The History of Whitney, Texas
Welcome to Whitney, Texas!
As the railroads moved westward, opening new territory for settlement, they were not meeting an existing market but were creating one. To this end, they established new towns along their routes to serve as trade and shipping centers. Whitney was the first such railroad town" in Hill County.
The Houston and Texas Central was the first railroad to enter Hill County. The line from Waco north was surveyed and graded to a point two miles east of the present location of Whitney in 1876. It was originally intended to continue north to Cleburne, but work was discontinued from 1876 to 1879 and when resumed, the course of the road was abruptly changed and turned west.
The town of Whitney was laid off and the lots sold on November 25, 1879. The land on which the town is located was originally part of the Robertson grant and on early surveys was shown as belonging to Mary Beauchamp and Thomas Mackey. A bois d'arc hedge which passed through town south of the railroad formed the league line. The land, a great part of which was under cultivation, was purchased by the railroad from I. E. Griffith, C. C. Hick and Lewis Raborn. The sale was widely advertised, and people came from all over the area. Although most came for entertainment and the barbecue which was provided, there were investors from all over the state. Several people lived in the immediate area; six villages within seven miles and five or six houses near the town site. Streets were laid off running north-south and east-west. Those running north-south where named for principal rivers of the state and the east-west streets were numbered.
The auctioneer's stand was a wagon parked at the end of Brazos where the depot was to be built. After explaining the terms of the sale, he informed the crowd that the new town was to be named for Charles A. Whitney of New York. Whitney was a brother-in--law of J.P. Morgan and a principal stockholder in the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. Lots sold at prices which ranged from $100 to $750, the latter being paid for the northwest corner of Brazos and First. The sale of lots brought $32,000 on land for which the railroad had paid fifteen dollars an acre.
Building began immediately. Some merchants set up business in tents and others moved buildings from nearby communities. H. C. Ford moved the first building in from Towash. J.H. Littlefield was the first to erect a new frame building and E. Parr built the first stone building on his expensive lot at First and Brazos. This was a two-story building, the lower floor of local sandstone and the upper of brick. A one-story brick was built across the street. There were many frame constructions and by the end of the year the town had taken shape.
D.T. Burton, the postmaster at Towash, saw that the mail would soon be coming direct to Whitney, as did Silas Johnson, the postmaster at Hamilton Springs. They both moved their offices to Whitney at about the same time. Reaching a private agreement between them, Johnson informed the postal authorities that he had changed the name of the post office to Whitney, that D.T. Burton was the postmaster, and that he hoped they would govern themselves accordingly. A few months later, John Napier was the first official postmaster at Whitney.
As Whitney grew in importance, neighboring villages declined. The four largest, Peoria, Towash, Ft. Graham, and Prairie Valley (formerly Tittle), became merely rural communities with a church and school. Towash Springs and Monterrey (once Robber's Roost and later Hamilton Springs) disappeared entirely.
The town's first year was difficult. Goods were still being brought in by wagon and the crop of 1880 was a total failure. In 1881 hundreds of people gathered in Whitney to see the first train come in. Most of them had never seen a train but there was something they were even more anxious to see. The train was bringing carloads of corn. Due to the crop failure, many people had not tasted bread for months. The railroad had agreed to transport a bushel of corn for each person in the area.
The next season made up for the bad times. Harvests were abundant and in 1882 Whitney shipped 22,000 bales of cotton. Whitney grew and prospered. By 1883 the population was estimated at 1200.
Some of the businesses established during these early years survived to have tremendous importance throughout Whitney's history. The railroad was, of course the first. The Houston and Texas Central Railway continued its line on west to Stamford. In 1891 that part of the line from Ross to Stamford was sold and operated thereafter as the Texas Central Railroad. In 1914 this line leased by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad. It continued to operate as the Texas Central but became known locally as the Katy. Being primarily a rural line, the railroad suffered with the decline of agriculture. World War II created a great need for shipping and transportation but after the war, the need for public transportation declined and passenger service to Whitney was discontinued in 1950.
During the building of the dam the railroad transported most of the supplies. A spur was built to the dam site and the line west was rerouted. A 3,052-foot bridge was built across the lake. After all the construction was complete, the railroad continued to lose revenue and in 1962 the old depot torn was down. The Texas Central Railroad was abandoned in November 1967.
