History of Grapeland
All About Grapeland...
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The townsite of Grapeland places it's beginning at the time of the coming of the railroad, the Houston and Great Northern Railroad Company, in 1872. Long before this time, early pioneers had arrived from many points, particularly Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Usually they came down old established trails used by Indians, Spanish, and perhaps, French and built their homes at easy river crossings. The Trinity and Neches Rivers both had good ferries and good fords for crossing. Steamboats were also used to transport goods and passengers. Cotton was the main crop, the fertile land yielding one bale per acre. From the nearest gin, the cotton was taken by ox-cart to this nearest river. John McMullen Selkirk was one of the early settlers running an ox-wagon freight line to Nacogdoches . Other crops produced in abundance were corn, potatoes, syrup cane, tomatoes, peas, beans, berries and many fruits.
The site of Grapeland was at the crossroads of the routes from Augusta to the Trinity, and from Palestine to Crockett. The stage coach passed this route, and mail was carried by horseback. First called "Grapevine" (suggested by Miss Kitty Yarborough because of the many vines that had to be cut as the railroad track was laid), it was learned that there was already a Post Office by that name, and the name was changed to "Grapeland". Early deed records reveal many familiar names of families who still have descendants in this area. The earliest lot bought when the New York and Texas Land Company set aside an area for the townsite was Lot No. 1, Block 3, by T.T. Beazley and J.H. Wootters in Nov. 1872. Other early buyers were C.J. Pennick and J.M. Selkirk, W.H. Campbell, S.J. Lewis, Dan Egbers, T.H. Daily, B.F. Edens, J.B. Cunningham, T.J. Cook, W. McLean, and R.M. Garrett.
First General Store was operated by Tom and Jim Beazley; the first saloon, by T.S. Cook. Frank Edens also ran a general store. Across the street was R.M. Garrett's Hotel. George E. Darsey, Sr. founded his dry goods, grocery and furniture store in 1886. This business has been in continuous operation by the same family for 112 years. With the coming of the railroad, Grapeland entered her "tough period". The spirit of independence which brought pioneers to this country, and the whiskey which flowed freely, caused Grapeland to be a wild and wooly place. Shooting scrapes, innocent men shot, gambling, and general toughness were common tales. At night, the crews of the freight trains would lie down on the floor to escape being shot. There was a saving element of good citizenship forever fighting for decency and order, and as early as 1902, no open saloons were operating.
In 1899, the town incorporated, with Dr. H.S. Robertson as mayor. An ordinance was drawn setting forth rules, but the council was unable to enforce the ordinance, people failed to pay the taxes, and the incorporation was voted out in 1907. The newspaper headline read: "the Incorporation Abolished. Vote 40 to 9, Cock-a-Doodle-Do." In 1901, Grapeland was called "The Queen City of the Sand Flats", with 5 general stores, a staple and fancy grocery, a drug store, blacksmith shop, woodworker's shop, lumber mill,3 saw mills, broom factory, 2 cotton gins, a hotel, livery stable, photography gallery, and Post Office. Three physicians looked after the occasional illnesses: Dr. Lewis Meriwether, Dr. F.C. Woodard, and Dr. H.S. Robertson. The first telephone was Dr. McCarty's, in 1906, the same year the first clay road was built (Maple St.) Dr. McCarty also had the first car.
Fairs were a popular celebration, with much preparation going into their production, but in 1913 the most unusual event-- the "Possum Walk"-- was held. 5000 people gathered, many coming by train from all over the state for the two-day event, to see 150 possums march down main street.
On the night of March 4, 1913 a disastrous fire destroyed fifteen businesses in downtown Grapeland. Men, women and children worked valiantly to salvage what they could. The next morning, many businesses opened in temporary locations, including box-cars. Such was the courage of these early citizens. The rebuilding of many of these structures was done with brick. In 1924 Grapeland was again incorporated, with A.H. Luker as Mayor.
Unsettled times followed both World War I and World War II, but recovery soon followed, and new industries sprang up. The Peanut became King, a hospital was built, Houston County Lake was built on Little Elkhart Creek, and Grapeland's economy was boosted with the arrival of VULCRAFT: A Division of Nucor Corporation, a Steel Mill that brought many jobs to the town. Many new families have been welcomed into the area, insuring Grapeland's continued growth and bright future.
All About Grapeland...
GRAPELAND, TEXAS. Grapeland is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 287 and Farm Road 227, twelve miles north of Crockett in northern Houston County. In the early decades of Houston County the Grapeland area was a crossroads on the route from Crockett to Palestine. The home of an early resident near the intersection served as a mail drop for settlers in the area. The original settlement took the name of Grapevine from the wild fruit that flourished in the region's sandy soil.
The name was changed to Grapeland in 1873, when application was made for a post office. In 1872 the Houston and Great Northern Railroad Company completed its line through the area and turned over a 640-acre tract to the New York and Texas Land Companyqv for development as a townsite. The community grew quickly as a railroad depot and commercial center for local cotton producers. By the first decade of the twentieth century Grapeland had five general stores, two cotton gins, several mills, a hotel, a newspaper, and various other enterprises. In these years the town's population exceeded 400. A fire razed fifteen businesses in downtown Grapeland in 1913, but the town promptly rebuilt in brick. It has been incorporated since 1924.
Cotton production and ranching were the basis of initial growth in the community, and forestry is important in the local economy. The population approached 1,200 in the 1920s and remained near that figure through the 1960s. Cotton declined in importance to the area economy and after World War IIqv peanuts replaced it as the primary agricultural product. After 1936 oil and gas production became another important source of income for the town. Local manufactures include a steel fabrication plant. Growth in the 1970s and early 1980s resulted in a population increase of more than 35 percent; in 1990 the population stood at 1,450. The population increased by one to 1,451 in 2000. Since 1945 Grapeland has celebrated an annual Peanut Festival. A fiddler's contest that was part of the original "Goober Carnivals" has become the Labor Day Bluegrass Festival.
Grapeland is known locally as the "queen city of the sand flats."
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ayer Directory of Publications, 1976. Directory of Texas Manufactures, 1976. Grapeland Messenger, Crossroads to Progress: Grapeland, The Queen City of the Sand Flats (1972). Houston County Historical Commission, History of Houston County, Texas, 1687-1979 (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Heritage, 1979).
Calvin S. Story