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Our Towns

Local historical and genealogical groups in the county, and a brief history of the larger Van Zandt communities.

Genealogical and Historical Groups

Van Zandt County Genealogical Society

Mailing address:

P.O. Box 1388

Canton, Texas 75103

Please visit the VZ County Genealogical Society's Genealogy Library:

250 Groves Street (Courthouse Annex)

Suite 2

Canton, Texas 75103

903-567-5012

Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.,  Sat., 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

https://www.vzcgs.org/

https://www.facebook.com/VanZandtCountyGenealogy

Ben Wheeler Arts & Historic District Foundation

Location: 1589 FM 279

Ben Wheeler, TX 75754

Mailing Address: PO Box 395, Ben Wheeler, TX 75754

(903) 833-1060

https://benwheelertx.com/foundation/

and

https://www.facebook.com/BenWheelerTexas/

Edgewood Historical Society

Location: 103 E Elm St

Edgewood, TX 75117 

903-896-1940

 

Heritage Park Museum of East Texas

 

Location: Edgewood, Texas

903-896-1940

http://edgewoodheritagepark.org/

and

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=heritage%20park%20museum%20of%20east%20texas&epa

Edom Historical Society and Museum

Location: FM 279, in downtown Edom, Texas

Mailing Address:

8282 FM 279

Ben Wheeler, TX 75754

https://www.facebook.com/edomhistoricalsocietymuseum/

Grand Saline Old School Museum

Location: 701 N. Green St.

Grand Saline, Texas 75140

903-962-3923

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grand-Saline-Old-School-Museum/116198108409259

The Salt Palace

Location: 100 W. Garland St.

Grand Saline, Texas 75140

903-962-5631

https://www.facebook.com/Saltpalacemuseum

and

https://grandsalinesaltpalace.com/

Van Area Oil and Historical Museum

Location:

200 VZCR 1501

Van, Texas 75790

903-963-5435

https://www.facebook.com/VanMuseumTx

Wills Point Historical Society

342 S. Mary St.

Wills Point, TX 75169

https://www.facebook.com/Wills-Point-Historical-Society-626722680744960/

Brief Town Histories

Ben Wheeler

The Ben Wheeler area was originally named Clough, after George Washington Clough, who in 1868 purchased the 640-acre Harvey Randolph Survey; the northeast corner of his land became the majority of the old downtown.  Clough established a post office in his home in 1876 and became the first postmaster.  The post office and town were then named Ben Wheeler in honor of Kentucky native Benjamin F. Wheeler.  Wheeler came to Texas in 1847.  He contracted to carry the mail from Tyler to Buffalo, Texas, and was the first person to carry mail into Van Zandt County.  Wheeler and Clough became good friends.
In the early 1880s, George Clough applied for permission to move the post office to his store in town and change the name of the town to Georgetown.  Permission was granted to move the post office but the name remained Ben Wheeler since there was already a town named Georgetown in Texas.
Around 1890, the Alamo Institute was established by J.F. Davidson.  It was operated by a Board of Directors and managed by a competent faculty.  Families in 1893-1894 would take boarders at $8 to $9 per month with everything furnished.  Boys and girls were not allowed to board at the same place.  Faculty in 1893 were J.F. Davidson, J.M. Dean and William Finley.
John J. Moore was an early merchant in Ben Wheeler, owning Moore’s Grocery and Dry Goods.  Before a disastrous fire occurred in 1983, Ben Wheeler had seven stores, three gins and mills, boarding houses, two churches, a drug store, and the Berry Resort Hotel.  Most were rebuilt.  Other fires occurred in 1933 and 1945.
Levi Sanders was a blacksmith in Ben Wheeler after the Civil War.  He became prosperous and had a keen interest in politics.  He had ten children.  One son became a doctor and practiced in Wills Point from 1906 to 1955.  Another son, Morgan Sanders, represented Van Zandt County in the U.S. Congress from 1921 to 1939.  Levi was one of the many pioneer settlers whose hard work, determination and courage helped create the Van Zandt County of today.
Throughout the years, the town has had many businesses, including a movie theater.  Today, Ben Wheeler is an unincorporated community which lies 12 miles southeast of Canton, and has an estimated population of 400.  Like so many others, it was faced with a bleak future after World War II.  GI’s returning from the war moved with their families to the big cities.  High school students began to be bused to Van around 1933 and by 1968 the Ben Wheeler School closed.  Both the local bank and post office moved to State Highway 64 from the center of Ben Wheeler on County Road 773.  Some say the original townsite looked like a ghost town.
Then Brooks and Rese Gremmels appeared on the scene.  Brooks fell in love with Ben Wheeler.  He formed the Ben Wheeler Arts and Historical Foundation and, as they say, the rest is history.  Brooks purchased almost the whole old town center and developed it into a musical, fun and exciting place to visit.  Today it is known throughout Texas as the place to be – especially when the Feral Hog Festival is held in October.