Ed Boesch came to Whitney in 1879 as an employee of William Cameron. In 1883 he established the Boesch Lumber Yard which literally built Whitney and continued to serve the area for seventy years. The Whitney Messenger (discussed later} was established later that same year.
The first bank was opened in 1880 but didn't take the name The Whitney Bank until 1893 when A.G. McMahan assumed management. He reorganized under the name of The First National Bank of Whitney in 1904 and in 1905 built the building which housed the bank for forty years. In 1932 the bank closed but was immediately reorganized and opened under the name of The First National Bank in Whitney. A new bank building was completed in 1972 near the intersection of FM933 and Loop 22.
Many of Whitney's early citizens were interested in more than speculation and trade. Churches and schools which were solidly founded provided the stability which enabled the town to survive the bad years ahead.
Public school was first taught in 1880 in a store building on Trinity Street and later in the Presbyterian Church. The first building, financed by donations ranging from fifty cents to $100, was erected in 1884. It was a large frame building located on North Colorado. Enrollment the first year was about 150. In August 1885, the town incorporated as a school district and levied a tax to support the new school. At this time a colored school was established and operated as part of the school system until the late thirties when the black students were transferred to Hillsboro.
The school was enlarged several times but by 1903 the enrollment reached 250 and a bond issue was approved to build a new one. The elaborate brick building was completed in 1904. It was in south Whitney at what is now the intersection of Loop 22 and FM 1244. For many years the school operated based on five to seven months free and two months paid, depending on the school's finances. The high school was free to Whitney residents, but tuition was paid by those outside the district. Each year a catalog was published, and the school was advertised widely. Many rural schools had only eight grades and it was necessary to board in Whitney to attend high school. The town was growing and in 1909 it was necessary to add a new wing to the school.
By 1927 the school building was in danger of being condemned so a large new building was constructed a few blocks away on land donated by Mrs. M. L. Baker. The new school was completed in 1928. During the Depression, in 1934, W.P.A. funds purchased the first school bus and provided an athletic field.
Due to the consolidation of rural schools and the influx of construction workers on the dam, the school was very overcrowded by 1948. A large gymnasium with four classrooms was built to accommodate the overflow but on Sept. 13, 1949, the day after school opened, the gym, four classrooms and all equipment were destroyed by fire.
Plans were made to rebuild immediately. A sports arena from Camp Swift was purchased and this 200x132 foot building, which cost the government $167,000, was transferred to Whitney for $1340. The conversion of this structure to a gymnasium was completed in 1950, but in the meantime, classes were held in churches and the V.F.W. hall.
Completion of the dam in 1951 relieved the pressure for a while. Two wings were added in 1955 to house the elementary school but it was another 16 years before the old red brick building was torn down and replaced. A large modern high school and junior high were built in 1971.
At the time Whitney as established, the railroad donated lots for the building of churches. Four denominations took advantage of the offer.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at the old log school and meeting house at Pecan Grove in 1875. In 1880 they moved to Whitney and in 1882 built on their lot west of their present location. This building was sold and the present church building erected in 1901. The name was changed much later to King Memorial Methodist Church. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized in April 1880 and their first church building erected that same year. In 1905, the building was sold to the Church of Christ and the present building erected. The First Baptist Church was organized in October 1880. They met in the Presbyterian building until 1889 when they built their own building. The present building was constructed on the old site in 1968.
The Church of Christ was organized at Prairie Valley in 1857. They moved to Whitney in the early 1880s, in time to receive a lot from the railroad. In 1905, they purchased the building from the Presbyterian Church and moved it onto their lot. This was replaced by the present building in 1969.
The congregation of what was to be the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church began to meet in 1884 but it wasn't until 1894 that the cornerstone was laid for the little church. After the building was complete the name Pleasant Hill was chosen.The Missionary Baptist Church was organized in Nov. 1915 and erected their building on the corner opposite the Methodist Church the same year.Other Whitney churches organized in more recent years are the Church of the Nazarene, The Assembly of God and Our Savior Lutheran Church.
The earliest fraternal order Knights of Pythias and the Knights and Ladies of Honor. They were followed later by the International Order of Odd Fellows and the Woodmen of the World.
