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
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
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.
P. McDonald, PhD
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.