Kilgore Before Boom
Memories of the Late Dulcie Davis
This information was found in the vertical files of the genealogy department of the Longview Library. It is a copy of a newspaper article from the Kilgore News Herald, dated Sunday, July 4, 1976 and states that it is a reprint from the 32nd annual Oil Edition of the News Herald.
A decision I had to make in preparing this paper was whether to take Kilgore before or after the boom. Then, too, the boom era story has been so ably told by our local newspaper each year on the anniversary of oil discovery in East Texas and I felt that you knew the growth of our town as well as the good citizens who are and have been instrumental in its growth. So I decided to try to give you a mental picture of Kilgore before the boom. In telling you of Kilgore, there was no other way to tell it other than from the memory of my childhood. I am sure as I go along, you may think, "Dulcie, This is Your Life." Or, perhaps the life of my family. 'Tis true.
How many of you were reared in a small town? Good - now you city-bred gals will see just how much fun it was to be a country-bred gal. When I look back on "our town," I only think of the pleasant memories - even though as in all towns, large or small, you find scandal, triangular love affairs, divorce, cheating, murder and stealing. Kilgore was no different in that respect but my memories are the pleasant ones, not the unpleasant.
The origin and growth of Kilgore I secured from publications and much I remember being told to me by my grandparents. The rest is from my memory as well as the memory of some of my older friends. One of the first settlements in this area was Danville, of which one landmark has been preserved - the public building out near the Danville Cemetery. This plot of ground consisting of two acres was originally purchased by the wardens of the Masonic Lodge No. 101. A two-story building was erected, the upper story was used as the Masonic Lodge and the lower story as a church and common school.
This Danville Lodge No. 101 now stands at the corner of Broadway and Houston. The original building at Danville has been kept in repair and today it serves as a community center for religious worship and civic gatherings. Many early citizens of Kilgore are buried in the cemetery adjoining the church. Last summer I attended a burial at this cemetery and walked over the grounds (I had not been there in many years). I had no idea that so many families I knew or had heard of were buried there.
There lived in Danville an attorney, Constantine Buckley (Buck) Kilgore. In 1872, the Great Northern Railroad was built which had its terminal at a point about four miles west of this community of Danville. Mr. Kilgore was convinced that a site near the railroad would be an ideal place for a home. The upshot of the matter was that he built his home at the terminal, and a number of his former friends immediately followed suit. Thus was born, in 1872, a tiny community which was named Kilgore, after the man who had the courage and foresight to pull stakes and build near the railroad.
There are many colorful tales about Buck Kilgore before and after he went into public life. This I won't go into, for I am sure you have read a great deal about him. Then, too, I recall a program that Mrs. Nannette Wickham gave the club. In it, she gave a full account of Buck Kilgore's political life and his many achievements. My first year away in college was in San Marcos, and my history professor was a nephew of Buck Kilgore, Dr. Birdwell, who later became president of Stephen F. Austin College. A warm friendship grew between us in that I was from Kilgore, named for his favorite uncle, Buck Kilgore.
In 1873, Alexander Institute (now Lon Morris College at Jacksonville) made its appearance as a school of learning, and was built and named after its founder, Isaac Alexander. Dr. Alexander was both teacher and preacher, a combination that was quite usual in that day. He was originally from Virginia, later moving to Tennessee. Leaving Tennessee, his destination was Texas - in 1854. Isaac secured a good education although he experienced great difficulty in obtaining it.
After graduation, he spent most of his life in the schoolroom, as well as preaching. In 1858, Isaac was teaching at Jamestown (Smith County), Mr. Jim Knowles (Vivian Thyng's father) relates that his father bought a farm at Jamestown so that his sisters, Zelda and Johnnie Frances Knowles, might go to school to Dr. Alexander. Later he taught in Danville in the old Presbyterian Church when Watt Wynn, Capt. J.M. Thompson (a relative of Lou Della Crim) and Matt Barton (names I remember spoken so often by my grandparents) and other friends persuaded him to come to Kilgore and establish a school. As stated before, the railroad missed Danville, so the people moved to Kilgore.
Dr. Alexander was principal of the Institute until poor health caused him to retire in 1890. This institute was located on a site which is now the corner of North Martin and East North Streets.
My grandmother's people came to Texas from Alabama and settled in what is now Rusk County. My grandmother was born in Nip-'n-Tuck. (If you recall Miss Watkins' program on Rusk County, she mentioned Nip-'n-Tuck.) The name was later changed to Harmony Hill, which still exists and isn't too far from Tatum. Granny's childhood was spent with no hardships, as her father owned a great amount of land on which a large number of Negro tenants liver - so a Negro was handy for every chore. To hear Granny tell of it, it sounded kinda like slave times. Now, my grandfather's people came to Texas from Georgia and settled at Leverett's Chapel when he was a teenager. If I remember correctly, it was not too far from the Leverett home. When my grandmother became of age, she was sent to Alexander Institute for higher learning, where she met my grandfather, fell in love and married. They made Kilgore their home - my mother being born here on the site of the Acuff girls' home on the Old Gladewater Road.
