A Brief History of Limestone County
The first Anglo settlers in present-day Limestone County were the recipients of Mexican land grants. The first settlement, Fort Parker, was established in 1833. On May 19, 1836, the fort was the site of an Indian attack. Five of the inhabitants were killed and five were taken captive including nine-year old Cynthia Ann Parker. She grew up as a Comanche, married a Comanche chief, and was the mother of Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief.
The town of Springfield was established in 1838 and soon became the commercial, social, and political center of the surrounding territory. On April 11, 1846, Limestone County was created by the state legislature, and on April 18 Springfield was designated as the county seat. The first courthouse was constructed in 1847. Other communities established prior to the Civil War include Tehuacana, Personville, Eutaw, and Horn Hill. The settlement of the Springfield area began in earnest following the arrival of Logan A. Stroud. He became the largest slave owner in Limestone County, having 156 slaves prior to emancipation.
In 1861, ninety-eight percent of Limestone County voters followed the rest of the state and voted for secession. It is estimated that three-fourths of the county’s eligible voters fought for the Confederacy. Several companies of men were organized in the county. One of the most well-known was organized at Eutaw by Captain Anson Moss and was called the Eutaw Blues. Some Limestone County men were conscripted to stay at home to serve in the Home Guard, while other men organized independent groups and traveled to other places to enlist.
The Emancipation Proclamation was read from the front porch of the Stroud’s plantation home in June 1865. Freedmen from the area began to hold annual Juneteenth celebrations at a site along the Navasota River called Comanche Crossing. During the early years, the honorable Ralph Long was the featured orator, speaking at times from the bed of a wagon with as many as 20,000 gathered for the occasion. Juneteenth celebrations still continue at the site, which is now named Booker T. Washington Park.
In the 1880s, small groups of Limestone County Confederate veterans began to meet informally to socialize and reminisce about the war. In 1888, they began meeting annually at the site where Jack's Creek enters the Navasota River and in the following year, organized the Joseph E. Johnston Camp of the United Confederate Veterans. The annual reunions at the Confederate Reunion Grounds were week-long affairs. An estimated 7000 people from all over the county and from different parts of the state would meet at the site in late July or early August during the time of the full moon. Tents were erected and brush arbors constructed so entire families could camp out for the duration. These annual reunions continued until the 1940s.
The most horrific period in the county’s history were the years immediately following the Civil War. Arson, lynchings, and racial tensions eventually led to the governor’s declaration of martial law in the county. So terrible was this period of time, most people who lived through it refused to talk about it in later years.
Better times came when the Houston and Texas Central Railroad began construction of a rail line through the county in 1869. The railroad company established several new towns: Kosse, Thornton, Groesbeck, and Mexia. Bypassed by the railroad, Eutaw and Springfield soon disappeared. With the demise of Springfield, the county seat was moved to Groesbeck in 1873. In 1903, the Trinity & Brazos Valley Railroad constructed a line from Cleburne to Mexia and later extended it to Teague in Freestone County. This led to the establishment of the town of Coolidge by the railroad company in 1903. This line was abandoned in 1942. In 1906 the Houston and Texas Central Railroad built the Nelleva Cutoff from Mexia to Nelleva in Brazos County, and Personville became an important stop on this line. The cutoff was not profitable, however, and was abandoned in 1933. State Highway 39 was later built on the cutoff bed.
The coming of the railroads to the county accelerated the production of cotton. Many family farms appeared with cotton being raised as the cash crop. Communities developed in all parts of the county, each with a school, one or two churches, one or two stores, a blacksmith shop, and a cotton gin. Following World War II, cattle production began replacing cotton as the major agricultural endeavor in the county, and the small communities began to disappear. As the populations of the rural communities dwindled, many lost their schools. At one time there were over 100 schools throughout the county. Through the process of consolidation, only three school districts now remain: Groesbeck ISD, Mexia ISD, and Coolidge ISD.
Limestone County has also been the home to schools of higher learning. Tehuacana was the home of Trinity University from 1869 until 1902 and Westminster College from 1902 until 1949. College-level courses were also offered in Thornton at the Thornton Male & Female Institute from 1877 until 1891. In the early 1970s, Navarro College began offering classes in Mexia.
Prosperity came to Limestone County following World War I when oil was discovered in the Mexia area in 1921. Mexia went from a peaceful community of four thousand to a raucous boomtown of fifty thousand in just a few weeks. In addition to honest job seekers, gamblers and bootleggers invaded Mexia, prompting the state to send in a company of Texas Rangers and the National Guard to eliminate the criminal elements. The peak year of production in the Mexia oil fields was 1922 when thirty-five million barrels of oil were produced. Prosperous times continued until the Great Depression.
During the Great Depression, the federal government initiated several programs to put people back to work. It was during this time that the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the restoration of Old Fort Parker and Fort Parker State Park. Also, many schools in the county were constructed under the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Limestone County has always responded to the call of duty. In World War I, Company K of the 143rd Infantry was created of Limestone County volunteers under Captain Scott Reed. A National Guard Company was established in Mexia following World War I, and this unit was called into service at the onset of World War II. During World War II, Mexia was home to a German POW camp and an army airfield was located at Prairie Hill.
The Post-World War II Era has brought many changes to Limestone County. Most of the small farming communities are now gone, and cattle production has become the main agricultural activity. The old POW camp property became the Mexia State School, a residential facility for individuals with mental disabilities. Today, the Mexia State Supported Living Center is still one of the largest employers in the area. Energy production has once again brought prosperity to the county. A power plant was constructed in southeastern Limestone County during the early 1980s. Mining operations to supply area power plants with lignite coal and the drilling for natural gas has helped to improve the county’s economy in recent years. The construction of Lake Mexia and Lake Limestone has increased recreational tourism.