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Country Stores

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
A friend who lives near Trawick was bemoaning the loss of country stores a few days ago.

“When I was a kid, you could drive all over East Texas, and every little town had one or two stores and did a good business because the hometown folks always traded with them,” he said.

My best memory of such a store was at Denson Springs on Highway 294 in Anderson County.

Every time we went to see my maternal grandparents at Slocum, my father always stopped at the store and bought a round of orange “soda waters” for his four kids. He also knew the storekeeper, a large, laughing man who sometimes gave us free candy bars.

By 1914 Denson Springs had 100 residents, two general stores and a cotton gin. The local school was consolidated with the Slocum schools by 1955, and by 1982 Denson Springs consisted only of a cemetery, several scattered dwellings, and one store.

Today, country stores are far and few between. Most of them have been closed down--victims of flourishing business communities in places like Tyler, Lufkin and Paris.

Most of the old country stores faded away because the towns they served also died as farming ceased to be a significant part of the East Texas economy.

A good example was Denning, on Farm Road 3409 eight miles west of San Augustine.

A post office was opened there in 1891 and by 1896 Denning had about 50 residents, two general stores, two cotton gins, two sawmills, two flour mills, and three blacksmith shops.

By 1904 the town had a one-teacher school for forty-seven white children and another for twenty-four black pupils. About a dozen years later, the town had 200 inhabitants.

After that, Denning began to fade away.

The post office was closed in the 1930s, the population dwindled to 75 by 1939 and the town’s school was merged with another district.

In January, I drove through Denning looking for the settlement of New Hope. and was surprised that most of Denning’s old institutional buildings, such as its post office, school and gins, were still standing, but were only shells of what they were in the 1930s and 1940s.

Driving back to Lufkin, I counted nearly a dozen of old country stores that are now empty.

Sadly, there are a lot of Denison Springs and Dennings all over East Texas.


Bob Bowman's East Texas May 31, 2009 Column
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 40 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)


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