Canton

Although the city of Canton was not incorporated until 1919, it was laid out in 1850 when the boundary of Van Zandt County was modified (separating lands that are now in Wood and Rains counties) and it became necessary to move the county seat to its geographical center.  Enoch Tinnin was the surveyor who was sent from Nacogdoches to find a suitable location.  Tinnin selected property approximately two and one-half miles northwest of the present city of Canton.  The Van Zandt County Commissioners Court designated that property as the tract for the town of Canton, and sent a surveyor to apportion the town into blocks and lots.  Because maps at the time were imperfect and the country an unmarked wilderness with few bearings, the surveyor started at the east corner of the Jesse Stockwell league instead of at the north corner, as was intended.  This caused the city to be located on private property instead of on the survey given by Thomas Mills where the town’s patent was originally located.
Thereafter, the Commissioners Court contracted for a courthouse to be built, which was accepted by the Court on February 11, 1851, and the county records were moved into the new building.  On December 8, 1852, a patent to the 320 acres of land was issued by the State of Texas to the Chief Justice of Van Zandt County.  In 1853, Enoch Tinnin revisited and pointed out that the Commissioners Court’s surveyor was incorrect in his placement of the town by 2 ½ miles.  Citizens of the county favored relocating the county seat to the proper site, but the citizens of Canton chose to stay where they were.  The Chief Justice of the county, Andrew J. Hunter, approached the individual on whose property the city was incorrectly located, and explained the situation.  The owner graciously deeded the 160 acres to the county.
This resolution pleased the Canton citizens, but several of those living in the county were bitter and for several years protested the construction of the first brick courthouse on the Canton square, in 1857. The builder, Frederick Ezell, was not paid on time for his work because of events relating to the Civil War.  (The building had to be torn down for safety reasons in 1872.)  By the time the county got back on its feet after the war, a new group of county officials was in in office.
In May 1877, a county-wide election was held to determine whether or not the county seat should be moved to Wills Point.  The vote was 705 to 523 in favor of moving; however, a two-thirds majority was necessary to pass the measure, so the proposal failed.  Wills Point contested the results and there ensued a “war” over which city had the right to be called the county seat.  At some point, the records of the county were moved to Wills Point, and citizens of Canton marched on Wills Point to get them back.  The county judge wired Governor Richard B. Hubbard for aid. Bloodshed was avoided, and the Texas Supreme Court finally decided in favor of Canton.
Property for the town’s first school, the Canton Academy, was acquired in 1853. Sid S. Johnson began publication of the Canton Weekly Times, the county’s first newspaper, in 1860. A Grange was founded in 1876. By 1890 Canton had a population of 421, flour mills, sawmills, and cotton gins. Brick buildings were under construction by 1892 and a new brick courthouse was completed in 1894.  By 1896, the town reached a population of 800 and had several churches, a steam gristmill and gin, two weekly newspapers, three general stores and two hotels.  The 1894 courthouse was torn down and a new one erected in 1937.
A lost Canton landmark was the Dixie Hotel, built around 1915 by John R. Kellis and Dr. M.L. Cox.  The three-story hotel had some of the best food and lodging in the area.  Among some of the establishment’s most notable guests were Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, Will Rogers, Wiley Post, H.L. Hunt and Bonnie and Clyde.  Miss Mamie Maume owned the hotel for approximately 40 years.  The hotel was closed upon Miss Maume’s death in 1955, and later burned down.
Canton has continued to grow:  The population as of the 2010 Census was 3,581.  Today the city is most famous for its First Monday Trade Days.  The market first began sometime in the 1850s.  As was common in those days, the circuit judge would stop in areas on certain days to hold court sessions.  When the court met, people came to town to see the court proceedings and to conduct business.  The business that was transacted could be anything that would be useful to a rural community: Generally, it involved selling or trading of livestock, goods or produce/crops, but no doubt the congregation of people afforded people opportunities to advertise their trades (builders, masons, blacksmiths) and to socialize.  Business was typically transacted on the streets surrounding the courthouse.
Eventually, the court schedule became fixed so that the first Monday of the month was the regular day the court met, and the informal market in Canton gathered on the first Monday also.  By the end of the 20th Century, it had developed into a monthly flea market, and was so large, the town of Canton set aside a tract of land close to downtown, to relieve the street congestion. Today, the event (which encompasses the first Monday of each month and the 4 days leading up to Monday) is a vibrant market that continues to thrive and attract thousands of people.  Depending on the time of year, up to 100,000 shoppers will attend the fair during the long weekend.

