History of Gilmer
Hettye Galloway, Gilmer, Texas
NOTE. — Hettye Calloway, of Gilmer, has written the history of her town. Gilmer is located in Upshur County, and is one of the older towns of Northeast Texas. It is not very far from Jefferson, on Caddo Lake. Jefferson used to be one of the " gateways" to Texas before many railroads had entered the State. Miss Calloway's work was under the supervision of Mr. J. S. Scaeif and Miss Irma Brown, teachers in the Gilmer schools.
In this story of my town I have tried to give an interesting and true history. It is a town that we all love, and we realize that its history is fast fading away. My story is based on the stories of the few old citizens that still live here, and all the stories have been agreed upon by these men.
I am especially thankful to Mr. J. M. Marshall, Judge S. J. Moughon, and Mr. Lon Derrick for the information they gave me, and I also wish to thank my teachers, Mrs. J. S. Scaief and Miss Irma Brown, for the help that they have given me in preparing my story. People cherish their family traditions and their state and national traditions; but what thought do they give to the traditions of their native town? Not much. Only now and then do we hear talk of the " use-to-be" days, and this is among the very old settlers. Speak to one of these grey-haired veterans about the town he loves and watch the sparkle in his eyes and the glow in his wrinkled countenance as he relates and lives again the history that is dear to him. Gilmer is no exception to the pioneer town of the Civil War days. It has its interesting stories, its traditions, and its share of important personages. But some day these old-timers will pass on and the history will be forgotten if it is not recorded. This is the story of Gilmer as I have gathered it here and there.
It was in about 1850 or 1851, on the old Cherokee Trace about two and one-half miles northwest of its present site, and in what is now the W. C. Barnwell farm, that Gilmer had its beginning. I am not certain as to the exact time Gilmer remained in this location, but I do know that it was only for the duration of two sessions of court. Court in those old days of Gilmer was held under an old oak tree. There are many amusing stories told about those days and the system of court. One day a trial of a drunken man was being held. Suddenly he began to yell, "I'm a horse, I'm a horse!" The judge called: "Mr. Sheriff, tie that horse!" and the trial was dismissed. There are other stories told of how notorious criminals were captured and held. One of these criminals was tied to a tree by a chain. People thought him to be safe, but when morning dawned, he had gone. The small sapling which he had been chained to proved insufficient to hold him. He had bent it so as to slip the chain over it.
The story of the election that was held when Gilmer was moved to its present site is very amusing. There was a small creek, or perhaps it could be called a brook, that separated a great many of the voters from the polls. On the day before the election was to be held there was a big rain. This creek was made impassable, and as a consequence, the people on the opposite side could not get to the polls to vote. Gilmer was moved. But this early history is fading away fast, and will soon be told as a legend to the children.
Gilmer was named by Mr. Isaac Van Zandt for Captain Gilmer. Captain Gilmer was a member of President Tyler's Cabinet, and a naval officer. Abel P. Upshur, for whom our county was named, was also a member of President Tyler's Cabinet at the same time. Both of these men were accidentally killed at the same time when an explosion occurred on their boat.
The first settlement of the present site was around the town spring which was located near where the high-school building now stands. The water for the town was supplied by this spring, and the negroes also came here to do the washing for the white people.
The original plan for the town was recorded on February 25, 1852. Gilmer was then a small village of some three hundred or four hundred people. The square around the small log courthouse was covered by forest. The business houses were built of logs from the forest, but some few were built of rough, small boards. Gilmer, in those days, was considered a "wild and woolly" town. There were several saloons around the square. One of these was where Hogg's Pharmacy now is, and another was in the Walton Building. There is a story told of a murder that took place in this saloon, which proves to us that Gilmer must have been a rough town. A man by the name of Cleavland stabbed a man whose name was Miller. While Miller's life blood was gushing out he yelled for his son to kill Cleavland. With a double-barreled shotgun Miller's son shot Cleavland, who died before Miller. The boy was exonerated by the courts for killing his father's slayer.
About a year later, probably in 1855 or 1856, a new court house was built. This house was built of rough lumber, but was some improvement over the old building. This building stood until after the Civil War.
