in Cherokee County,
is the retirement home of legendary coach Steve McCarty, who made
his reputation guiding the fortunes of the South Park Greenies (does
anyone know what a "Greenie" is?) and the Nacogdoches Dragons before
completing his career in sports as athletic director of the Stephen
F. Austin State University Lumberjacks.
But we digress. This story is about Alto,
a town originally known as Branchtown located on El
Camino Real, or the Old San Antonio Road, where US Highway 69
and State Highway 21 intersect south of Rusk,
north of Lufkin, west
and east of Crockett.
Once upon a time, those places might have been described as near Alto,
for it was nearly as large as any of them.
Robert F. Mitchell settled there in 1859 on land acquired from John
Durst but once owned by William Barr and Samuel Davenport, who had
operated a trading venture in the area as early as the 1790s when
Spain still controlled Texas. Mitchell put up a mercantile establishment
and in 1850 the U.S. Government blessed the area with a post office
then officially named Branchtown. Soon afterwards Henry Berryman suggested
changing the name to Alto, meaning "high," because the settlement
occupied the highest point between the Neches
and Angelina rivers.
Because of Alto's location, a number of other businesses joined Mitchell's
store. These included gristmills, cotton
gins, a blacksmith shop, a newspaper, the inevitable saloon, and
a population of 600 on its way to 1,600 by the time of the Great Depression
in the 1930s.
Hard economic times drove some out of business and others out of town
and out of the county, seeking work. WWII
took a few more to military duty or defense work, and then not so
many were needed when East Texans took up raising chickens, cattle,
and crops of trees instead of cotton
But a few, including Coach Steve McCarty, came home.
- December 18, 2006 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.
More on Alto, Texas