When my mother became of school age, Alexander Institute had been moved to Jacksonville and the building was a public school, which she attended. I don't recall the year, but my grandparents moved to Pirtle where they farmed and operated a general store (it would now be called a commissary) to accommodate his tenant families. Mother was sent to Henderson to stay with her favorite aunt and uncle and have the advantage of better schooling. There she met my father - it was love and marriage at an early age. They made Henderson their home for awhile and then moved to Pirtle where my father became an associate of my grandfather in the store.
Pirtle was a thriving community with a good school, churches and a very good doctor, none other than Nanette's grandfather, Dr. Crane Sr. I had the honor of being delivered into this world by Dr. Crane Sr., with the assistance of Dr. Bennett Crane (an intern at the time.) Of course, I had a great fondness for both, especially Dr. Bennett (as he was called). He would often give me a big hug and say, "Dulcie, that face hasn't changed since I first saw it."
Of course, that was many years ago. If he was with us today, he would have to alter that statement - with these many lines and a few gray hairs. The house I was born in stood until a few years after the boom. Many families living in Kilgore came from Pirtle. Mary Emde, in fact. Until some years ago, her family still lived in the house my grandparents occupied at the time of my mother's marriage. There is a Negro man (Henry Palmer) still living in Pirtle who, with his family, lived on our farm for years. Sometimes I drive down and chat with him and he tells me many interesting things about his life with my family. One, for instance - hitching the two beautiful horses to the buggy the day of my mother's wedding to be used for the honeymoon trip to Henderson. Another wo came from Pirtle is Mrs. Lynch Reynolds. She often tells me of her childhood and the great love she had for my grandmother - said Granny never made a trip to Kilgore that she didn't stop by her home and leave candy for the children.
I lost my father in infancy. My mother went into the store with my grandfather - and became a business woman, and remained as such until the oil filed came in. When we children reached the age that my family felt we needed better schooling, we moved to Kilgore.
Our home was on the site of the Sam Andrews residence, and we owned a number of acres running along Andrews Street down to Big Head Creek, that being my playground as a child. As a matter of fact, Thompson Street is named for my grandparents. They continued to run the farm ot Pirtle and also operated a store in Kilgore just about where Holt's Appliance Store is located, but facing the railroad track. The public school was still in the old Alexander Institute building which we children attended. You recall that my grandparents as well as Mother had attended school in this building. In 1915, the public school was moved to its present location. We had a nice, red brick building.
Perhaps some of you remember it as it was in use when the field came in. My grandfather bought the old building and acreage which was bounded by North, Martin, Sabine and Rusk Streets. He built the house which now stands on the corner of North and Martin - and the three generations who had gone to school on this site lived happily. Now where could you find more sentiment attached to a place? It explains why we still live in the block even though it is downtown, across from filling stations, etc., but we love it and shall remain living there. During the hotel-motel campaign, Bob Marshall called on us, and we discussed the history of the block. He has great dreams of the growth of Kilgore and said how nice it would be if this block coud remain in the hands of our family. for instance, Bob suggested a medical center to be started by my nephew, Dr. W.D. Northcutt, who is an orthodontist living in Longview. That's nice thinking, and nothing would please my family more.
Kilgore life was typical of that of any East Texas town - each resident felt that he was his neighbor's keeper - and he considered his neighbor to be each of the entire population of this small town. Neighbors conbined efforts in attending the sick and taking care of the poor and needy, in nursing many new neighbors into the world and shrouding many of the dead on their departure.
When I look back and compare Kilgore with similar small towns, I find that we were blessed with several good doctors. The reason? this was a large trading area. We had the two Doctors Crane; Dr. Goodwin, the father of the former Mrs. Jack Barton of Longview whom many of you know, and Dr. Hamilton, a brother-in-law of Mrs. Nellie Hamilton. If I remember correctly, Dr. Hamilton owned the first automobile in Kilgore. Even before these doctors' days, N. Kilgore had good doctors, one outstanding one - Dr. Henry Culver, the uncle of Mrs. Lynch Reynolds. There were no nurses, but it was a natural thing for your neighbor to come and help with the sick night and day - even taking over the preparation of meals.
