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Texas | Columns

ALTO, TEXAS

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

Alto, Texas, 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 of Nacogdoches, 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 and corn.

But a few, including Coach Steve McCarty, came home.



Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical - 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.

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