The Whitney Lodge #355 AF and AM was originally organized at Prairie Valley in 1871. On Dec. 27, 1884, they met at Prairie Valley and marched in regalia to Whitney. About' 1890, the Masons purchased the upper floor of the brick building at the corner of First and Colorado. This building is probably the oldest building in the business district today. The Masons built a new lodge hall in 1967. It is shared with the Eastern Star and Rainbow Girls. The IOOF and Rebeccas have recently completed their new hall on Highway 22.
EARLY PROSPERITY & GROWTH
By 1883 other towns were being built on the Houston and Texas Central line and other railroads were entering the county. It also became obvious that the railroad was not going to build a roundhouse and shops at Whitney or extend the line to Cleburne as had been promised. Fire had destroyed a great part of the business district and it began to look as if the boom was over.
The speculators moved on to bigger and better booms and the next few years were difficult ones. The population dropped from an estimated to 1500 -2000 down to about 600. In 885 a tornado destroyed more than thirty dwellings and business houses. But Whitney hung on and by the end of 1885 the buildings in the business district were all brick except for one block of frame. This block housed the livery stable and was isolated enough not to endanger the rest of the business area. It burned in 1900 for the fifth time.
The years from 1890 to 1915 were Whitney's "Golden Age". Having survived the hazards and disappointments of the early years, the people determined to build a town to be proud of.
The Whitney Picnic in 1891 was one of the first efforts to promote the town. The picnic was widely advertised, and the railroad agreed to run special trains from Bremond and Dublin at excursion rates. A large arbor was built in the park south of the depot and the town was decorated with flags, bunting and cedar. Expenses were paid by auctioning concessions such as hobby horses, swings and stands for lemonade, "soda water" and ice cream. Local farmers donated 3500 pounds of beef, pork and goat for the barbecue. Entertainment included political speakers. concerts, horseback and shooting tournaments, a dance hall, horse races and a baseball game between Hillsboro and Waco.
That evening a Grand Ball was held at the Central Hotel. It was given by the young men of Whitney “complementary to the visiting young ladies. An Orchestra from Waco provided the music. Over six thousand people attended and the picnic was considered a great success.
The town grew and prospered. The population was back up over 1,000. At the close of 1895, Whitney counted its blessing and listed its assets. They included.
free public-school hook and ladder company
first-class post office five doctors bank
two attorneys three churches
colored school and church newspaper (1200 circulation}
three fraternal orders four hotels
jeweler three restaurants
two bookstores lumber dealer
three Realtors two drugstores
general merchandise store millinery
furniture dealer and undertaker three dry goods stores
six grain dealers eight cotton buyers
four grocery stores Wells Fargo agent
livery stable three saloons
five blacksmiths implement dealer
In 1905 the old enemy struck again. The block of brick buildings on the north side of First Street was destroyed. Five days later the block across the street went up in flames. Twelve businesses, the opera house, doctors' offices and the telephone exchange were destroyed. All the town's oldest buildings were gone. Although Whitney was stunned by this tremendous loss, no one was hurt, and many furnishings and goods were saved. All found new locations and were back in business a week later.
Fortunately, times were prosperous, and rebuilding began immediately. All the old brick buildings were rebuilt, most with two stories. Several new brick buildings were added and in the general excitement, other merchants expanded their stores and built new fronts. The bank decided to erect a new, two story building on the south east corner of First and Brazos. A new opera house was going up and amid all this activity, The Texas Central announced the construction of a new depot. When all the dust settled, Whitney had taken on the appearance of a new town.
Everyone was particularly proud of the new depot. The Messenger commented, "Whitney has always maintained the custom of a large crowd of men and boys meeting the passenger trains. Since the new depot has assumed handsome proportions the crowd has been augmented and graced by the presence of many ladies." This custom continued for many years.
The opera house which was destroyed by fire was located on the upper floor of a building at First and Brazos. Along with all the other reconstruction, a stock company was organized to finance, together with the Knights of Pythias and the Woodmen of the World, an opera house with lodge rooms above. The resulting structure was a large two-story building of white brick. For many years the opera house was the center of culture and entertainment. During the winter, there was a theatrical production every week. Sometimes there were traveling companies, but most often local groups performed. Over the years Whitney had many theatrical groups, bands and orchestras. There were public speakers, recitals and club meetings. All the school plays and programs were held at the opera house. In 1907 the first movies were shown there, and it became a movie theater as well. By the early thirties the once fine building had outlived its usefulness. The new school had a large auditorium and in 1935 a movie theater was opened. The opera house was torn down in 1936.