Mrs. John Ward (Miss Daisy) stands out in my memory as one who was always helping with the sick, especially in the Spring when chills and fever were prevalent. The remedy? A round of calomel and quinine that made you more sick than you were at first. Miss Daisy's smiling face was always welcome at our house - she had the nurse's touch. One of my memories is that each spring, my grandmother made wines - no, not for the cocktail or dinner hour, but to be taken to the sick; also to be used at church for communion. To tell the truth, Granny's product was rather potent and really good. Kilgore's Methodist Church was located at about the site of the Kilgore Hotel parking lot. The Baptist Church was directly across the street at the site of the Citizens Bank and the Presbyterian Church was where the youth recreation center is located.
There existed no denominational consciousness.
The Methodists had a resident pastor preaching the first and third Sundays. A minister commuted from Henderson to hold the Presbyterian meetings on the second Sunday, and the Baptists the fourth Sunday. We all had Sunday School at our respective churches - then the members from all three churches went to the church having the service. This made a closeness and understanding among the Kilgore residents. The question was never asked, as it is so often now - what church do you attend? One of the outstanding memories of my childhood was the church Christmas tree. It was for everybody in town and you placed presents on it to whom you chose. (One year, there were two Bisque statues put on the tree for Anna Lou and Emma Sue Compton from Johnnie Ruth Elder, now Mrs. Jimmie Davis, Mrs. W.H. Sandberg of Texas City, and Mrs. Liggett Crim.) They now sit in my living room where the price tag still remains on them - 50 cents, but I am afraid they couldn't be bought as I prize them too highly.
What was our entertainment as teenagers? We had parties - not the engraved invitation type of party, but a game party at someone's house whose mother would say "yes". All the crowd was invited, not just the so-called "400" or the ones who lived in the largest houses or social leaders as so often is the case of today. We never weighed a friend by his material possessions, but by honest-to-goodness qualities. Girls and boys whose families had very little wealth were just as popular as those that had plenty. We knew the people in Overton, Longview, Gladewater and Henderson as we did the people in Kilgore; therefore, I think I am safe in saying our scope of friends was larger than if we had been reared in a city - since I do know your friends are limitied in a large place. We boys and girls dated from these towns, which I believe was more exciting than dating locally. We went to the movies in Kilgore or Longview. We were on the Chautauqua circuit, had tent shows and , of course, the circus came to Kilgore. Therefore, our social life wasn't too dull.
On Saturdays, our crowd would get together and do things. Mr. John Elder had a syrup mill which he operated during ribbon cane harvest. Upon his invitation, we all would fix a sack lunch and go to the mill to spend the day. Mr. John allowed us to drink all the cane juice we desired (many times some of us would overindulge and we wouldn't feel so good). I will never forget the sweet aroma of the juice being made into syrup. Well, you just haven't lived until you have had hot biscuits with ribbon cane syrup. On Sunday afternoons, a bunch of us would get together, go for a walk, take snapshots and would go to the depot to watch the trains come in. Mr. Will Crim (husband of the late Lou Della Crim) operated a large store. He often went there on Sunday afternoons and when we passed, he never failed to invite us in for a treat - fruit and candy. You can bet he was a favorite with our crowd. Now the Beau Brummell of our crowd, I believe, would be Liggett Crim. He was the first to date a new girl when she moved to Kilgore. However, I believe Tincy had the inside track for a number of years. He was as he is now, a first-rate entertainer - kept things moving and a party at his house was the best. I had always thought that Liggett owned the first movie in Kilgore, but in having a chat with him recently, he said no, the first movie was operated by Mr. Lynch Reynolds and Mr. Verner Florence (a brother-in-law of Liggett). However, Liggett had the job of sweeping out the building.
In high school, we had fun much as the kids do today. In school activities and athletics, our greatest rival was Longview, which I believe still exists. Our classes were small, thereby creating a closeness.
In my class in high school, there was a small, skinny and shy boy, but what he lacked in brawn he made up in brains. At all times, especially on tests, he was always ready with the right answers. May I say that by him sharing his knowledge, my entire class was able to graduate. This timid boy is now none other than our honorable mayor, Foster Bean. Looking back on his school record, how fortunate Kilgore is to have such a citizen, attorney as well as Mayor. Some years ago, I was in a group and the topic of discussion was Kilgore. one lady remarked that she just didn't understand why so few boys and girls before the boom didn't go away to school.
I will say now as I did then - there were very few who didn't go away to school. Of course, a few did marry when they finished high school, just as they do today. We didn't go away with a car, nor did we make the sororities or fraternities. Most of the girls prepared themselves for teaching careers, others went into the business world and some went away for a musical education - namely Christine Bagwell (now deceased), Kathleen Reynolds (Mrs. Jack Criswell) and Sallie Mills Griffin (Mrs. H.E. Sherwood) and many more. I recall when my oldest sister was in her teens. Each Saturday morning she was put on a train to go to Overton, where she might study music under an outstanding teacher, Miss Ward of Henderson, and would return to Kilgore in the afternoon by train.
