Honey Grove Preservation League

Saving and Documenting the History of Honey Grove, Texas

A Historic Overview

From the Honey Grove Signal-Citizen, Centennial Edition, January 30, 1997

Mystic lands of the ancients

The very earliest written historical records of the area were included in the reports from the expeditions of several French and Spanish explorers, the best-known being the legendary Cortez, who led at least seven different expeditions into the northeast Texas region in his quest for Cibola, the Seven Cities of Gold.

Cortez and the rest never found Cibola, but they did discover a mysterious land rich in beauty and natural resources, along with several tribes of Native Americans.

Maps of Cortez’s third expedition on display in the Smithsonian Institute indicate that he passed through this general area, perhaps even became the First visitor here, in 1516-1520.

In the two centuries to follow, until the late 1700s, a number of French explorers, including LaSalle, visited the general area.  The French did not keep accurate records of their quests as did their precedents, but a number of French fortifications and settlements were established and later abandoned here, probably due to the isolated nature of the location.

Choctaw, Creek, Souix, and Caddo Indian tribes occupied the region in the eighteenth century, often building their camps in the abandoned fortresses left behind by the French.

In all actuality, it appears from history that very few humans really lived here. Instead, because of the bounty of the game, the dense timber, and other resources, the area was used more as a hunting grounds and source of building materials.

The first signs of the New World

Throughout the 1700s, the area was frequented by French trappers and by hunters of all nationalities, who camped here for months on end. At this time, huge herds of buffalo, deer, antelope and other native animals roamed the area.
Topographically, the terrain was much the same as it is today, rolling hills and plains. The flora and fauna was much different.

The area was essentially a thick rain forest, with huge native varieties overhead and with thick scrub underneath the canopy. The moist, temperate climate and the thick blackland mud were perfect for growing huge forests, which housed copious amounts of game.

Most vestiges of the timber seen here 250 years ago are gone by now.

Davy Crockett and his contemporaries

Legend holds that the famed pioneer Davy Crockett was lured to this place after hearing stories of the beauty and bounty by two men who had passed through here in 1816, J. P. Simpson and an unnamed friend.

They described in vivid detail a site on the south side of Red River and some distance south of the stream a beautiful grove which was a place of resort for the sportive backwoodsmen of the day to gratify his love for that kind of life—among immense herds of buffalo, antelope, elk, and deer. 

They further stated that from the “immense quantity of honey found in the timber around and in the grove and along down the creek, they had given it the appropriate name of Honey Grove” and that a nearby creek...was known as Bee Creek.”

Crockett finally visited the area in the 1830s, and reportedly made known his plans to settle here after the war with Mexico. He also referred to the area as Honey Grove, and in legend, so did the people who followed. Crockett marked his spot while here, carving his name and the year 1836 into a big oak tree believed to be in what is now known as Crockett Park.

Crockett’s fate was sealed at the Alamo in 1836, but his friends kept his legend alive, and prompted one to continue to follow the dream of settlement here.

The founding of the town

Upon gaining freedom from Mexico, Texas underwent a chaotic beginning which included vast land speculation and surveys.

Samuel Erwin and Elizabeth Drennan Erwin, who had been married by Crockett when he was a Tennessee magistrate, eventually found Crockett’s tree and settled here, miles from the nearest neighbor.

He soon built a log cabin at the site.

For three years, the Erwins were the only family in the locality. The next settler was Dr. Nicholson and his brother, A.J. Nicholson who came in 1839. They were followed by John McKenzie, J. T. Allen, and James Gambill, J. Fuqua, David Drennan, and Thomas Hobbs. All of these men were to eventually make significant contributions to the area in some way.

Another pioneer was to settle here in 1839. Mr. John Gilmer purchased 320 acres at $2.19 an acre. The deed reflects that the name of the settlement at that at time was Honey Grove.

Small mercantile enterprises were opened to tend to the needs of the hunters, trappers and ranchers of the area Three things combined to boost the settlement. First was the arrival of B. S. Walcott, who married the widow of Mr. Gilmer and with his friend Samuel Erwin, laid out the foundation of the town of Honey Grove.

The second boost was the establishment of the Central National Road in the 1930s, which could bring potential settlers here from the east. The Central National Road was a uniform strip of land at least 10 feet wide which cut through the dense foliage and allowed oxcarts to pass.

The third was the extension of several railroad lines,  the first recorded line being the North Texas Transportation Line.

Mr. Walcott eventually built a great store here, with goods hauled in from the east Texas town of Jefferson, the center of culture and civilization for early Texans.

The town eventually blossomed to a settlement of about 300 people by 1848, and was frequented by the people who hunted lire area, lumbermen, land speculators and, of course, cowboys and ranch hands. Several cattle trails led from west Texas to east Texas and passed through the area.  In the very early days of the Republic of Texas, Honey Grove was, for a while, a favorite stomping grounds of the legends of the Old West.

Changes wrought by the War Between The States

The American Civil War may have taken a terrible toll on the nation and on the South in particular, but in its aftermath, Texas experienced its greatest growth.