Colfax

The place now known as Colfax has undergone several name changes during its history.  In its early days, a log cabin was built about a mile south and a little east of the present site of Colfax.  Although never an organized church, religious services were held in this cabin and the area was known as Cold Water.
In the late 1870s, Elisha Tunnell tore down a building between Van and Garden Valley and hauled the lumber to the present site of Colfax.  He erected a building which was used as both a school and a church.  The community was then called Tunnell’s Chapel.
In 1877, the Methodist and Cumberland Presbyterian Churches jointly owned a tract of land at Tunnell’s Chapel, on which they built a brush arbor to be used as a place for holding church services and camp meetings.  A tabernacle about 60 feet square was erected in 1885 for use as a church and for camp meetings and civil purposes.  On the east, south and west sides, a number of cabins for campers were built.  The community became widely known as the site of mass-attended religious camp meetings and ultimately the religious center of that part of the county.
The cemetery is located on a portion of a five-acre tract of land donated by Mr. A.L. Kellam in 1883.  The first burial in the cemetery was of Elisha Tunnell in 1884.  Two churches and three schools have also been built on this land.
A post office was established on May 18, 1870, with Martin Weaver as postmaster.  The last post office was discontinued on February 15, 1905, and moved to Canton when John Stephen Thorn was postmaster.  At one time the post office also served as the stagecoach station for the Bradfield Stage Line that traveled the Garden Valley-to-Canton road, originating in Marshall and continuing on to Dallas.
Now known as Colfax, named in honor of United States Vice President Schuyler Colfax, the community at one time had several businesses, among them the Thorn cotton gin; a blacksmith shop; harness shop; Will Bailey’s general store; Warren Jackson’s mercantile; George A Reeves’ gin, grist mill and saw mill; and Jack Kellam’s syrup mill.
When the Van oil field opened in 1929 and the new Van school system was completed, the Colfax school began sending some of its students to Van, later consolidating with that school and closing the local school.  Colfax is now a quiet, residential community and many descendants of those early pioneers still live there.  Some still worship in the Methodist and Baptist churches.  However, residents must go to nearby towns to shop.  Each year at the Colfax homecoming held at the Methodist Church, memories are renewed and all are reminded of their proud heritage.

