thus the Kunkel families regularly had their reading services and Sunday School.

In 1886, Julius Kunkel and family moved to Clifton, Texas. Rev. Johannes Bartels of Clifton received an invitation to come to Young County to conduct services and to baptize the children. He came, baptized 11 children and remained for a week. He was the first Lutheran pastor to render the first religious service to Olney and Young County pioneers. The St. Luke Lutheran Church of Olney had its beginnings.

In 1891, a large one room school house was built. The Olney Post Office was established in 1892 on the condition that the town would carry the mail east for six months. The first postmaster was J.H. Bristol and the first mail carrier was Elmo Neely. The first hotel built in town was the Linzy Hotel. A landmark in the community and a place for all to be a part. The old hotel was for sale in 1922 by F.A. Sutherlin. The Linzy caught fire and burned to the ground in 1927. Land was selling ine area in 1891 for $2 to $ an acre. J.W. Groves was the land agent at Olney. 1891 is the first year that the town of Olney is mentioned in the Graham Leader newspaper in Graham.

The first Baptist Church organized June 6, 1896 in the Community Church House, also with seven members. Organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was brought about by pioneer preachers and the First Christian Church was organized in 1912 by the Rev. Alexander of Jacksboro.

The town was started without a name and there are two differing stories of how the name "Olney" was slected for the new town. According to one story the town was named for Richard Olney who served as Secretary of State during the administration of Grover Cleveland. Others says that Groves and Hutchings had journeyed to Farmer to discuss the situation with the postmaster at Farmer. While there the two men read the St. Louis Republic newspaper about R.Q. Mills, the U.S. Senator from Texas who planned to open his campaign in Olney, Illinois. The men decided that the town where the senator was speaking deserved a name sake in Texas.

The town began to grow. R.E. Myers opened a barbarshop. R.F. Drum built a blacksmith shop and the first drug store was opened by Dr. J.M. Johnson, Olney's first physician.

Olney's first newspaper, the Olney Oracle, was established in 1908 by Mr. Miller. Later in 1910, when the Oracle was sold for the third time, the new owners changed the name to The Olney Enterprise. In 1917, the Olney Enterprise offices burned to the ground destroying all file compies. The Olney Enterprise is on microfilm beginning in 1917 and are housed in the Olney Public and School library.

The Wichita Falls and Southern Railroad came to Olney in 1909 and as a result the townsite, then located 1/2 mile west, moved closer to the Springcreek Road area, its present site. Several of the existing buildings in downtown Olney have been moved from the old Olney location or actually torn down and re-constructed at their present site.

A second railroad company, the Gulf, Texas and Western Railroad came through Olney in 1910 and was later owned by the Frisco Company. In 1940, the Rock Island system acquired the railroad properties and operated until September 28, 1942 when the railroad was dismantled.

The first gin in Olney was started in 1898 by J.K. Thomas who had moved to the new town from Bowie. The gin was a toll gin taking every 14th pound of cotton as pay.

The First National Bank was organized at Olney in 1907 served by J. W. Groves, president and R. Campbell, vice president. Campbell Banking Company, a private bank owned by W.T. Campbell, was established in 1908 and in 1922 became known as th City National Bank. In 1935, City National Bank and First National Bank were merged.

In 1911 downtown Olney had been established for serveral years and tin buildings with board sidewalks lined Main street.

Early day businesses included Wood, Butler and Hutchison's Dry Goods Store, Russell, Dallas and Ray's Grocery, S.O. Dyer Variety Store, Olney Hardware, owned by Bill Thomas and a drug store owned by Charley Staley.

The first brick hotel was the Morris Hotel located where Olney Savings Association now stands. The Hotel, a two story structure, houses the offices of Dr. George B. Hamilton and was destroyed by fire in the late 1920s.

Construction had been completed on what was later known as South Ward School and teachers included Margaret Stevens, I.G. Kennon and O.C. Somverville.

In 1911, streets were still unpaved, wagon yards and watering troughs were prvalent, a bandstand was located in the middle of Main Street in front of the old Burris Chevrolet location and Olney's two gins processed about 12,000 bales of cotton.

The Olney Volunteer Fire Department was organized on July 12, 1912 with M.P. McCracken serving as Fire Chief.

In 1913, Sam Dyer moved to early Olney when there were few stores and lots of prairie. Sam Dyer owned a variety store where Evans Grocery is now located. Business firms that sparsely populated the area included Olney Hardware, Griffiths Barber Shop, the Morrison Company, the Olney Enterprise, Stephen Roach Grocery, Bolding and Lunn Funeral Home, Campbell Banking Company located where McCary's Men Store now stands and the First National Bank, located across the street from its present location.

Sam Dyer recalls two other early establishments, the Bettis Ice Houe east of the railroad and the wagon yard located south of Main Street. Even at the age of 83 years in 1972, Sam Dyer owned and operated a used furniture and antique shop in Olney.

The Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1924 and W.C. Harrell served as the first president.

Olney because a leading oil town after the Swastika Pool was discovered in 1924. The first oil well in the Olney area was recorded in 1911 by M.P. Andrews.

The history of Olney includes three tornadoes, one in 1951 which was one of the worst in the history of North Central Texas; growth in Olney Industrial Section, two parks, 15 churches and he honors of being selected as a Texas Blue Ribbon City and one of three Texas towns in the governors Model City program. Model City is a program whereby smalls cities can be better developed to meet the needs of people in larger areas who are potential residents of these communities.

According to Texas Governor Preston Smith, Olney was selected because of development potential, leadership, citizen involvement and sound fiscal policies.

Dorman Holub

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

© 2009

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