list them alphabetically, the first town was Aiken,
located about four miles south of the town of Moffat.
It once boasted a few three-story buildings, stores, saloon, a blacksmith
shop. For a time during the Civil War, a factory there manufactured
hats used by the Confederate Army. A distillery produced whisky
its owner distributed across the state by ox-drawn wagon.
One of Bell County’s
first towns, at its peak Aiken
had close to a thousand residents. But by the early 1950s all that
remained, according to longtime Temple Daily Telegram columnist
Madie B. Smith were “weed-covered piles of stone, a crumbling chimney
or two, and here and there the rock foundations of an old house.”
next town lost to Lake
Belton was Bland,
founded in 1880 by Col. John Atkerson, who opened a general store
near where Owl Creek flowed into the Leon. The colonel took in money
from his customers in two ways. The first was the traditional exchange
of coin and cash for dry goods, notions and hardware. The second
was a standing poker game in the store’s back room in which shoppers,
at least the men, often were relieved of the change they had left
after buying what they needed.
The card game developed such repute – disrepute might be a better
word – that people started calling the town Pokersville. Fourteen
years went by before residents decided that a name honoring a game
of chance was not particularly dignified for a town with aspirations
of growth. It must have been someone with a wry sense of humor who
suggested that instead of Pokersville they name the place Bland.
No matter its plain-sounding name, Bland
still had 20 residents in 1949 (down from its peak of 63 in 1925)
when contractors brought in heavy equipment and began moving earth
in preparation for the placing of metal and the pouring of concrete.
For years, the Bland
post office had been run by John Trimmier, whose service as postmaster
was a near national record. After he cancelled his last stamp, his
daughter took over and operated the station until it closed.
next vanished town was Brookhaven.
On Oak Branch near the Leon about 12 miles northwest of Belton,
the community was first known as Post Oak Branch. However, in 1882
it was renamed for the town in Mississippi where a couple of its
residents hailed from. By the turn of the century, Brookhaven
had 75 residents and a Masonic hall, school, three churches, two
stores, two drug stores, and a cotton gin. The post office closed
in 1913, and by World
War Two the town had only 50 or so residents. Part of it was
erased when the Army acquired property for Fort Hood, and anything
that was left was swallowed by the lake.
there was Sparta,
a little village near where Cow House Creek drained into the Leon.
A long way from the site of its namesake in Greece, Sparta
is believed to have started out with the more terrain-appropriate
name of Cedar Grove. When that post office burned, early area settler
Francis D. Smith (the postmaster) and Wash Walton applied for the
more exotic name. The Post Office Department gave its approval in
post office closed in 1920, but in 1948, the town still had a couple
of churches, two businesses and a school. But the lake did what
the boll weevil and the Great Depression had not and killed the
completion of the 100-foot tower that would serve as the reservoir’s
water intake and overflow release system, the Temple newspaperwoman
drove to the construction site for a look around.
“The tower,” she wrote, “as beautiful in its gleaming perfection
as the dreaming valley, catches within its…pipes the melody of the
wind, adds its own interpretation of the wondrous works of nature
and man and speaks in organ-toned, plaintive music….There are no
notes of tragedy or complaining…. It is in tune with the valley,
a gentle, soft-furrowed valley with no harshness or fighting resistance
in its heart.”
Journalists seldom get time to try for fine writing. But sometimes
it does happens, no matter the deadline, no matter the next breaking
story. Smith’s long ago farewell to a soon-to-be drowned section
of the Leon River valley reads as powerfully now as then:
“The rising waters of the lake will one day still its voice, but
now the tower joins in the melody of birds and attuned nature in
requiem to a…little valley whose gifts to mankind are part and parcel
of an eternal cycle.”
© Mike Cox
- November 12, 2015 Column