Edgewood

Settlement in the area of present-day Edgewood began in the 1840s along the Dallas to Shreveport road. The Texas and Pacific (T&P) Railway completed a line to the area in 1873.  In 1874, the rail company laid out a switch, siding and section house and named it Stephenson.  One-half mile away, to the west of Stephenson, the town of Edgewood appeared around 1875.
Edgewood was platted, a post office granted and the old Star Route (presently known as State Highway 859) connected Edgewood and Canton.  By 1881, Edgewood had a hotel and blacksmith and was firmly established as a T&P stop.  The new railroad town attracted new settlers from Mississippi and by 1895, the wooden shanties began disappearing and were replaced by brick buildings.  The population had soared to 650.  A town lot was deeded in 1879 to the city by the railroad land company for a church and a schoolhouse.
Edgewood established itself as a cotton trader’s paradise with the population flourishing from 1900-1920, at which time cotton prices fell to just pennies. The Great Depression hit in 1929.  After the depression, tomatoes were the big cash crop, with Edgewood being referred to as the “Tomato Capital of East Texas.”
World War II brought all this to a sudden halt, with families being torn apart due to the war effort.  The economy withered and remained stale until the Northeast Gas Field was discovered in 1960.bbWith the opening of the rich gas field, farmers became ranchers, new homes were built, and a new school soon opened with integration in full swing.
In 1976, during activities commemorating the U.S. Bicentennial, the Edgewood Historical Society was formed.  It acquired a double log cabin and installed the building in a lot in Edgewood as a living history exhibit.  The idea was a success, and became the foundation of the Heritage Park Museum, a focal point of Edgewood and a tourist draw in North East Texas.  Covering three city blocks, the site is home to numerous community celebrations.  This outdoor museum encompasses 20 authentically restored and furnished structures representing rural life in East Texas from the 1800’s to the 1920’s.  The project continues to grow.
The second Saturday in November is the yearly highlight of the Heritage Park Museum.  The Edgewood Heritage Festival brings tourists and history buffs from far and wide, and is the major fundraising effort in the Society’s goal of maintaining this priceless architectural exhibit.  During the rest of the year, the park is open on Thursday through Saturday from 9am until 12pm.  Admission is $5 per person, and tours are available by calling the office at 903-896-1940.
The population of Edgewood as of the 2010 Census was 1,441.

Edom

The Edom post office was established on May 8, 1855, and David O. Roark was appointed postmaster.  During the ensuing years, various postmasters served and post offices were discontinued and then reestablished.  Edom was not only a business center in those early days, but also supported some industrial establishments.  About the year 1856, the Kirby brothers, established a wagon factory.  A boot, shoe and saddle shop was opened, where a superior grade of goods was sold.  The town also included Baptist and Methodist churches, a hotel, masonic Lodge, sawmill, cemetery and a tanyard.  The first person buried in the Edom cemetery was William Featherston in 1857.
Local saloons filled with lumberjacks, freighters and traders as the community became a stopover on the Tyler and Porters Bluff Road.
In 1866, Lester Murphy opened a school.  Some of his distinguished pupils were Little Prairie Flower, the child of Cynthia Ann Parker.  After their rescue, Cynthia Ann and her daughter were temporarily located with Mrs. O’Quinn, a sister of Cynthia Ann, who was living in Edom at that time.
By 1914, the town had a cotton gin and four general stores.  Throughout the years, various schools were established.  In 1938, students from the tenth and eleventh grades in Edom began attending Van schools.  Enrollment fell in Edom to such an extent that, by 1966, the school closed completely and was consolidated with the Van Independent School District.  The Edom school building was renovated and is now used for community functions.
Artisans in pottery, silver jewelry, glassware, macramé, and leather goods who settled in the town in the 1960s began Edom’s annual arts and crafts fair in 1972.  The community was incorporated in 1966 with 300 residents.
Every year, the town hosts “April in Edom” and the October “Edom Festival of the Arts.”  The festivals showcase local artists, from jewelry makers, painters and potters to culinary creations and musicians and dancers.
The Edom Historical Society operates a museum and the local theater group presents plays and dinner theaters in the old school building.  The town has several very popular restaurants and is a big draw for tourists, who visit the unique shops and small boutiques selling one-of-a-kind goods.  The local blueberry farm is also a big attraction.
Edom’s population in 2010 was 375.

Fruitvale

Fruitvale is on U.S. Highway 80 and the Union Pacific Railroad, in the center of the fruit-growing district of the Sabine River valley in northeastern Van Zandt County.
Fruitvale came into being around 1876, after the Texas and Pacific (T&P) Railway installed a siding and switch and named the stop Bolten Station.  By 1885, it was known for its crossties and cordwood cutting supplies.  Each time a post office was granted, Fruitvale’s name was changed in Washington, D.C.  First it was Towles in 1886, then Riley in 1899, and Speed in 1900.  In 1903, the name “Fruitvale” finally settled the matter of what the town would be called.
The turn of the 20th century saw a dramatic increase in the planting of fruit orchards and of fruit and vegetables being shipped via the rails.  The first fruit nursery was operated during the 1870s and 1880s, promoted by Sykes Wheeler, brother of Benjamin Wheeler, for whom the town of Ben Wheeler is named.
Fruitvale was incorporated in July 1965, when it had 150 residents.  Fruitvale continued to grow in the 1960s.  It established its own independent school district on Sept 1, 1964, and by 2000 was listed in a Texas A&M study as in the top 100 schools in the nation.  In 2013, the community’s population was 418; it also has nine businesses and three churches.