During this period Whitney was as active socially as it was commercially. There were parties, dances and picnics. In the summer there was a picnic every week. Each club, church and community had its annual picnic. A favorite school tradition was "April Fooling the Teacher" when on April 1, the students went to school as usual, stole the teacher's lunch, and took off for Pecan Grove for a picnic. A more masculine entertainment was cockfighting and horse racing where the purse was as high as $1,000. Everyone looked forward to Mollie Bailey's Circus and baseball was the favorite sport. Whitney's first team was known as the Whitney Warthogs. For many years, Christmas was a community affair. The merchants provided a large tree and 'each child received a gift.
Even a "Golden Age" has its unpleasant aspects. Men carried side arms until 1904 and until then murders were a common, often weekly, occurrence. Hold-ups were also common, with bands of thieves lying in wait for unwary travelers. A group referred to as whitecaps, like the Ku Klux Klan, terrorized blacks and whites alike.
Although 'Whitney always had several doctors, disease took a terrible toll. Diphtheria was especially dangerous to children and the schools were closed several times to avoid epidemics. Each year there were many cases of smallpox and about every five years they reached epidemic proportions. Tetanus, known then as lockjaw was common and always fatal. Many rabid animals were killed each year and people were frequently bitten. The only known treatment for such a bite was the application of a "madstone". Fortunately, there was always someone in this area who owned one of these stones. In each case it was applied to the wound and worked its cure.
In 1894, people were outraged when C. D. Johns, who owned the large area known as Steiner Valley, dismissed his tenant farmers and hired convict labor. Residents sympathized with the tenants and were fearful of the convicts. Soon they were scandalized by the treatment of the convicts, especially the forcing of convicts to work naked in the fields. Johns became very unpopular with his neighbors and finally leased the whole farm to the state for a prison farm. The state operated the farm until January 1913.
PROHIBITION ERA POLITICS
The most controversial issues of those days were politics, prohibition and in-corporation. Political debate raged year-round and near election time frequently became violent. The county was solidly Democratic except during the nineties when the Populist Party was very active. The controversy over prohibition aroused even more interest than politics. When Whitney was founded, the precinct line divided the business district. The north precinct was a local option precinct which meant that it was dry. The south precinct was not. A few saloons were soon in operation just across the line on Trinity Street south of First Street. Bawdy houses were established in the rear of the saloons. This part of town was appropriately known as "Hell's Half Acre".
As soon as the town was incorporated and law and order established, this area was cleaned up. Prohibition forces were not satisfied and demanded that liquor be abolished. The two precincts were combined in 1881, still wet. Elections were held every two years, but campaigning was continuous. Many organizations were formed, and the issue became a part of the social life. There were prohibition' parties, parades and picnics. One such event was a picnic in August 1887. A parade of 34 buggies and wagons led the way to Pecan Grove where four speakers held forth for eight hours on the evils of alcohol. 2,000 people attended.
Those opposed to prohibition maintained a low profile but were strong enough to win every election until January 1896 when prohibition carried the precinct by 44 votes. There were 720 votes cast.
The battle was not over. Prohibitionist campaigned until the county was dry then turned their attention to the state and nation. Carrie Nation drew a large crowd in Hillsboro when her train made a brief stop there in 1902. After the ratification of the 18th. Amendment, prohibition was a dead issue and remained so until 1979. On August 25, 1979 the voters of Precinct 4 legalized the sale of beer and wine for off premises consumption.
WORLD WAR I & THE GREAT DEPRESSION YEARS
Whitney was first incorporated in 1880, but after a certain amount of law and order had been established, the citizens felt that town government was not worth the extra taxes and the corporation was abolished in 1884. Despite frequent elections, the town did not incorporate again until an, election in January established a town corporation. This came about because of a need for laws to prevent livestock from roaming freely Cows and pigs' in the streets had caused several accidents in the business district. It was not until April 5, 1911 that Whitney was incorporated as a city. At that time a tax of 25cents on $100 was levied. One year later the tax was raised, and the citizens rebelled. State law prohibited towns and villages from levying taxes in excess of 25cents on $100 so the city corporation was abolished, and Whitney was incorporated again as a town in September 1912. The present city government was established by an act of the council in 1915.
