Neches On Land Deeded By Railroad
NECHES -- On May 12, 1871, Murdoch McDonald gave the International Railroad Company a deed to 300 acres of the J. C. Ogden survey for $1 and an agreement to establish what became the town of Neches.
In pursuance of that agreement whereby the railroad acquired a townsite, the International Railroad Company on July 8, 1872, executed a deed for $1 to Murdoch McDonald to Lots 1, 2 and 3, Block 8, Town of Neches.
Thereon, in 1872-73, the town's first businesses were built.
On Dec. 23, 1872, the "Nechesville Post Office" was established with J. Q. A. Capps the first postmaster. On May 17, 1892, the name of the post office was changed to "Neches." Mrs. Ruth Yancey, the 12th postmaster, assumed her duties in that capacity April 13, 1974.
Brice McDonald of the pioneer J. B. McDonald & Son store, keeps the deed to his grandfather from the railroad company in his store.
The farsighted Murdoch McDonald, whose townsite deed created Neches, also fathered the early business community.
The town grew like topsy. In 1873, the two-story McDonald Hotel was raised. The J. B. McDonald family grew up in the hotel, and when the old building was razed, its lumber went into the present two-story home of Mrs. Johnnie Belle McDonald Ballard and her husband, Sam Ballard, who are associated with her brother Brice in the McDonald business.
The present downtown block of historic brick businesses was built in the town's early years-- P. W. Ezen Mercantile Company in 1875; the J. B. McDonald store in 1895, and the two-story W. J. Foscue General Merchandise building in 1890.
The latter building's ground floor later became the home of the Guaranty State Bank, of which A. L. (Barney) Bowers, longtime Palestine mayor and a founder of the Palestine Salt & Coal Company, was president.
The Neches Post Office now occupies the first floor of that building. For many years, doctors' offices were upstairs, successively of Dr. Charlie Foscue and after WWl, of the late Dr. B. F. McDonald. Now the upstairs is the lodge hall of Neches Lodge No. 535, AF & AM.
Neches Institute and Parson Moore's were private schools prior to establishment of the first free Neches public school in 1890. The Neches Independent School District and its Neches Tigers basketball teams are the pride of the community.
In its early days, Neches became a thriving trade center for an intensive produce- growing area. Fruit, vegetables and other produce were grown in huge quantities in the iron-rich soil.
Down through the entire 104 years of its life, the economy of the community and town have been closely allied with the railroad.
The 102-year-old Neches Depot now is destined to become a railroad museum in the Palestine Terminal Park of the Texas State Railroad.
At this time, large quantities of pulpwood are loaded and shipped from Neches to be converted into paper.
Brice McDonald and Mrs. Ballard are descendants of other historic figures as well as their McDonald ancestors.
"Our great-great-great grandfather, Josiah Freeman, fought in the American Revolution," Mrs. Ballard says. "His son, John Freeman, served in the War of 1812."
Perfectly preserved under glass, Mrs. Ballard displayed a land grant to John Freeman dated April 1O, 1852, to John Freeman for his service in the militia in the War of 1812. It is signed by President Millard Filmore, conveying to Freeman 78.95 acres in Township 16, Range 10 West, of land to be disposed of at Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
"We had nine forebearers in the Civil War," Mrs. Ballard adds.
Brice, who collects humorous anecdotes, was a member of the 1921 graduating class at Alexander College (now Lon Morris), Jacksonville, where Mrs. Ballard later taught for seven years.
Male members of that graduating class distinguished themselves -- to the disgust of co-eds -- by shaving their heads.
McDonald treasures a group picture of eight graduating baldheads, including himself, with the main building of the college in the background.
The building of the Alcoa aluminum smelter near Neches has resulted in growth and economic benefits to the community, with many new residents attracted by that and other related developments.
Neches was the vortex of one of the earliest East Texas oil developments. Discovery of the Boggy Creek Woodbine field built a boom town at Todd City, four miles north of Neches, in the late 1920s. In the 1930s, that was followed by development of the much larger Neches Woodbine field, still active.
Brice McDonald proudly displays a hunting horn fashioned and engraved with the name of his father, B. B. McDonald, in 1899, by an inmate of the Rusk State Prison.
Heart of Neches
Original Neches business block. Left to right, P.W. Ezell Mercantile Company building (1885) still occupied by J.B. McDonald & Son general store; W.J. Foscue General Merchandise (1890), site now of the Neches Post Office (established 1872), and Neches Masonic Lodge No. 535. Upstairs offices formerly housed offices of Dr. Charles Foscue and later, Dr. B.F. McDonald. Guaranty State Bank was once located downstairs. (Staff Photo)