Grand Saline

Grand Saline is the third-largest city in Van Zandt County and is located roughly 75 miles east of Dallas and 35 miles northwest of Tyler, the two nearest metropolitan areas.  It is part of the greater Tyler/Longview area.  The town derives its name from the large salt deposits located southeast of the city, and a large salt mine, the second-largest in the world according to some sources, which Morton Salt company owns and mines just south of the city.
Grand Saline’s first settlers were the ancient Caddo Indian tribes, who discovered and made use of a large salt prairie south of the town’s present-day location.  The Native Americans used evaporated salt from the brine stream that flows over the flats as a commodity they traded for other needed goods.  In 1839, the tribes had been forced out of the area.  Only a few short years after the Indians left the salt prairie behind, a new group of settlers arrived.  A settler named John Jordan and others brought their families and set up a primitive salt works.  Just as the Caddo had done before, they used the brine stream they could see to boil and evaporate the water and harvest the salt left behind.  The first community named Jordan’s Saline quickly became the center of Van Zandt County and was, for a while, the county seat.
During the American Civil War, the salt works at Jordan’s Saline were considered indispensable to the Confederate war effort.  The salt produced was used in the process of tanning leather and purifying and preserving food stuffs.  Following the war, the Texas and Pacific Railway was extended from Marshall to Dallas.  A parcel of land was donated to the railroad and a depot was built and the stop was named Grand Saline.  The City of Grand Saline was officially incorporated in 1895 and the community of Jordan’s Saline faded into history as its residents moved north to the bustling new city.
In 1920, Morton Salt acquired all of the salt companies in Grand Saline and by 1931 was producing 500 tons of salt per day.  In the 1930s, Grand Saline had 12 petroleum supply companies and five lumber companies.  In the Depression years, local sewing rooms made garments for the poor.  During World War II, a worker’s strike at Morton Salt led the town to form the Grand Saline Industrial Foundation to attract new businesses to town.  Their efforts produced clothing manufacturers, sulfur processing and meatpacking companies.  Grand Saline was also known for its Lone Star Hotel, which was, for a brief time, the home of Hollywood starlet Louise Fazenda, the wife of Warner Brothers executive Hal Wallis.
Agriculture, farming and ranching have long been a major part of the economic life in Grand Saline as well.  Over the years, Grand Saline has produced crops such as sweet potatoes and other “truck crops.”  A cotton gin built south of town in 1890 marked the beginning of many years of cotton production.  Poultry, livestock, dairy products, lumber an Ice House all played a role in the formation and history of the town.
As of 2010, the Grand Saline population was 3,136.

