A Brief History of Gordon - By Shanon Hunt
The southern Palo Pinto County town of Gordon has a unique history. The town was strategically designated by the Texas and Pacific railroad in 1874 to bolster the use of their railroad, which was in its planning stages at the time. The town got its name from the man who initially surveyed the town site, civil engineer H.L. Gordon.
One cannot accurately tell the history of Gordon without first mentioning the towns of Hampton and Hoxie. The town of Hampton was located a little over a mile north of present day Gordon. Early written works put Hampton being settled around the year 1864. Hampton was a wood structured town that was on the frontier of Indian raids. A post office opened its doors in 1879 with Robert H. Rogan appointed as post master. Mr. Rogan and a Mr. Cotney were early town businessmen. Jess Neblet was the first merchant selling groceries and dry goods in town. On the religious front, the First Baptist Church of Hampton was organized 1879 with the Methodist Church following suit a few months later.
The community of Hoxie was located a couple of miles due east of Hampton at the foot of the Clayton Mountains. When Texas and Pacific surveyors came through the area in the 1870ís they discovered a good burning grade of coal at Hoxie. Within ten years the town of Hoxie was renamed Coalville and it became the primary source of coal for the Texas and Pacific railroad as it made itís way through southern Palo Pinto County. This occurred between the years 1880 and 1881. The new railroad was part of largest single expansion of the Texas and Pacific system linking Fort Worth to Sierra Blanca.
As soon as the railroad made its way through Gordon a depot was constructed. Capt. John Ayers served as the first agent of the depot. The depot served as the center of activity in the town for many years
Coal from Coalville was shipped to Gordon for use on the railroad, which helped to bolster the early days of the settlement. Gordon began to grow rapidly and the townsfolk of Hampton realized that the best thing for their community was to merge into Gordon. Those early day town leaders included the likes of Albert Lusk, Ben Foster, Jess Neblet, Jim Moore, John Moore, Tod Wood, Alf Beckham, Jasper Odan, Jeff Cowden, Dock Abels, and Up Self.
By late 1881 Hampton was full swing in the process of relocation to the railroad town of Gordon. Records indicate that the First Baptist Church relocated to Gordon in late 1881 and the Methodist Church made the move in early 1882. The first independent school in Gordon opened its doors in 1882 with Mollie Shelton as the schoolís first teacher. The Hampton post office was one of the last official relocations when it was moved to Gordon reopening there on Oct 17, 1883.
The relocation efforts were a success. The town began to flourish and make a name for itself to the early settlers in the area. Within a couple of years it had already doubled in size. More people meant that they needed a better way to communicate. In 1885 the Gordon Weekly Courier began rolling off the presses. It was a very sophisticated newspaper for its time.
On January 23, 1887 Gordon was the site of a noteworthy crime. The nationally infamous Rube Burrow and his band of outlaws came to town to commit his second train robbery. The train made its stop at the Gordon depot at 2:00 AM and Burrow and his men were ready for it. As the train started to pull away they jumped on and quickly directed the engineer to "Run five hundred yards and stop!" Rube forced the express messenger to open the safe where they stuffed $2275 into a sack. At gunpoint Rube led the messenger into the mail car where they snatched up $2000 more from registered mail. Jubilant over their successful haul, the bandits discharged their guns into the air, mounted their horses, and rode off to the north.
A business minded man named John T. Wilbar moved to Gordon in the late 1880s. After settling in, he discovered a good grade of shale on his land and decided to build a brick plant. He began producing brick by the around 1891, which made it the first brick company in the county. His bricks were stamped with ďWILBAR Ė Gordon, TexĒ and were used in the construction of some of Gordonís downtown buildings as well as other projects across the state. His operation was never as full scale as nearby Thurber, but it did do well for its size. The plant closed in 1906 after an overheating accident, which ruined the kilns.
In 1889 Gordon had grown to 300 inhabitants. The number of businesses in town was growing large for the number of residents. This was because Gordon was becoming a major trade and shipping center for the area. Residents of area farms and towns flocked to Gordon to do their business and would continue to do so for forty or so years. Among the flourishing businesses at the time were five general stores, three drug stores, three hotels, three cotton gins (which would become known to have ginned more cotton in one year than any other town in the Texas), a flour mill, a livery stable, a meat market, two lumber yards, a furniture store, a hardware store, three blacksmith shops, a barber shop, a bakery, a shoe repair shop, a harness shop, a Masonic Hall, odd Fellows Hall, four saloons, and the Wilbar brick plant. The town also had three doctors.
