Times Past by Murray Montgomery



I guess it comes as no surprise to most people that I am very curious about the past.

And I'm not only curious about events that happened long ago, but I often ponder the history of old homes, buildings, and forgotten places. When I'm out driving and see an old deserted house, I tend to wonder about the family that lived there. How many babies were born there? Did someone die there? Were there ever any weddings held in that old place?

I get the same feeling when I see a community that is not quite as well off as it once was -- I question, what brought people to this place? What did they do to survive and why did they leave?

Texas has a number of towns that were once flourishing places with colorful pasts. But for some reason or another, many of the residents moved on and all that was left were memories of that special time so long ago.

One such community located in Gonzales County had me wanting to know more about how it came to be. So I turned to my favorite source to find some information about Leesville, Texas.

According to The Handbook of Texas, Leesville was originally located on the east bank of Castleman's Creek. The stream later became known as O'Neill Creek in honor of the Henry O'Neill family (another source has the spelling as O'Neal). Those folks arrived in the area sometime in the 1830s.

The town was initially known as Capote, named after the nearby Capote Hills. One of the first businesses began there in the 1860s when Sylvester A. Hubbard built an ox-powered treadmill to grind corn and saw lumber. In 1868, Daniel Brown and his brother opened the first general merchandise store to be located at old Capote. About the same time, a brick kiln along with a saddletree and stirrup factory began operations.

Sometime between 1868 and 1887, Mr. Newburn H. Guinn divided land on the west bank of the creek into town lots and sold them to various businesses. In about 1870, Guinn decided to name the town Leesburg, after his daughter, Lee. When the town applied for a post office however, they had to do so under the original name of Capote -- there was already a Leesburg in Texas at the time. The post office opened in 1873.

Finally, in 1874, the town became known as Leesville.

The citizens decided that education would be the first priority and they constructed a one-room, redbrick schoolhouse. Mrs. M.C. Hubbard deeded a quarter acre of land to the stockholders of the Leesburg (Leesville) Male and Female Institute on January 21, 1873.

At one time the school system had an accredited high school. It was later consolidated with the Nixon Independent School District. The last high school class graduated in 1947, but four elementary grades were taught at Leesville until 1951.

The economy of Leesville depended mostly on cutting and selling oak as well as, other hardwood for use as building material. The residents also raised grain and cattle. Cotton became the big money crop after the Civil War, with three cotton gins operating at the same time. In later years, ranching along with peanut and melon farming contributed to the local economy.

In 1866, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, organized. In December of 1871 the church hosted the annual West Texas Conference, in a brand new building. The Leesville Baptist Church was organized in 1876 and the Leesville Church of Christ originated in 1911. The founding of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and the Mexican Baptist Church soon followed.

Evidently the population of Leesville never surpassed 400. It grew to that number between 1904 and the 1920s. It went down to 300 in the 1930s. On June 30, 1936, over 26 inches of rain devastated the town and the surrounding area. After the flood, many people moved out. Although some businesses were rebuilt a half mile west of the original site on Highway 80 -- the flood signaled an end to any future growth for the town.

Leesville still exists, to some extend, and although it may not be the thriving place that it once was, before the great flood in 1936 -- the memories remain for those folks who were brought up there and the people who still call Leesville, home.

Note: The Handbook of Texas credits Delle Colwell Brown with compiling the information about Leesville. Other material came from: The History of Leesville written as a thesis in 1941, by Virgil Mahan, for Southwest Texas State Teachers College.

Murray Montgomery is a photographer and writer based in Hallettsville. See more of his articles on the Internet at: www.lonestardiary.com - Contact him via email at: murray@lonestardiary.com.