Martin's Mill

Martin’s Mill today is a thriving community with an award-winning school. Lying in the valley of Cream Level Creek, the community was established before the Civil War, a mile southeast of its present site.
When the post office was established on January 14, 1879 (John C. Burrage as first postmaster), the post office application requested the name of “Free State.”  However, the application shows the name “Martin’s Mill” written above the name “Free State.”  Perhaps this was in appreciation for the services rendered to the community by Rev. John R. Martin who settled on a farm near the community in 1857 and operated a grist mill in the area for many years.  The post office was discontinued on July 31, 1955 and moved to Ben Wheeler.
John Burrage was also the first to operate a general merchandising store at Martin’s Mill.  He and John Bob Wallace owned and operated a store for many years, with Mr. Wallace traveling the dangerous route to Jefferson and Shreveport for supplies.  He not only had to deal with swollen creeks and rivers because of the lack of bridges, but hungry wolves as well.
Churches serving the community included the Holly Springs Methodist Church, founded in 1852, and the Liberty Community Baptist Church, founded in 1870.  The town reported a population of 75 in 1890 and 40 in 1892.  The community’s first school, a log house built in 1875, served as a community center and church as late as 1900.
A.G. Dean founded a school at Martin’s Mill in the early 1900s, which he named Lexie Academy, for his daughter Lexie.  Lexie Dean Robertson was later named Poet Laureate of Texas.  A Texas historical marker honoring her was erected on the school grounds in a place chosen by the students.  In 1905, Martin’s Mill had two schools, one for 35 black students and one for 72 white students.  The local schools were consolidated to form Martin’s Mill Independent School District in 1964.  The school today is thriving, being renowned both academically and in sports.
Besides the Burrage and Wallace store, Martin’s Mill boasted several businesses around the turn of the 20th Century. Byron Burnett and brothers ran a general store, Mack Barber had a family grocery, and there were two gins, one run by a Mr. Harrison who had purchased it from John Martin, and one owned by John C. Burrage.  Later, Brock Brothers established a mill, gin and sawmill and ab Smith had a blacksmith shop and livery stable.  The community was served by two physicians, Dr. T.G. McEachern and Dr. M.L. Cox.
Today, the residents of Martins Mill are hardy people who treasure the memory of those early days, as evidenced by the “Wall of Memories’ pictures in the local Corner Store.  There is a fire station that houses South Central Van Zandt’s volunteer fire department, a Centurylink station, an organic worm- mulch business, and many churches of numerous denominations.  It is unincorporated but growing rapidly.

Myrtle Springs

Myrtle Springs was first known as Holden Springs, for J.M. (Uncle Mat) Holden and the several flowing springs found there.  Holden bought 220 acres of land, including part of the current town site, from R.A. Ferrell on January 8, 1872, and built a steam gin and mill.
In 1875, Mrs. L.H. Young bought 79 ½ acres of land adjacent to Holden, and Brigham Young started a nursery for fruit trees and flowering shrubs.  William A.T Murray, the first postmaster, worked in the Young nursery for a few years, then began a nursery himself.  Murray was exceptionally fond of a particular flowering shrub, the crepe myrtle.  A post office was first established on April 8, 1887.  In making application for the post office, Murray gave the name of Myrtle Springs to the town instead of Holden Springs.
Murray also published The Fruit Grower, which mainly promoted the county by encouraging diversification and fruit-growing.  Another publication was the newspaper The Populist Herald, owned by William W. Slater.
The town became an industrial, residential, and resort community when the M.S Investment Company was organized on December 15, 1891 to promote the sulphur water springs as a health resort.  Mrytle Springs was laid out and platted in 1892 and incorporated on March 7, 1893.
In the 1890s, Myrtle Springs had a population of 100.  There were hotels, a general store, dance halls, a school, a canning factory, buggy and broom factories, a brick sugar house, saw and grist mill, a nursery and a park with a fleet of gondolas.  The park attracted people from miles around.  In the 1940s, many groups of young people, church groups, families, scout troops, etc. enjoyed the large spring-fed swimming pool, the skating rink, the archery, miniature golf, swings, see-saws, slides, and picnic grounds.
The Myrtle Springs Independent School District was consolidated with Wills Point ISD in 1977.  The Myrtle Springs Alumni have been able to preserve the school building and utilize it for theatrical productions, reunions, weddings, etc.  Today, it continues to serve the area in this capacity.
Although the park is closed and the Myrtle Springs of bygone days exists no more, a proud heritage has been left for the descendants of those hardworking, industrious people.
More details of this town’s interesting history can be found in Van Zandt County Biographies 1848-1991, Volume II, a copy of which may be found in the Library of Genealogy and Local History, Van Zandt County Courthouse Annex, Canton, Texas.
The Myrtle Springs population in 2010 was 828.