During Whitney's earliest years, water was hauled from Hamilton Springs, one mile north and Towash Springs, three miles south of town. In 1883, Ed Boesch dug a well at his lumber yard. Later A.V. Anglin dug one and these two wells served the business district. Most homes had shallow wells or cisterns. In 1896 a stock company, Whitney Water and Light, was formed to drill an artesian well for a public water works and to provide electricity. Each patron of the water works had a hydrant in the yard and rates were based on the number of family members, livestock, bathtubs and whether the yard and garden were watered. Water meters were not used until 1927. Water pressure was low, and electricity provided only at night. In 1915 the city purchased the company. A new generator was purchased, and a reservoir was built. It was not until then that the town had reliable electric service and a water supply that would provide some protection against 'fire.
The Texas-Louisiana Power Plant purchased the electric service from the city in 1927. In 1934, this company was reorganized as Community Public Service which serves Whitney today. The only gas lights ever seen in Whitney are those which ornament lawns today. The town had no gas service until Lone Star Gas brought its lines to Whitney in 1929. Ice was an important commodity in the early days. It was shipped to Whitney by the carload and stored. In 1907 Lon Hampton and J.B. Smith opened the Whitney Ice and Bottling Works. This business continued under different owners until the late thirties. A new 7 ½-ton ice plant was built in 1928, giving Whitney two ice companies. In 1946 a 30-ton plant was built with the hope of supplying ice for the construction of the dam. This plant was purchased by Ed Peters in 1963. Equipment for another 30 tons was added and today the Blue-Chip Ice Company ships ice all over Central Texas.
Whitney's early growth and subsequent decline were based directly on agriculture. By 1915 the cotton "boom" which had supported the town's prosperity was over. The high plains were being opened to farming and cotton and wheat could be grown there with less effort and expense. Efforts were made toward diversification of crops and dairy farming was encouraged., Better farming methods were taught but Whitney's once large rural population continued to decline. The size of this rural population can best be illustrated by the fact that in, 1913 there were about fifteen rural schools within a few miles of Whitney. Today the names of little communities such as Red Point, Fowler, Yates, DeLamar, Tarver, Crow, Bethel, Cracker Box (McCown Valley) and Bethlehem have been almost forgotten.
During 1917 and 1918 The town devoted all its energies toward the war effort. The conservation of food and the sale of Liberty Bonds were taken very seriously. At the hotel, a "traveling man" who used more than his allotted two teaspoons of sugar, was arrested and fined ten dollars. Derogatory remarks about Liberty Bonds were punishable by a jail sentence. The Whitney area exceeded its quota on the sale of bonds, raising over $88,000. One Red Cross auction brought over $1,200.
Two Whitney boys, Audis and Arron Taylor, wanting to contribute to the war effort donated their goat to the Red Cross. It was auctioned in Whitney and the response was so good it was sent to other towns in the county. The "Red Cross Goat" eventually brought over $2.200. A political highlight of 1918 was the first registration of 3617 women voters in Hill county.
The early twenties were not prosperous years. Taxes were high as was the cost of living. People were leaving the area for the higher wages paid in cities. By 1925 the economy had improved. Whitney had two banks and the two automobile dealers were doing a good business. The city had the utilities and streets in good condition and the future was beginning to look bright. One Saturday in October 1929 saw an estimated 6,000 people in town.
The area maintained its interest in politics. Between eight and ten thousand people gathered in Whitney on July 25, 1930 to hear James B. Ferguson speak in behalf of the gubernatorial campaign of his wife, Miriam A. Ferguson. The speech was broadcast over Radio Station WJAZ in Fort Worth.
The years of the Great Depression affected Whitney much as they did the rest of the nation.Business failed and cash was short.But in a rural community, most people had enough to eat and if one had to do without many things, he could take comfort in the knowledge that his friends did the same.
