The History of Mount Pleasant
Located on a broad hill in the heart of Northeast Texas, Mount Pleasant has served as the county seat of Titus County since 1848, after Texas became a state.
A few remaining members of the Caddo Indian Tribe were probably in the area as the first pioneers from the United States began to settle Northeast Texas during the 1830s. The Caddos were known as builders of large burial mounds. Legend has it that they spoke of a "Pleasant Mound" in the central part of what is now Titus County. It is believed that the early Anglo settlers modified this Caddo name and referred to the broad, oak and hickory covered hill as Pleasant Mount. When the county was organized, the small village that would become the seat of government was given the name Mount Pleasant. In 1850, the little town on the hill had a population of 227. One thing that contributed to attracting settlers, and especially merchants, in the early years was the Clarksville to Jefferson Road, which passed through Mount Pleasant. Established by Andrew J. Titus, for whom Titus County is named, this road made possible the movement of goods to and from Jefferson, which at that time could be reached by riverboats. Even with the road, it is said that the trip to Jefferson by ox wagon required at least five days.
Between 1850 and 1860, Titus County's population grew from 3,636 to 9,648, although it must be remembered that the county then included the present-day counties of Franklin and Morris. Cotton and corn were the main cash crops. Hogs were found on virtually every farm, along with oxen, mules and milk cows. In 1861, Titus County voted for secession by a vote of 411 to 285 and sent as many as 1,500 men to fight in the Confederate Army. During the Civil War, Mount Pleasant was the site of a confederate transportation depot which employed blacksmiths, carpenters, harness makers and wheelwrights. The depot's mission was to build wagons and then fit them out with teams of horses and mules and the necessary harness so that men and supplies could be moved to the front.
During the Reconstruction Era, Mount Pleasant and Titus County had to cope with officials appointed by the federal government. It was a difficult time, filled with lawlessness.
As reconstruction drew to a close in the 1870s, the stage was set for the next step in the growth of Mount Pleasant, with the arrival of the first railroads. In 1876, the East Line and Red River Railroad Company laid tracks across the southeast corner of the county. Following in 1878 was the extension to Mount Pleasant of the narrow gauge "Tyler Tap". In 1879, this section of line was acquired by the Texas and St. Louis Railway and within a few years was extended to connect St. Louis and Waco. Another branch, completed in 1887, ran from Mount Pleasant to Sherman. Largely because of this excellent rail system, Mount Pleasant was being recognized as a hub of transportation and trade at the close of the nineteenth century, and had a population of 963 in 1890.
At the national level, largely because of the victorious conclusion, in August 1898, of the brief Spanish American War, the United States was being recognized as an emerging world power. Many Americans were looking to the future with great hope and expectation for peace and prosperity as the twentieth century began.
Locally, this optimistic outlook may have been a factor in the success of efforts to incorporate the city. On September 17, 1900, after an earlier attempt failed, the town's citizens voted for the measure by a vote of 142 for and 18 opposed. T. C. Hutchings was Mount Pleasant's first mayor and John B. Stephens, Sr. became city marshal.
The need for a law enforcement officer may have become more pressing because a small local war was "brewing" in the town. Saloons had been common and apparently profitable, since Mount Pleasant's early days. In the late 1890's a new competitor showed up. A man named Parker started a large licensed distillery on the south side of a spring fed stream known as Town Branch, and was also raising a sizable number of hogs. The hogs were feeding mostly on the spent mash from the distillery. Witnesses reported the animals sometimes became intoxicated from the residual alcohol content of the mash. That some opposition to this early recycling effort soon occurred is not surprising, considering the aroma which must have surrounded it. After Parker added retail sales to his original wholesale operation, local saloon owners as well as prohibitionists made known their displeasure. Then one group or the other dynamited the distillery in 1900, totally destroying it. Many of the hogs were killed, and the remainder were set free to roam the neighborhood for several days before they were returned to their pens. Responsibility for the early morning explosion was never determined. The distillery never got back into operation, and Titus County voted "dry" about 1902.
Even with the demise of the licensed distillery and Titus County being legally "dry", residents who enjoyed a "toddy" or "nightcap" could obtain "moonshine" from numerous "stills" hidden away in the thickly wooded hills. In fact, grocers in Mount Pleasant and other smaller towns in the county sold large quantities of sugar for use in distilling this "white lightning". A small community in the north end of the county near White Oak Creek has the official name of Wilkinson, but is much better known as "Sugar Hill" because of the tons of sugar that went there for making "that good ole mountain dew."
At about the same time the Parker distillery/hog operation got under way, Jessie Reed bought 120 acres of land on Town Branch, just a short distance east of the whiskey making location. Reed began to develop his holdings as a resort area. Numerous chalybeate springs had fed their waters into Town Branch for thousands of years. These colored waters probably caused the Caddo Indians to establish villages nearby. Although the coloration of the water by minerals in the soil gave no magical properties to the liquid, Reed advertised widely that his "Iridescent Springs" could cure many common ailments. He built a cafe and several "camp houses" in a style commonly seen in "tourist courts" in later years. His efforts were only marginally successful, however, and in 1906 the property was sold for taxes to H. W. Peterman for a rather small amount. Peterman apparently was a talented promoter, as he managed to sell the property to M. C. Wolf and Associates in 1907 for almost ten times what he paid. Wolf from Wolfe City, Texas formed a consortium with Mount Pleasant residents Dr. T. M. Fleming and Spill Brown, and W. H. and Spencer Florey of Overton. This group then formed the Red Mineral Springs Development Company, and started construction on a large two-story frame resort hotel with 70 guest rooms. A wood rail tramcar line was constructed to carry guests back and forth between the hotel and downtown district. In spite of many glowing testimonials citing the benefits of the springs, the public's belief in the curative properties of the waters was already waning when the hotel operation began.