There was an abundance of wild game during these days, such as deer, turkey, squirrel, and quail. It was hardly any trouble at all for a man to step out in the morning and kill wild game for his breakfast. Transportation was also crude, as everything else was. The ox wagon was the most common way of transportation, but there were also a few carriages in use by the well-to-do families, or those people owning slaves. The streets were about a foot deep in white sand. There was no stock law and the hogs usually stayed under the business houses. As a consequence there were many fleas. It is laughingly said by old-timers that if you picked up a handful of sand half of it jumped away in fleas.
About this time the town was incorporated. There was one ordinance that said: "No man shall ride horseback on sidewalks of the city of Gilmer, if they do they shall be fined not less than $5 or more than $25." It was this ordinance that was first violated. There was a man who lived just on the outside of town that owned a large long-horned Texas steer by the name of Lamb. Old Lamb's horns were about six feet from tip to tip. This gentleman saddled old Lamb and came to town. After visiting the saloon and getting drunk, he mounted Lamb and rode up and down every sidewalk of the small city and none dared molest or make him afraid.
There were two churches in early Gilmer, the Baptist and the Methodist. The Baptist Church then stood near where Mr. E. C. Lyle's rent houses now stand, north of town near the Cotton Belt tracks. The Methodist Church was on the east end of the block it now occupies. During those days the slaves worshipped in the same house with the whites. A place was set aside especially for them. The Civil War history of Gilmer is especially interesting. Although there were no battles fought near here, there was a training camp about three miles from the town. This camp was J. L. Camp's regiment.
Judging from the number of factories that were in Gilmer at this time, it must have been a very busy place. There was a spinning factory where Mitchell's gin now stands, north of the square. Just across the street, on what is known as the Clayton place, there was a hat factory. And there was also a shoe factory and a harness factory here. The shoe factory was located on the south side of the square where the Jim Crowley store now stands. The harness factory was a two-story building and was just down the street from the shoe factory, where Winn's Drug Store is now located.
More things than the factories helped to make Gilmer famous during this early period, however. One of these was the Looney School. The Interscholastic Leaguer, a paper published in Austin, Texas, has said that it was "one of the most successful schools of Texas during the Civil War period and following it." This school had its beginning in 1861. It was first held in the building that had been the home of the Upshur County Masonic Institute. This home was originally built by the Methodist Church, and for some time, beginning in 1854, it was the home of Gilmer Female College. This school was under the direction of the Reverend David Stovall, and later Mrs. Martha Weathered. The building was rented by Mr. Morgan H. Looney in 1862. The school building burned, however, in 1863 and Mr. Looney took up temporary quarters in a building located near where the ward school now is. The school was held in this building until 1866, when a new building was erected where the other one had burned.
The methods, or perhaps one would call it the discipline, of this school seem to us to have been very queer. The building was so constructed that the boys and girls were separated. It had two stairways on the outside, and six large rooms downstairs. A large auditorium was in the upper story. There were two doors in the west side of the building and a partition extended from a point between these doors to the platform at the front of the room.- The girls passed in at one door and the boys passed in at the other. Mr. Looney occupied the platform, sitting at a point where he could see both sides of the partition. This building was 60x90 feet, and was heated by four large fireplaces.
The instructors in the Looney School were very competent, as shown by the positions which they afterward occupied. Among those who held a position in this school were Mr. J. L. Calvin, who resigned and joined the army; Miss Achsa Culberson, Mr. W. A. Hart, Mr. M. L. Looney, Oran M. Roberts, J. C. Ragan, and J. B. Norman. Miss Achsa Culberson was a cousin of Senator Charles A. Culberson, and Mr. W. A. Hart was a prominent citizen of Gilmer until his death in 1925. Mr. M. L. Looney, who married Miss Culberson, was a brother of the principal. Oran M. Roberts was afterward Governor of Texas. Good discipline is named as one of the chief causes for the success of the Looney School. It is said that Mr. Looney had a rule governing almost every human activity. The students and teachers were required to memorize these rules and review them at regular intervals. Looking over these rules we find that school began at 8 o'clock and was continued until 6. All students were required to start to school at the same time, and upon their arrival they were required to pass to their places. All the students were required to attend church and Sunday School. None were excused unless it was for sickness. Such things as swearing, gambling, dancing and horse-racing were strictly forbidden. The supervision of student life was extended into the homes and boarding houses.