By 1934, Texas relief funds provided some work on streets and roads and built a cannery which employed thirty-five workers. In 1935 the WPA funded needed jobs and town improvements. This government agency provided highway work, a concrete bridge to replace the wooden one on the school road, a lighted athletic field and Whitney’s long needed sewer system.
WORLD WAR 2 & THE CONSTRUCTION OF LAKE WHITNEY
During World War II, Whitney again devoted all its energies toward the war effort. Rubber, paper, and scrap metal were industriously collected. Despite a shortage of money, every quota on the sale of War Bonds was exceeded. L. Mayes closed the Messenger and went to California to work in a defense plant. Whitney was without a newspaper for a year and a half.
In 1944 the Corps of Engineer announced that the Whitney Dam would have priority at the end of the war. The city council began to make plans concerning the impact so many workers would have on Whitney. Immediately after the armistice, the council announced plans to increase taxes and proposed a bond issue to support needed improvements. This caused a great deal of controversy and brought about an unusual city election. No candidates filed for city office. The voters. Received a blank ballot and city officials were elected by write-in votes.
Five months later, the bonds were approved, and taxes were raised. were improved, the sewer lines extended, and streetlights installed. The water works Eight blocks of streets in the business district were paved. City limits were extended to include a forty-three-acre addition where houses were to be constructed. The dam received Senate approval in March 1946 and the boom for which Whitney had waited so long was on.
Ever since S.C. Dyer built the first dam on the Brazos in 1853, that part near Whitney has been considered the best location for a dam on the entire course of the Brazos river. In 1895, a corporation was authorized by a special act of the state legislature to build a dam across the Brazos above Waco for waterpower and irrigation. A site near Towash was chosen but no dam was built. Again in 1903 plans for a dam there were made and again came to nothing.
In 1923, the state legislature appropriated $600,000, to be matched by federal funds, for a geological survey of the Brazos. In November of that year the head of U.S. Geological Survey Team told a group of local businessmen that a site near Whitney would be chosen for an "immense dam". The Brazos River Conservation and Reclamation District was created by an act of the Texas Legislature in 1929. The next twelve years were spent to obtain federal funds to build the twelve dams proposed by the district.
In 1935, the W. P. A. agreed to sponsor the project, but a snarl of government red tape tied up action until August 18, 1941 when the Flood Control Act was approved by Congress. $5,000,000 was allocated to initiate construction. Five months later the country was at war and construction was postponed indefinitely.
The Whitney Dam and Reservoir Project, the only U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project in the Brazos Basin, was again authorized by the Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944. Construction started in November 1946 when work on the relocation of State Highway 22 was begun. The official ground-breaking wasn't until July 2, 1947.
The contractor, L. P. Reed of Meridian, placed the first bucket of concrete in the spillway section on March 1, 1949 and on February 9, 1951, the final bucket was placed. During the summers, ice was used in the concrete mix. An ice plant, designed to produce 140 tons of ice daily, was necessary for this operation.
In the construction of the spillway, 517,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 4,878,000 pounds of reinforcing steel were used. The spillway sections were 159 feet above the old stream bed and 1680 feet long. The overall length of the dam is over three miles long. Ceremonies opening the Highway 22 across the dam were held in March 1951. The overall cost of the project was in excess of $42,000,000, one third of which was spent on the construction of the dam Thirty-three major contract were let in connection with the project.
Besides the relocation of Highway 22 and the M.K.T. and Santa Fe railroads, other major relocations included electric and telephone lines, pipelines, county roads and bridges. One contract covered the movement of several cemeteries containing over 2400 graves.
It was some time before all work was completed and before all the land for the reservoir was acquired, but on December 10, 1951 the gates were closed and the impounding of water for Lake Whitney began.Hydroelectric power facilities were completed in 1953.Due to a lack of rainfall, the lake did not reach its then-normal level of 520 feet above sea level until April 1954.Raising of the power pool 13 ft. was accomplished in 1956.
POSTWAR YEARS & ECONOMIC PROGRESS
These were exciting years for Whitney. The town was overflowing with workers and their families. Business had never been better, and construction was going on all over town--the hospital, gymnasium, houses, all the city improvements and many new businesses, Whitney had never seen so many new people but during this time some older residents got some attention too.