Refugees from the war-torn states flooded Texas for two primary reasons. They didn’t like the carpetbagged South and its exploitation of landowners there. The second, and perhaps biggest reason was an insect known as the Boll Weevil.

In the days prior to pesticides, the Boll Weevil was more destructive than any human army, and wrecked the economy based on cotton growing. The planters of the day had only one recourse, and that was to try and outrun the pest.

The big cotton growers continued to race across the south central states, but found a paradise in northeast Texas, where the Boll Weevil was unknown at the time.

Thousands of growers packed up their belongings and made their way down the Natchez Trace to the Central National Road, eventually finding the paradise land of Bois D’ Ark and Blackland Mud.

Upon casting their first seeds in the ground, they were rewarded with immense crops of cotton, more than any had ever seen, and for a hundred years, northeast Texas became the Kingdom of Cotton.

Honey Grove, an early Metropolis

Thanks to the foresight of those early pioneers, the town was well-suited to the desires of the cotton growers and all the various businesses which supported them.

With the opening of the West, the cattle industry and the cowboy had pretty much moved out beyond the 98th parallel, where Ft. Worth and points west were known as Cattle Country. The East, particularly the northeast, was King Cotton.

By 1888, Honey Grove sported two railroads, two banks, seven churches, four large frame hotels, two lumber yards, and was well supplied with restaurants and boarding houses for both the unwed and the itenerant.

There was a steam powered planing mill, and a variety of craftsmen. Honey Grove was known for the blackland mud, but was also famous for the series of Plank Sidewalks running to all homes and businesses.

Huge, beautiful homes were erected here by the various merchants and planters, and over the next 20 years, past the turn of the century, the population boomed to an incredible 4,000 inhabitants.

The town was a cultural and social center for northeast Texas and still today retains its magnificent beauty.

The Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Rail Lines put in a spur running south to connect with the terminal in Ladonia, where the line ran all the way into Dallas. The ATS&F line here ran east-west to accommodate the needs of farmers, ranchers, and business people.

The spur south was to become “Bob’s Train” named after one of the popular conductors there. It operated for many years serving the Quarry as well as farmers and ranchers, and, was the best form of travel for visitors from the south.

Pioneer spirit and determination live on

Honey Grove and many other area towns enjoyed half a century of prosperity from the late 1800s until the Depression, followed by World War II.

Though the local economy was sound during the Great Depression, that economic blight hurt indirectly enough to keep the town from growing much past that point.

With the powerhouse strength that America assumed and the technology created by World War II, the face of the town changed once again.

Instead of trains and horses, people now travelled in automobiles, and extensive road systems were created. When the populace became mobile, it became easier for them to move to distant places, seeking their own fortunes. Some went to the great auto factories and other giant fabrication plants in the north, or perhaps the booming State of California. Others relocated to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and the population began a slow decline.

By the 1960s and 1970s, Honey Grove’s school graduates, like those of many once-thriving Texas towns, sought employment and futures in larger towns. The auto and the roads made that possible.

Honey Grove retained its share of determined residents, though, while others looking for the serenity and beauty inherent in the town came from elsewhere to settle here.

During the 1960's enterpreneur and philantropist Richard F. "Dick" Voyer took a great interest in the town.  Directing the affairs of the late Dr. David Hall, Mr. Voyer helped restore the downtown area in dramatic fashion.  The David Graham Hall Foundation was originally set up in the 1940s with a focus on public health concerns, but Mr. Voyer was instrumental i making the resources of the Foundation work for other projects, including restoration of buildings, establishment of educational centers, and other worthwhile projects. He and his wife, Bertha, fell in love with the area, which he often referred to as “the pearl of Red River Valley.” For nearly three decades, Mr. Voyer, an attorney, made resources available for the town and the area. The “crown jewel” of the Foundation was quite possibly the best smalltown library in the world here, the Bertha Voyer Memorial Library. The Hall-Voyer Center is a place for school and town events as well as a learning center. Mr. Voyer passed away in 1989, but his works are continued by the Hall-Voyer Foundation.

Today, Honey Grove is a close-knit community of enterprising, friendly, and independent people, with a kinship and spirit unmatched anywhere.

The form of government changed from Council form to Aldermanic form a few years ago, essentially giving more representation in decision making. A further move towards creation of a City Manager form of government is being considered.

The Chamber of Commerce is very active in conducting citywide events, and has a plan for the construction of a Trade and Market Pavilion to help attract visitors here.

The Kiwanis Club is active in social progress, as are a number of clubs and organizations here. The Honey Grove Garden Club, established in 1940, continues many good works of beautifying the town.

The vast improvements to US Highway 82 can either be a great addition or a great detractor from the town. Certainly, many more people will be driving near and through the area now, but will businesses cluster northward?

For a while, small towns everywhere in Texas and across the United States declined, while urban centers flourished. Honey Grove has a great heritage and a great mix of people who care very much about their town.  It has survived all the changes, and will survive others yet to come.

The future does seem bright, indeed for Honey Grove, because it basks in the glow of the people who live here.

The Honey Grove Signal-Citizen, an important facet of the community for 100 years, hopes to be on hand far into that future to continue to chronicle the events here.