Van

The first settlers in the Van area were farmers living east of town who arrived almost 150 years ago.  By the time of the Civil War they were so widely separated, they depended on neighboring communities for supplies.  The area slowly developed into a community known as Swindall when George Swindall gave land for a school around 1880, and in 1891 provided the land for the first church.
On June 28, 1894, a post office was established with the official name of Van.
It was not until oil was discovered on October 14, 1929 that Van was launched into a boom town overnight.  It exploded in population and the tranquility of the community was gone forever.  Cotton fields became drilling sites and slush pits overnight.  The oil companies drilled downtown beside existing stores, in church yards, and in the yards of farmers’ homes.  Even the local gin had to be moved to make room for a drill site.
New roads were built and in 1930, the Texas Shortline Railway Company built a spur line that connected Van to the T&P at Grand Saline.  Pure Oil Company pioneered the Unit Plan of Operation, also known as the Van Joint Account, a system of controlled drilling that ensured the longevity of the field and town.  The plan drew international attention.
This major discovery of oil came at the beginning of the age of automation, the crash of the stock market and the Great Depression.  The Pure Oil Company developed the Van field in a systematic and scientific manner.  Oil revenues enabled the building of a school system superior to any in the county.  High priority is still placed on education.  Recently a new grade school was built, replacing the J.E. Rhodes Elementary School that was damaged during the 2015 tornado.Since that momentous day in 1929 and through the first chaotic years of the oil boom, Van has succeeded in establishing a town its residents can be proud of.  The town was not incorporated until 1947, finally giving it the ability to make decisions for its future.  It continues to grow, with many new businesses being established.  In recent years, Van has taken advantage of the proximity of Interstate 20 and developed an industrial park, motels, restaurants, and two major truck stops for travelers.  The population in the 2010 Census was 2,632.
Van continues to be a town that places great value on education, just like those first settlers who started the first school and helped develop the community.  It honors the tradition that formed the foundation of this town – good schools, good churches and a good moral atmosphere.

Wills Point

William Wills, the namesake of the city, came to Texas from Tennessee.  He was the first settler to build a home in the area, at the summit between the Sabine and Trinity rivers – the highest elevation between Fort Worth and New Orleans.  Over time, the area became a community: As early as 1855, it was called Wills Point.
The T&P Railroad began to serve the town in 1873, and began to provide direct mail service.  Train service gave the town a quick boost:  Many businesses relocated from the Cedar Grove community when it became clear the railroad would run through Wills Point.
Karl C. LyBrand launched his long and colorful career in the entertainment business in Wills Point in 1907 as manager of the Wednesday Book Club Opera House.  In 1926, the theatre building was modified to show silent movies.  The theatre orchestra included Karl LyBrand on trumpet and his wife, Eva LyBrand, on piano.  The orchestra played until talking pictures took over the screen in 1928.  (The first talking picture shown was The Girl From Woolworths, starring Alice White.)  Three generations of LyBrands operated the theatre, named the Majestic, until it closed October 4, 2010.  It had been the oldest continuously operated movie theater in Texas run by a single family.
Rose Dry Goods was established in 1873.  It was originally in the Cedar Grove community before it was relocated to the present site when the railroad came through Wills Point.  B.W. Rose, the founder of the business, was a Jewish immigrant who came to America from his native Germany when he was 16.  The original building was a wooden structure, but later covered in brick, using bricks made south of Wills Point.  There is no record of the date of the building, but it is well over 100 years old.  B.W. Rose died in 1922.  Rose’s younger brother donated a large fountain to the town, and it was placed in the center of N. Fourth Street, as a source of civic pride, where it may be seen today.
The town still contains the original Wills cabin, as well as other original buildings, including the Bruce and Human Drug Company, one of the oldest family-owned drugstores in Texas (located on the corner of James and Fourth Streets since 1879).
The brick streets were laid in 1922 by local laborers, placed in packed sand, and have stood up to traffic for many years.  The only ripples are in places where utility lines were later laid and the workers had to place the bricks back over the lines.
On the northeast corner of James and 4th Streets is the original First National Bank building.  The building was built and commissioned to the board of trustees of the First National Bank by the Howell family in 1895.  The building is outlined by railroad tracks that the walls are built on top of.  This was to deter any would-be burglars from tunneling under the wall and into the bank.  After the bank moved to another location, the building served as a city office, and then the post office.  Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Mayberry bought the building in 1955, where they continued to operate the Greenhouse for over 40 years.  The business is still family-owned today.
The population of Wills Point was 3,524 in the 2010 Census.