Builders Had to Cut Through Vines

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GRAPELAND -- When the Houston & Great Northern Railroad was built through this area in 1872, the builders had to cut their way through, grapevines. The railroad first named this place "Grapevine."

The town site, 640 acres in the John Erwin survey, was acquired by the railroad, which turned it for development to the New York & Texas Land Company. That firm laid out town lots and sold them for $75 and $100 each.

The first lot was sold to T. T. Beazley and J. H. Wooters in November, 1872. Tom and Jim Beazley had the first general store and T. S. Cook the first saloon. When R. M. Garrett petitioned for a Grapevine post office, he was told there already was a Grapevine post office, so the name was changed to Grapeland. T. T. Beazley became the first postmaster, May 26, 1873, succeeded in 1881 by Napoleon G. Bontaparte Frazier.

Grapeland's oldest house, the home of Mrs. Anna Lois Lyles, originally was the T. T. Beazley home.

Grapeland was incorporated in 1899 with Dr. H. S. Robertson as the elected mayor. The first ordinance required rubbish around business houses to be cleaned up and disposed of. The second ordinance prohibited the railroad from obstructing public crossings for more than five minutes, and passengers were forbidden to board or leave a moving train.

W. W. Lively had the first buggy, used to haul passengers to Augusta. The first cotton gin was owned by Bill Lively.

By 1901, Grapeland was called "The Queen City of the Sand Flats." By 1906 Grapeland had a telephone system.

The vault of the Farmers and Merchants State Bank was looted of $10,000 by dynamiters around 1 a.m. Monday, Nov. 3, 1910.

On Tuesday, March 5, 1913, at 11 p.m., fire broke out in the Palace of Sweets in the middle of a Front Street block and destroyed 15 business houses and the Goodson Hotel. Mrs. Laura Goodson was the respected owner of the hotel, where sumptuous meals were served family style.

Phil H. Blalock was editor of the first newspaper published in 1897. Later that year R was sold to D. McNaughton of Palestine and Riley T. Runyan became the editor. In 1899, the newspaper was sled to George E. Darsey, Sr., W.B. Johnson, Mose Spence and Dr. H. S. Robertson and the name was changed to The Grapeland Messenger with Dr. Robertson as editor.

In 1904-05, Lee Satterwhite operated the paper, which he sold to George E. Darsey, Jr., and A. H. Luker became the editor. Members of the Luker family continued as publishers until 1968, when Weldon Kirby, the present owner, bought The Messenger.

George E. Darsey Sr., was bern in Georgia. He came to Grapeland in 1883 and entered business with John R. Foster in a frame building. Darsey bought Foster's interest in 1886. Darsey built the first brick building in Grapeland in 1898, later adding two other adjoining brick structures. They were razed by the 1913 fire, after which the present building was erected.

Charley Darsey, president of the Grapeland Community Council, is the third-generation Darsey owner-manager of the Darsey store.

C. W. and J. C. Kennedy were early merchants in Augusta who established Kennedy Brothers in Grapeland in 1909. They helped organize a Grapeland bank of which Charles Kennedy was president many years. Chester Kennedy served Grapeland as mayor 1930-1944.

The Kennedys are descendants of Daniel McLean, Houston County's first white settler, who came to the county in 1812 with the Guiterrez- Magee Expedition and in 1837 was slain by Indians.

In the first decades of this century, A. B. Guice's Grapeland Blacksmith Shop was a mecca for farmers of a wide area. Guice not only shod horses and sold buggies but made and sold the Guice Harrow, a spring-tooth cultivator in wide demand. Dave Walling operated a brick factory as far back as 1906. The Kennedy Brothers store built in 1909 is of bricks made in Walling's plant.

First graduate of Grapeland High School -- and the only one for the 1904-05 term-- was Cleo Murchison. Graduates the following year were Robert Lee Eaves, Marion Stokes Pelham, Clauce C. Leaverton, Zuma Wilson Anthony, Annie Mae Scarhrough, Ida Coleman Lively, Cora Ella Woodard and Hood Murchison.

Grapeland is surrounded by fine recreational lakes. Impoundment of the Houston County Lake on Little Elkhart Creek has provided Grapeland with a limitless pure water supply and facilities for fishing and outing. The city also has an alternate water supply from its own deep well.

Replacement of cotton as king by peanuts resulted in Grapeland becoming the peanut center of its area.

The Grapeland Peanut Festival, first called the annual "Goober Carnival," was inaugurated Sept. 27, 1945. Frankie Lois Richardson of Percilla, now Mrs. R. C. Pennington, was elected first Carnival Queen. The famous Stamps Quartet from Dallas entertained and Victor H. Schoffelmayer of the Dallas News was the principal speaker. King Peanut was Sam Hill.

The festival over the years has grown into a major harvest time production. In 1951, the name was changed to Peanut Festival.

Grapeland previously had been the site of notable Possum Walks and Turkey Trots.

Sharing fame with the championship Grapeland Sandies are the high school's drama casts led and inspired many years by Mrs. J. C. Shoultz, who taught English, Social Science and Speech for 28 years (1944-72). For 18 years she was Senior Class sponsor. She organized and sponsored the Thespian Troupe. Mrs. Shoultz was named "Outstanding Senior Citizen of Houston County" in 1967. The Grapeland High School Auditorium bears her name.

Grapeland's largest industry is the sprawling Vulcraft Divison Grapeland plant of Nucor Corporation, a major industry based in Charlotte, N. C.

The Grapeland plant fabricates steel joists for industrial, institutional, commercial and other buildings. The plant's products are shipped and used throughout Texas and in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and Hawaii.

Exclusive of its air-conditioned office building, the vast plant -- which from above resembles a giant aircraft with its T-shape -- covers 240,000 square feet of floor space on a 120-acre site with an annual production of capacity of 100,000 tons of steel joists.

The Vulcraft plant now employs 300 workers and has been a steady source of jobs and community growth since it was built in 1968.

The plant now receives about 95 per cent of its steel from the new Nucor Steel Division steel- making plant at Jewett, which came into production last year.

The Grapeland Messenger of April 4, 1901, Vol. 3, No. 4, boasted of improved lands within three miles of town for sale at $5 to $50 per acre; unimproved lands, $2 to $10 per acre.

Blount & Guice Cultivator Works were making the side and V harrow- "the most perfect cultivator made" for which patent had been issued two years earlier, "and from the modest beginning of 200 cultivators per annum, they are now being shipped out by the carload."

The Dunnam Broom Factory was a "paying investment" to the proprietors and farmers as well, "broom corn being no small item of production in the Grapeland country."

Other industries were the Hollingsworth & Davis Lumber Mill in town, and nearby mills of J. J. Brooks, J. N. Tyer and B. C. Williams.

"Here are lands as productive as the Valley of the Nile and adapted to the growth of all marketable vegetation," the article of 1901 continued.

A four-lane highway now is being completed from Grapeland north to the Anderson County line. New homes and housing developments are being added to Grapeland and its vicinity.

A large increase in population will be reflected in the next federal census for Grapeland.

Source: Anderson County Bicentennial