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    Texas Ghost Town
    Washington County, Central Texas S
    Jct of FM 50 and FM 390 (La Bahia)
    9 miles N of Brenham
    via Hwy 105 and FM 50
    82 miles W of Houston via Hwy 290

    Population 140 (est.)

    Where to Stay - Independence Area Hotels:
    Brenham Hotels

    Cactus and wildfloweres in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    See A Walk Around Independence
    Independence Early History >
    Old Baylor Park >
    Windmill Hill Today
    Independence Cemetery
    People (The Houston Family as Residents)
    A Walk Around Independence >
    Friday Afternoon in Spring at Old Baylor Park (next page)

    The town of Independence, Texas is actually very much alive - with a very active group of preservationists. But it is also a historic ghost town complete with ruins, restored buildings, residences, cemeteries and over 30 points of historical interest.

    The town once had an enviable head start over other towns of its era and held enormous promise of being one of Texas' cultural centers, despite not being a port, crossroads or having a railroad connection. It did manage to become the wealthiest spot in Texas during the days of the Republic.

    Independence received two death blows - or three if you count not being elected county seat. The other two were: being bypassed by the railroad and the loss of Baylor University when it moved in 1886.
    Old Gay Hill School
    Old Gay Hill School relocated from Old Gay Hill
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, 2008

    Independence Early History:

    Independence was originally called Coles Settlement or Cole's Hill after early settler John P. Coles. Coles was the Alcalde under Mexican rule and one of the first to venture west from Washington-on-the-Brazos.

    Coles was also the county chief justice when Washington County was established in 1841. Coles once rented a cabin to a Mr. Albert Gallatin Haynes, who is worth mentioning if only because he named his sons Tom, Dick and Harry. Other settlers arrived from North Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky including Nestor Clay - a nephew of Henry Clay.

    With the organization of Independence Academy in 1837 people started applying the name to the town as well. Other sources credit Dr. Asa Hoxey with naming the town. Hoxey is also credited with naming nearby Washington.

    In 1844 an election for county seat was held with four contenders - the then county seat of Mount Vernon, Turkey Creek, Independence and Brenham. Brenham won by a few votes - having just been renamed in honor of a popular doctor who was killed in the ill-fated Mier Expedition in 1842. Brenham also had the advantage of being more centrally located. Turkey Creek and Mount Vernon disappeared without a trace.

    Old Baylor Park
    Founding of Baylor

    A Baptist church was established in September 1839 and shortly thereafter (1846) Baylor University was founded. During the first few years the school was coeducational but after 1851 the students were separated by gender.

    The four impressive columns to the right of town in Old Baylor Park are the rebuilt columns of the female Department of the University. The Male Campus was located on Windmill Hill.

    The stream in between the two campuses was lightheartedly referred to as The River Jordan - since the females (at least in the minds of the boys) dwelled in "the promised land."

    Friday Afternoon in Spring at Old Baylor Park > next page

    Old Baylor Ruins, columns in Old Baylor Park, Independence Texas
    Old Baylor Ruins. Columns in Old Baylor Park
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, 2008
    Baylor Female College, 1900s, Independence, Texas
    The original Baylor Female College, early 1900s
    Photo courtesy texasoldphotos.com
    Baylor Female College, Independence Texas old photo
    Baylor Female College in Independence
    Independence old well
    The well of the former Baylor kitchen
    TE photo
    Old Baylor Ruins close up, columns in Old Baylor Park, Independence Texas

    Windmill Hill and Recent Improvements

    Recent improvements on Windmill Hill include a walking path generously landscaped with native plants and a new generation of live oaks, an observation tower and the former foundations of the school.

    Much of the stone of the abandoned institution was appropriated by remaining Independence residents and it remains "on permanent loan" in many local buildings.

    Windmill Hill excavations, Texas
    Excavations of the former male dormitory on Windmill Hill
    TE photo
    Independence Texas former stage stop
    Former stage stop
    (Private property)
    TE photo
    A well has been re-excavated and lighted for the benefit of twilight visitors. The lighting offers a good look at the substantial limestone shelf the well diggers had to break through.

    Visitors can orient themselves by using old photographs (transferred onto metal) provided by Baylor University.

    Across the street from Windmill Hill is the former home (c. 1845) of General Jerome B. Robertson - Captain in the Army of the Republic of Texas, Captain in the Somervell Expedition and Brigadier General of Hood's Brigade, C.S.A. The house has been saved by an owner willing to wait for a buyer who will faithfully restore the property.
    Independence , Texas cemetery
    Independence Cemetery. TE photo
    More Texas Cemeteries

    Independence Cemetery

    Eight tenths of a mile North of the columns in Old Baylor Park on Coles-McCrocklin Road is the Old Independence Cemetery which dates to the 1820s. Family plots include the Clay and Coles families. Many inscriptions of places of birth show the geographical diversity of the early settlers. The setting of the cemetery surrounded by live oaks, pastures and ponds deepens an already strongly-felt timelessness.