Whitney attracted national attention when the community gathered to honor Mr. and Mrs. Tom Rose on the celebration of their Diamond Wedding Anniversary in 1948. The couple received personal letters of congratulations from. President Harry Truman, Governor Beauford Jester and many others. Photographers and reporters from Life Magazine, the Associated Press and many daily newspapers gave the event nationwide coverage.
Mr. and Mrs. Rose were married on January 16, 1873 and moved to the Whitney area in 1877. They went on to celebrate their eightieth wedding anniversary and were believed to be the longest married couple in the United States. Their eldest son, H.E. Rose, and his wife celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1952 and claimed to be the only man to observe this anniversary in the presence of his parents. At the time of his death in 1954, Tom Rose was 10~ years old and was Hill County's oldest resident.
National attention was again focus on Whitney in 1949 when Life Magazine covered the famous "Battle of the Benches" (This story was taken from the files of the Messenger but is probably just as it appeared in Life). In 1922 D. (Doctor Dee) Scarborough, the druggist in Whitney, Texas, put up a bench outside his store, and immediately it became a loafing headquarters for the gaffers of the Brazos River Valley. 'Year after year they sat there looking like a jury of irritable terrapins, whittling, spitting and passing judgment on everything that passed. But finally, reform caught up with them.
Last month-a delegation of local housewives called on Whitney's young mayor. It was also during this period that Whitney became the smallest town in the state to have a National Guard unit. Company D, 111th. Medical Battalion, 36th Infantry Division was organized with headquarters in Whitney in 1948. This unit was to be a source of great pride to people of Whitney for twenty years. Company D was a medical unit with two doctors, a dentist, a complete field hospital and six ambulances. The men received intensive training as medical aids at Brook Army Medical Center at San Antonio. The first six years they drilled in a vacant building downtown but in 1953, a large armory was built near the school.
The men worked hard, and 1954 Company D was rated the top unit in the state. For this achievement they were awarded the highly coveted Eisenhower Trophy. The company repeated this performance in 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1958. In 1965, they were awarded the Governors Trophy as the top unit in the 36th Division.
The National Guard was reorganized in 1968 and Company D was reduced to a platoon. Later they were transferred to Waco and the armory was leased to the school. After the departure of the construction workers Whitney suffered an expected economic recession. The town could no longer look to agriculture as the source of its prosperity. The lake had taken 15,800 acres of rich farmland. That, together with the drought virtually spelled the end to the family farm. Although there is still some farming in the area, most of the land is devoted to ranching.
Development of the lake shore property resulted in the sale of more than 12,000 lots and weekend cabins began to spring up all around the lake. Parks were developed and concessions opened with facilities for every type of recreational activity. The Lake Whitney Association was organized in 1951 for the purpose of promoting the lake. The Association has published maps and literature, sponsored fishing contests, supplied news releases, and represented the lake at sports shows all over the state. In 1953 the Lake Whitney Association sponsored the first Miss Lake Whitney Beauty Pageant, an annual affair which attracts hundreds of visitors every year.
Bill Woodside is widely known as "Mr. Lake Whitney" as a tribute to his many years as Lake Whitney's foremost booster. Since 1951, he has devoted most of his time and efforts to promoting and publicizing the lake, both through his activities with the Lake Whitney Association and his publication, the Lake Whitney Views, a monthly pictorial news magazine
These brought an ever-increasing number of visitors to the lake. The first official count was in 1956 when Lake Whitney had 2,900,000 visitors. Although tourists and weekend residents brought a great deal of trade to Whitney, it was the growing number of permanent residents that finally stabilized the economy of the area.
The greatest political event in Whitney history was the 1955 appreciation dinner honoring Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, Senate Majority Leader at the time. This Democratic Fund-Raising dinner attracted some 1700 people who paid $10.00 a plate to meet national, state, and county political figures. Dr. Silas W. Grant, local physician, promoted the dinner and enlisted the aid of all citizens.
Senator Johnson was joined at the head table by his wife, Lady Bird, his mother, Rebecca Johnson; Robert W. Calvert, Associate Justice, of the Supreme Court of Texas; Lt. Governor Ben Ramsey; Congressman Jim Wright; Mrs. Olin Teague, wife of Congress-man Teague; State Senator Crawford Martin and a number of others. The gathering attracted statewide attention, surprising most observers in that the crowd exceeded the entire population of the Whitney area at the time. Dr. Grant was joined in the effort by half the citizens of Whitney. Special praise for hard work went to Boyd Hill, R.T. (Rabbit) Swilling, and Olen Carroll.