Our meeting place downtown was Brown Drug Store, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Champ Brown. At Mr. Brown's death, Miss Noonie, as Mrs. Brown was so fondly called, continued in the store. Her brother came to Kilgore in 1913 to work for her. All the kids in town learned to love him and I am sure that some of the older girls were sweet on him. And by the way, a local girl, Ruth Florey, did marry him. He is none other than our own beloved Sam Ross. He was, in the store then, as he is today, always making someone happy with his cheerfulness and generosity. There was always one of the popular boys of our crowd working behind the soda fountain.
Now the girl that he called "his girl," I'm afraid, always got just a little more ice cream in her cone. A very popular couple among the young people was Mr. and Mrs. Verner Florence, the former Pauline Crim. They were great party givers. However, I was too young at that time to attend. They also had dances at their home which was located at the present site of the Safeway Store. Dancing then was somewhat frowned upon by our local ministers. My sister Evelyn attended one of these dances and the next day when only she and Granny were at home, the Methodist minister called on her to weigh the question as to whether she should be turned out of church. In the end, after much praying and repentance, she was allowed to remain a member. this incident amused Granny because she had been reared a strict Baptist and was turned out of the church for dancing when she was a young girl.
"Tis funny - as I was growing up, I never thought of Kilgore as a sleepy, country village. As I have already mentioned, Kilgore had a large trading area; and during harvest time, especially cotton harvesting, trading was brisk. Saturday was a big shopping day with both white and colored. The streets were lined with wagons loaded with cotton. Merchants bought it from the wagon, usually selling it to a cotton buyer from Longview. The merchant usually bought the cotton from the farmer (white or colored) whom he had credited during the winter and planting time. There was a large Negro population in the surrounding territory as well as in the city limits of Kilgore. There were few homes that didn't have Negro help (now called cook or maid). These Negroes were devoted to the white families they helped. There was a Negro man named Bob who lived with us in the servant quarters on our back lot for some 30 or more years. He came to our home one winter to help slaughter the hogs and stayed on with us until his death a few years after the oil filed came in. He was part of the family; often he sat in the room with my grandparents in the evening until bedtime as my grandfather read and my grandmother knitted. There was no gas, and Bob's big chore was building and keeping the fires burning.
At this time, we had a colored woman who did the cooking - she also lived on the place for 20 years or more. She addressed my grandmother as "Ole Miss", was separated from a husband and had several children. She was gay and a very popular widow; this is, with the "opposite sex." We had a n amusing episode with her. She had been feeling badly for some time and had every indication of having a tumor. My grandfather was making arrangements to take her some place for surgery when she sheepishly told my mother she was pregnant. She continued to cook up until the time of the baby's birth. It was a little girl, which she named Dulcie - I felt quite flattered. I am sure the housewife did less hard work before the boom with so much colored help than they do today, even with so many electric gadgets.
Among our merchants there was an interest in each other's welfare. Of course, there were no bonus stamps or cutting prices as exists today. My mother's store was at the site of Martin's Book Store and next door was Goyne's Grocery, now the site of the Fashion Shop. Merle Goyne, as today, was in the store. If Merle or Mother had to run home of an errand, the other took care of both stores. Would you call that honest business friendship? In the summer, when I was home from college, later teaching, we often had a foursome of bridge in Goyne's Store made up of Merle, Roger, Fonza Bell Florence (a nephew of the former Pauline Crim ) and myself. If a customer came in, they were waited on - and then back to the game. Such an easy life, compared to today's running a store. Maybe not so much money, but oh, so much happiness.
Not every family in Kilgore had a telephone; therefore, our phone company was owned by a local man and it required only one operator. At one time, the operator was Miss Effie Rice, member of a Kilgore family, who I believe still lives here. She was quite a character. When you rang of a number, you always had a chat with her - giving you the latest news, such as who was sick, the birth of a baby, who was out of town and for what reason - even who was dating whom, who had eloped or was planning marriage. Then you got your number. If you got no answer, Miss Rice would tell you they were over at Mrs. So & So's - explaining why they were there. I would say there were no town secrets with such a splendid source of information.
I could ramble on and on telling you of Kilgore and its wonderful people, but I'm sure most of you know of just such oa small town with all of its good qualities such as Kilgore. May I close by saying thanks for the discovery of oil that brought so many wonderful "boomers" to Kilgore, including my Yankee husband.
I say "boomer" jokingly. When I married, our first home was in Refugio,
a cattle and oil town. The town was made up of rich ranchers then made
richer by oil. Now they really drew the line between the natives and
the "boomers." I had to sit down and write my mother that her daughter
was on the other side of the fence, being of a pioneer family and now
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