Saturday, August 13, 2011

Remembering Boonville

The Brazos Heritage Society is pursuing the placement of an historical marker at the site of the original Boonville town site located on FM 158 across from the Boonville Cemetery.  This is also the site of much new development and we hope to stake a claim for the very special place that was once the county seat of Brazos County. 

The Daniel Boone connection to Brazos County began in 1751 with his marriage to Rebecca Bryan in North Carolina.  A brother and sister of Boone also married Bryan family members.  The Boones were friends and neighbors of the Moses Austin family and marriage between these families produced William Joel Bryan.  After the death of Moses Austin, his son, Stephen Fuller, would continue to lead settlers to Texas. 

During the year of 1821 the first of the original three hundred colonists, led by Stephen F. Austin, arrived and began building cabins and growing crops along the Brazos and Navasota Rivers.  Texas was still a wild unsettled area open to Indian attacks and constantly in danger of being invaded by small Mexican armies.  As more and more settlers began making their homes in Texas, they were finally able to muster together armies of their own aided by volunteers from Tennessee and led by General Sam Houston.

During that same year a young man named Harvey Mitchell was born in Cornersville, Tennessee.  At the age of 18 he left Tennessee by wagon train for Texas and settled in this area known as Boonville, named after Mordecai Boone, Sr., a nephew of Daniel Boone.  Mitchell set about working hard to aid fellow citizens in everyday life.  He would eventually serve as Boonville’s tax collector, surveyor, postmaster, chief justice, justice of the peace, teacher, operator of the gristmill, blacksmith shop, and dry good and grocery, and member of the Masons as well as the Minute Men.  Mitchell would also go on to lead the way for Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College to be located in this area in 1872.  He became known as the “Father of Brazos County.”

Life in the settlement of Boonville began to thrive and Hiram Hanover, Richard Carter, and John H. Jones laid out plans for a town square of 150 acres with small lots facing a public square and 10-acre lots around these for growing crops or keeping animals, all laid out on a 45-degree angle to the compass.  This custom of town planning was to prevent cold northerly winds from blowing through north-south streets, not a bad idea in Texas when a “blue norther” was coming through!  Auctions were held to sell the small lots and raise money for the new functioning government and to pay off the $150 per acre of land.  This area is located in the pasture to the left of Tom Light Drive on FM 158.  Lot 1 never sold and became the Boonville Cemetery. 

By 1841 Boonville became the county seat and a log cabin courthouse was build on the public square.  This was the first of three Brazos County courthouses.  A cedar tree which grew at the site of the courthouse was transplanted to the downtown Bryan courthouse and still grows there today.  A jail was also built in Boonville and became known as the worst jail in the Texas Republic because of its impossible escape design and its infestation with fleas!  It was referred to as “The Dungeon” and was located at the entrance to Tom Light Drive on FM 158.

Although an outbreak of yellow fever swept through Boonville, taking many citizens who are now buried in the Boonville Cemetery, the town appeared destined for greatness when word of the railroad coming through emerged, but alas, when land was sold by William Joel Bryan for the railroad just two miles west of Boonville the little pioneer town began its decline.  Citizens began moving to the new town that became “Bryan.”  Some families even disassembled their log cabins and moved them by wagon to rebuild in Bryan.  Even Harvey Mitchell encouraged his fellow citizens to leave town and go to Bryan because “that’s where the future is.”  By 1866 Boonville was deserted except for an orphanage near the cemetery which eventually was abandoned.  Today a lone oak tree is all that stands at the site of the town square in the pasture on Tom Light Drive.

It is our hope that we might mark this very special place in our county’s history so that, although there are no physical signs of its existence, we will not forget its importance to us.

                                                                                      Sheila Fields, Chair
                                                                                      Research Committee

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