In 1957 the dam proved' its value in its primary function--flood control. When the rain began in April that year, the lake stood at 512 feet. By the end of May, it had reached 570 feet and the flood gates were opened. Flood water closed FM 933 between Whitney and Blum. State Highway 174 between Cleburne and Meridian was closed; Kimbell Bridge was under water. Highway 22 between and the dam was kept open by building sandbag levies. The water backed up all the way into Whitney. According to the Corps of Engineers, the dam had protected Waco from severe flood damage.
When the last train pass through town on November 29, 1967, it seemed to signal the beginning of a new era. The face of Whitney had begun to alter and the next few years would bring dramatic changes. A new city hall and fire station was built in 1968. By 1958 there would be a new post office, bank two nursing homes, several units of federal housing, several new church buildings and most important, the new school and hospital.
In the early years, Whitney always had several doctors. Most of the time there were four or five and at one time there were eight. But in 1945 the town had been without medical care for several years. It was felt that a hospital might help to attract doctors to the area. The Whitney Hospital Association was organized to raise funds through the sale of shares and the Chamber of Commerce began the search for a doctor-surgeon. The old bank building had recently become available and in February 1946 it was purchased by the Association. The sale of shares did not secure enough money for the necessary remodeling. A proposed bond issue was not approved so the money and finally raised through a variety of fund-raising projects.
Doctors Silas Grant and Morgan Buie operated a clinic and seven bed hospital in the old building until 1957, when they purchased a hospital in Hillsboro. The community was again without medical care and realized that better facilities were necessary if the town was to get and keep new doctors. In June 1957, Dr. John Latham came to Whitney and the town began efforts to secure a more modern hospital.
A surplus army barracks at Fort Hood was purchased for $198. A group of volunteer citizens dismantled the two-story 36 x130 foot building and moved it to Whitney. The upper floor of the old hospital building was removed, and a new wing constructed from the materials from the barracks. The interior was completely rebuilt. This hospital served the community for ten years until 1968 when a $400,000, 44-bed hospital was built. A wing added later increased the capacity to 60 beds.This new hospital is governed by The Whitney Hospital Authority, an eight-member board appointed by the City Council.
THE TORNADO OF 1971
On May 23, 1971, a tornado struck Whitney and the east side of the lake, doing extensive damage. One man was killed and thirty-seven injured. 127 families suffered some type of loss when the storm cut a path southeast from the Cedar Creek area, across the Country to Whitney and three miles south. Thirty Mobil homes and fifty houses were destroyed or badly damaged. Twenty-four small businesses were lost.
The Nation's Bicentennial was celebrated in a traditional manner with a parade, barbecue, and old-fashioned costumes. On Sunday, July 4, there was a picnic at the school. The school library held a historical exhibit and entertainment included a band concert and an old-fashioned melodrama. Whitney's permanent project to commemorate the Bi-Centennial is the City Park, located west of town. Facilities include playing fields, a playground and picnic areas.
Whitney was one hundred years old on November 25, 1979. The Centennial Celebration was held in September to coincide with Homecoming activities at the school. The, schedule of events for the celebration featured a parade, street dances, barbecue, musical entertainment, exhibits and street bazaar, a performance by the Horse Troop from Fort Hood, and fireworks. This was in addition to the Homecoming activities. It was a memorable celebration.
Whitney's growth over the last thirty years is apparent in the census figures. The 1950 census of 1379 reflects the large number of construction workers. In 1960 the count was 1050, probably a solid growth of about of 250. By 1970 the population had increased to 1500 and the 1980 Texas Almanac estimate is 1668, although local estimates are much higher. It is impossible to estimate with any accuracy the number of permanent residents on the lake, but in 1976, there were over 20,000 electric installations and the Waco Tribune Herald estimated the population around the lake at 10,000.
Although the railroads and the farmers are gone, Whitney seemed destined to fulfill the purpose for which it was originally established - to serve as a trade center for a large rural population.