In the summer of 1910 a Confederate Soldiers Reunion was held on the hotel grounds and it is said that thousands came and camped in and around the area. In fact, by the third day of the event, all available food in town had been consumed, and the attendees went home hungry. After the 1910 season, the hotel was no longer operated by the developers, but was rented out for two years to a Dr. Speers who operated a prep school there. W. H. Florey then ran a boarding house for another two or three years. Until 1922 or 1923, the park area continued to be a popular place for various conventions and political rallies. About 1925, the hotel burned and the area was vacant and uncared for until 45 acres was purchased by the City of Mount Pleasant in 1951.
Today Dellwood Park is the pride of the city's parks department, offering walking paths, exercise areas, swimming pool, baseball fields, tennis courts and a Boy Scout "hut." Visitors now enjoy the springs by just watching them quietly flow into Town Branch, as in the days when deer and Caddo Indians roamed the area.
During the early years of the twentieth century a new timber-based industry came to Mount Pleasant when the Hoffman Heading and Stave Co. was established. The company produced heads and staves for wooden kegs and barrels, from white oak and gum trees growing in the bottomlands of White Oak Creek, which forms the northern boundary of Titus County. In1906, Mr. Hoffman bought right-of-way and constructed a tram railway from the White Oak Creek area to his facility in Mount Pleasant, so that a steady supply of logs could be brought in, regardless of weather conditions.
Similarly, the difficulty of getting around during the wetter times of the year prompted the formation of the Paris and Mount Pleasant Railroad, which was chartered January 29,1909. Laying of track from Paris toward Mount Pleasant was soon underway. In 1912 Mr. Hoffman sold four miles of his track, immediately north of Mount Pleasant to the fledgling line from Paris and trains were running in 1913. For the next forty years, the "Pa and Ma" line, as it was nicknamed, moved people and locally produced freight of all kinds.
The steady growth in employment opportunities coupled with the expanding rail system helped to keep the area's population growing, with the 1910 census showing 16,422 for Titus County and 3,137 for Mount Pleasant.
But even as the "Pa and Ma" began operations, the next "new thing" which would cause the eventual closing of many railroads, was coming on the scene. Henry Ford's Model T proved popular from the time of its introduction in 1908. But when assembly line production began in 1914 and prices began to fall, America's love affair with automobiles was under way. That year's production at Ford's Highland Park, Michigan plant hit 300,000 and in 1915 it was up to 500,000, with the price sliding downward from $850 to $440.
In Mount Pleasant, long time hardware merchant Henry Willson saw the handwriting on the wall. Henry, who with his brother Willie, had operated Willson Brothers Hardware store since the 1890s, was a member of the first Mount Pleasant City Council. He was quite likely the most civic-minded person of his day, in Titus County.
Realizing that automobiles would soon become "the" method of transportation in America, Willson knew that providing better roads for the ever-increasing number of automobiles would be vital to the area's continued growth and development. Even though he never married, Henry Willson could rightfully be considered the "Father" of good roads in Titus County. Largely due to his efforts, a one million dollar bond issue was passed in 1916 for road construction. Shortly thereafter, he also was able to persuade Titus County Commissioners to take on the responsibility of building and maintaining county roads. Previously, this task had been accomplished by having all able-bodied men of the county donate a required number of days of labor each year.
Another visionary was L. C. Libby, who came to Mount Pleasant in 1902 as school superintendent. Libby saw some potential in the lignite deposits between Mount Pleasant and Cookville, and in the clay subsoil of the area. So in 1908 he formed the Libby Brick and Coal Company. The combined mining and brick making operations employed 35 to 65 men, giving the area economy another nice payroll. Capacity of the brick presses was 20,000 per day, while the three kilns had a combined capacity of 250,000. Production of the lignite mines varied with demand, sometimes reaching 300 tons per day. The Cotton Belt Railroad established a siding named Nodena for loading the lignite and bricks onto rail cars for delivery to customers across the nation. Lignite was also mined in an area about four miles west of Mount Pleasant from about 1920 to the mid 1930s. Production in 1932 was said to average about 270 tons per week.
Certainly we would not want to leave the second decade of the twentieth century without recognizing those from Mount Pleasant and Titus County who took part in "the war to end all wars", World War I. While the exact number of those who served is uncertain, it is believed that about twenty lost their lives in the conflict. One of those who returned was Roger Harbour. Harbour had started working at the Libby Mine at age thirteen and was there until he entered the army. After his return, he worked at the mines and the brick kilns until they closed about 1920.
Demand for lignite dropped rapidly as availability of natural gas grew more common. This would be just one of the changes to be experienced during the 1920s. The area economy, still heavily dependent on agriculture, became more volatile as local farmers found they could feed their animals more economically with Midwest corn than with their own production. Thus, more acres were planted to cotton. When good yields were obtained on more acres and production outpaced demand, the price of cotton fell. This spurred some farmers to sell their land before poorer crop prices caused land prices to drop. Many of them continued the westward migration that the nation had experienced since its founding, by moving to the south plains area, where land prices were appreciating, but still remained lower than in Northeast Texas. Largely because of this resumption of westward migration, the steady population increase in Northeast Texas was reversed for a number of years. Between 1920 and 1930, Titus County's population dropped from 18,128 to 16,003, while Mount Pleasant's fell from 4,099 to 3,541. But even as the agricultural economy experienced wide fluctuations, signs of progress continued in other sectors.