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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

Newton, Texas

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
It is strange how my life has intertwined with Newton County, the long, slender eastern twin of Jasper County located in southeast Texas just north of Orange and Beaumont, Texas.

First, summertime visits to home of the Russell family in Burkeville early in the 1940s introduced this city boy to outdoor toilets, sliding on the sawdust pile at the lumber mill, and Vacation Bible School—at the churches of three different but evidently cooperating denominations. The Russells included my great aunt and uncle Thelma and Bill Russell, and their six offspring.

Then, after the Barrett's let me have their Judy for a wife, I helped B.L. and Edna Barrett build a house near the Sabine River at Bon Wier, and in time, helped operate the place for a while. Throughout, though, I never knew much about the county. Here's what I have learned lately:

Newton County, a heavily timbered, sandy land place, began its brush with civilization as part of Lorenzo de Zavalla's land grant from Mexico, then got dragged along with the rest of Texas to a condition of independence during the Texas Revolution.

The State of Texas separated Newton from Jasper County in 1846 and named it to honor John Newton, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. Burkeville, and a place called Quicksand Creek served as the county seat until 1853, when the town of Newton, located near the center of the county, became the seat of local government, which it remains, despite early efforts to return it to Burkeville.

Formal education began with the founding of a male and female academy by W.H. Ford in 1889. A few mercantile shops operated in Newton around the courthouse square, with a sawmill, gristmill, and a turpentine mill provided some industry. In 1906 the Northwestern Railway connected Newton to Orange, Texas, but I mostly remember riding a bus operated by a member of the Ford family between Burkeville and Newton during World War II.

That war drafted local youths to Army and Navy assignments and other fellows to shipyards and munitions plants located on the Gulf Coast. The timber industry changed, too, and in time tourism linked to the Toledo Bend Reservoir became an important aspect of Newton County's economic schema.

And this: Newton County is the wettest county in Texas—from precipitation, measuring nearly 55 inches per year.


© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical

September 24, 2007 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

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