On Septempter 1, 1890, Gordon was listed as the largest town in Palo Pinto County in a statewide report. Gordon's population had swelled to
600 and its presence on the railroad was gaining ground rapidly. Coal production near Gordon was booming and the quality of coal was being hailed
as the best in the state. The schools at Gordon were noted as being of the best for the area. Churches in town at this time included
the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Cumberland, and Christian. Other towns in the county at the time included Mineral Wells (population 570), Palo
Pinto (400), Strawn (350), and Sparta (150). Sparta eventually became Santo.
A June 26, 1897 issue of "The Ferris Wheel" reported that the construction of a college building was underway in Gordon. This coincides with the second school building, which was constructed that year. It was a grand two-story wooden structure that allowed plenty of room for the expanding school. The building was located at the same location as the current high school.
As the turn of the century approached, Gordon was well on its way to modernization. In 1901 the Gordon telephone system became operational. Town leaders J.R. Rice and Eaton & Blewett built large brick buildings downtown replacing the original wooden structures. The new buildings lead to several other brick structures during that time. Several hotels began springing up as well as multiple banks. The First National Bank was organized in 1901 and Alex Wilbar became the first president. Other banks included the Gordon Banking and Mercantile Company and the Guaranty State Bank.
The Eaton & Blewett company began selling Ford cars in 1910, which have since continuously been sold in Gordon. With the introduction of automobiles to the town, a need for better roads was called for. To help with this and other necessities the town was soon incorporated and R.L. Colvard was elected as the first mayor. Colvardís efforts help pave the way for the construction of a local electric plant and water system, which both went online in 1912.
As the 1920ís approached, Gordon was entering its zenith period. The town had grown to 1000 plus inhabitants and it had become the areaís leading shipping center for cotton and livestock. Cotton was being ginned in town at a record pace. Being on the railroad also kept Gordon modern as its stores were stocked with the latest and greatest goods for the time. People would travel from miles around just to see what new things had arrived in town.
The use of brick for homes and businesses was becoming more popular. In 1923 construction began on a modern two-story school building, which would replace the aging wooden structure. It was in the early 20ís when Gordon high school fielded its first football team, although an official stadium did not come until years later.
While Gordon held steady during the roaring twenties and into the great depression, the same could not be said for its largest neighbor. Thurber, a company town that was one of the leading coal and brick center for the state, was starting to fade away. The 1919 discovery of oil in nearby Ranger and the changing times spelled disaster for the demand of Thurberís coal. In 1936 the company that owned the town had completely ceased all operations and had burned or moved all buildings from the town. Thurber, being the self-sufficient company town that it was, never really had a huge impact on Gordon so itís closure did not hurt the local economy.
In 1936, the congregation of the Gordon First Baptist Church decided it was time to upgrade their facilities from their wooden structure, which was right at fifty years old, to a new brick facility. The project began amid the great depression. Due to funding issues, the project was not completed until 1942. The church dedicated its new building on June 13th of that year.
The town gained some notoriety in 1942 as one of its own joined major league baseball. Gordon born and raised Thurman Tucker was signed by the Chicago White Sox. Tucker had worked his way up through the Texas baseball league. The league was purchased by the White Sox in 1940 and it wasnít long until he had found his way to their roster. He became a valuable asset to the team with his stolen bases and all around play. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians on January, 27, 1948, just in time to help his team win the 1948 World Series. He retired from the sport in 1951.
Gordonís heyday began a slight decline by the 1940ís when changes occurring in farming and in the use of the railroad starting catching up with the town. Cotton was phased out as the major crop of the area and cattle shipping was moving away from the use of trains. After that initial decline, Gordon maintained a healthy small town atmosphere and population.
The town rallied behind itís soldiers during World War II. A town leader began publishing a weekly newsletter/paper that primarily to be distributed to Gordonís own in the war. The paper was called ďThe Gordon Home FrontĒ. It covered all the happenings in town and surrounding areas. It was wildly popular and its circulation increased by leaps and bounds until the war was over.
In 1950 a new Methodist church was constructed where a previous brick structure had stood for fifty years. The old building was a tall beautiful grand church, but it had some structural issues that could not be repaired.
The fifties brought a change to the way football was played in Gordon. In 1955 the high school adopted the fast paced six-man version of the sport. Until then, Gordon teams struggled to compete with larger schools in eleven-man action. The change proved to be the right one as Gordon became one of the top six-man programs of all time.
Coming Soon - Why the 1960's were so huge for Gordon. It was once again a time of major modernization for Gordon.
Sources: "History of Gordon" by Mrs. M.H. Parks (1946);Dora Rogers interview for the Palocade - Palo Pinto County - 1857-1957 Official Centennial Program; The Encyclopedia of Texas 1921; William Ward - "Rube Burrow of sunny Alabama"