Another feature that is to be considered when judging the Looney School is the fact that many of the students have risen to ranks of distinction. Charles A. Culberson, a student of this school, was later Attorney General, Governor, and United States Senator. Sawney Robertson was later judge of the Supreme Court of Texas. Sam D. Templeton was another Attorney General; and Jot Gunter was a prominent citizen of San Antonio. Pleas Turner was district judge of the Texarkana district. There were also many other prominent citizens that attended the Looney School.
Mr. Looney was known for his great personality, and it was this that aided him in his great work as a teacher. He was forced to resign in 1870 because of the ill health of his wife. He went to Sulphur Springs, Texas, and taught for a time, but in 1876 he returned to Gilmer. From Gilmer he moved to Jefferson, where he conducted a school known as "Jefferson High School." He died some years later in his native State, Georgia, but he will continue to live in the minds of the Texas people for his great work here.
An interesting feature of post-Civil War history of this little town was the method that was used in voting. The whole county voted at Gilmer, and two or three days were usually required to hold an election. The people were forced to vote under the bayonet. These bayonets were held by two negroes.
After the Civil War a new courthouse was built at Gilmer. This structure, although it was wooden, was much better than the old structure. Several years later the building burned. Bonds were voted to replace the building by a brick structure. The bonds carried, but it caused much dissatisfaction among the people. The popular cry was that it would be a debt that would be held against their grandchildren. But notwithstanding this, the building was built and paid for. In fact, we now have another building that is a credit to the town, and it has also been paid out. When the present building was erected, the old building was torn from under the roof and the walls were replaced by reinforced concrete.
The first railroad, a narrow gauge, came to Gilmer in about 1880. It was first called the Tyler Tap, but later when the standard gauge was built it became the Cotton Belt Route. Several years later the M. & E. T., or Marshall & East Texas road, came through Gilmer. This road was started by the Commercial Lumber Company, which was then located in Gilmer. The tram was later connected with the Winnsboro & Marshall road and was called the Marshall & East Texas Railroad. This railroad was discontinued about eight years ago, however, and the only road that is now in operation is the Cotton Belt branch of the St. Louis & Southwestern Railway.
The first paper published in Gilmer was known as the Gilmer Sentinel. This paper was edited by Mr. J. L. Terry and his son. A few years after its establishment the paper became known as The Mirror and was edited by Judge Joseph Lion, who was then county judge. Judge Lion was murdered and the assassin escaped. Twenty years later, when Mr. S. J. Moughon was sheriff, the fellow was caught by the Humane Society of New York. The man was charged with beating his daughter, and the Humane Society wrote back to Gilmer for information concerning him; and it was in this manner he was captured. He escaped from jail, however, and his trial was never held. The paper is now edited by Mr. George Tucker and is still known as The Mirror. But in addition to the weekly paper we also have a daily paper by the same name.
The first brick church, a Baptist Church, was built where the Smith Filling Station now stands. It was only about two years ago that this church burned, although it had not been used for a number of years. Gilmer now has three churches — the Methodist, the Baptist. and the Christian Church. Two of these, the Methodist and the Baptist, have brick buildings.
The first officials of Upshur County and Gilmer were Mr. W. H. Hart, county and district clerk, and Mr. F. D. Brooks as first county judge. Mr. J. M. Simpson was the second judge.
But Gilmer is no longer a small settlement of two or three hundred people. It has grown to be a town of about three thousand people. The census of 1920 gave it a population of 2,280. It is the center of a large trade territory, and about eighteen thousand bales of cotton are marketed here annually. In February, 1926, the new Federal Post office was occupied, and now the streets of Gilmer are being paved. Although it is an old town, its life, we think, has only begun ; and its citizens' are loyal to their home town, Gilmer.
Bibliography Court Records, Vol. C, p. 196. Derrick, Mr. Lon, Oral Report, Gilmer, Texas. Marshall, Mr. J. M., Oral Report, Gilmer, Texas. Interscholastic Leaguer, published in Austin, Texas, February, 1926. Moughon, Judge S. J., Gilmer, Texas. Texas Almanac and State Industrial Guide, 1925, p. 354. Published by Dallas Morning News.
by University of Texas Dept. of History - 1918