    Where to Stay - Independence Area Hotels:
    Brenham Hotels
    The Houston Family as Residents

    Sam Houston lived in Independence after serving as Senator from Texas in the United States. He rented a house not far from the Old Baylor Ruins and left his mark in the local church where a pew still exhibits damage from his hobby of whittling during sermons - a once popular past time that is frowned upon today.

    Houston was also Baptized in Independence - on November 19, 1854 - not in the church as planned, but in Little Rocky Creek - between Houston's house and the church. Legend has it that young pranksters learned of the impending Baptism and clogged the ceremonial font with mud and debris the night before.

    Margaret Lea Houston - Sam's third wife is buried in Independence. She died of Yellow Fever in 1867 and law prevented her body from being sent to Huntsville to lie beside her husband. Her mother is also buried here.
    Sam Houston
    by James Haley
    Prior to the Civil War a debate was held in Independence on the thorny issue of secession. The debate (comprised of Baylor University students) was won in favor of the Union. A 50-foot "liberty pole" was erected and the U. S. flag unfurled, but within a short time the pole was chopped down by the mayor of Independence (Tass Clay), reflecting the feelings of the majority of citizens - debate or no debate.
    Robert McAlpin Williamson
    Three-legged Willie by Bob Bowman ("All Things Historical" Column)
    "The Republic of Texas, which existed only a decade, had its share of interesting characters. But few of them were as colorful as Three Legged Willie, who passed away some 146 years ago...." more
    A Walk Around Independence, Texas
    Photos courtesy Stephen Michaels
     Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, 2008
    Independence, Texas dog trot cabin
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, 2008
    Cactus floweres in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    Morning Glory in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    Cactus in bloom in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    Field of Wildflowers in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    Field of Wildflowers in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    Wildflowers in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    Wildflowers in Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008
    Independence, Texas
    Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, 2008
    Old gas pump and gas staton
    A view near Independence
    TE photo
    See Texas Gas Stations | Texas Towns
    Independence bell tower
    Independence Bell Tower
    TE photo
    Independence TX Old Baylor Park Family amid Wildflower
    Friday Afternoon in Spring at Old Baylor Park >
    Independence Notes
    by John A. Gilmartin

    Editor's Note: In our original text on Independence, we mistakenly refered to John P. Coles as John P. Cole and former Mayor Tass Clay as "Task" Clay. Our errors were noted by Mr. Gilmartin who wrote the following letter:

    First of all, I genuinely compliment you on the wonderful information you have compiled and published on-line. The accompanying photographs are excellent and I am honored that you included a shot of the old General Store and Texaco Gas Pump that I own that is on the fringe area of the original college site. I have owned property in the Old Baylor Park at Independence the past 30 years. I was an officer and member of the Independence Historical Society for many years and served on the Executive Committee of the Washington County Historical Committee.

    John Prince Coles who was born in Rowan County, North Carolina in 1793 emmigrated to Texas from Jasper County Georgia at Monticello in 1820. He became a close and dear friend of Stephen F. Austin's. Austin rewarded Coles' friendship, service and loyalty by insuring that Coles received the largest land grants of all the original 300 colonists. He arrived at Independence in 1822 and constructed his "double-pen log house. Only one-half of it remains today. The south one-half was destroyed by the 1900 Galveston Storm and was not rebuilt.Coles also built and owned a Public House (Inn), constructed a mill on the Yegua Tributary of the Brazos and was an original Trustee of Baylor. Historically the town was known far and wide as Coles' Settlement. After San Jacinto and the Texas Victory, Dr. Asa Hoxey led the movement to change the town's name to INDEPENDENCE in commemmoration of Texas's new independent status from Mexico. Coles died in 1847 and is buried at the Old independence Cemetery. His widow Mary Eleanor had his tombstone carved following his death.

    The Mayor of Independence who chopped down the US Flag on the eve of the Civil War was Tass Clay, named for the Roman Emperior Tacitus. And in the Lea-Houston Family Cemetery, Margaret Lea Houston is buried with her mother Nancy Moffette Lea and some former slaves. The Houston's first-born son, Dr. Samuel Houston, Jr , is buried in the Old Independence Cemetery. Again, thank you for your wonderful information and [magazine]!

    John A. Gilmartin,
    Attorney at Law (Retired), Independence Local Historian, Crockett, Texas
    Independence, Texas
    Area Destinations:

    Washington County Towns
    Round Top
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    Central Texas South
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    Where to Stay - Independence Area Hotels:
    Brenham Hotels

    John Troesser
    Bibliography: Baylor at Independence: 1845-1886, Lois Smith Murray, Baylor University Press, 1972

    Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories, and vintage/historic photos of their town, please contact us.
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