Moses L. Choate, a native of Livingston, Tennessee, had started a settlement called Springfield on his land grant in 1835, and wanted the seat of government located there when Polk County was organized out of Liberty County in 1846. He offered to give the new county one hundred acres of land if Springfield was selected as County Seat and the name of the town be changed to Livingston, for his former home in Tennessee. Although this was very generous offer made by Choate, the legislature required that an election be held to determine the location of the County Seat for the newly organized Polk County. Thus, by election in June 1846, Springfield was decided upon and the name was changed to Livingston.
John English, a brother-in-law of Moses L. Choate, bought 500 acres of land north of Livingston, on which he built a two-story house of hand-sawed lumber. Mr. William M. Matthews bought the place in 1854 and was forced to sell it after the Civil War. The property was acquired by the Bean family, and is still owned by them.
The C. H. Davison home was the first prefabricated house in the county. It was cut out and partially fabricated in St. Louis and shipped here for assembly by R. A. Corry in 1887-1888. This home has a hand-carved staircase, mantles and wainscot, and is owned by a Davison daughter, Mrs. J. W. Leggett.
The Gordie Nettles home was built in 1895 of long leaf pine and cypress siding and trim. It is of Victorian design with "gingerbread" trim.
Other old homes are the W. K. McCardell home, the Kit Jackson home, he old Hill homes, the J. W. Cochran home, the two Drew homes, the Judge . C. Feagin home, the J. L. Manry home, the Tom Fitze home, the M. M. Baker home, the J. L. Muller home, and the Frank Manning home (now used as a business).
Brick Factory. A major fire destroyed most of the City of Livingston in 1902. Just after the fire, a brick factory was built on a site south of Choate's Creek.
Original organizers and owners included George Sawyer, A. L. Sawyer, George Smith, and most of the local business men of that time. Later, Dr. Robert D. Willis owned an interest.
Buildings still standing which were built of locally produced brick include the Ward Jones building, the H. B. Davis store, and the J. W. Cochran building. The Jones building was originally built for the First National Bank in 1902.
Utilities. The Livingston Telephone Company, Polk County's first utility, was organized August 3, 1903, with the following stockholders: L. F. Gerlach, S. H. Smith, J.C. Feagin, Hill and Hill, T. F. Meece, B. C. Marsh, S. J. Andress, T. B. Davis, W. B. Everitt, George F. Sawyer, A. L. Sawyer, George Smith, S. M. Peters, J. W. Cochran, Mistrot Brothers, J. L. Muller, H. B. Davis, P. H. Blalock, J. A. Dye, D. R. Bonner, Capitol stock as $2,000.00.
Forty telephones, each on its own line, were placed into service and Mr. Watt Scarborough was hired as manager.
The outside plant was rebuilt in 1909 and the first creosote pine poles in Polk County were placed into service. The first one was on the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Church Street.
Power Plant. The Livingston Power Plant was established in 1905 by George and Albert Sawyer, using a small wood-fired steam engine of about 20-horse power. Fifteen homes were wired with lines and since lighting was he sole use of. this power the plant gave service only at night for five years. The company was operated by two men; the manager, Roy Sawyer, and a
lineman. During the first two years, the revenue did not reach $100.00 a month.
In 1907, the plant was sold for $2,000.00 to a group of local businessmen: A. J. Sloan, L. T. Sloan, L. F. Gerlach, and others.
Several business houses installed electric fans about 1910 and household appliances were becoming available; so the output was increased to include daylight service. The first electric irons in Livingston were owned by Mrs. H. B. Davis and Mrs. L. F. Gerlach.
The Press. Earliest years the newspapers are known to have been published are as follows:
1858-61 and 1865-67 THE RISING SUN, Livingston, J. E. Hill, Sr. owner and editor.
1868 THE ARGUS, Livingston, John and E. M. Kirgan.
1878-79 POLK COUNTY BANNER, Livingston, Frank and Jeff Brown.
1881 EAST TEXAS PINERY, Moscow (later moved to Livingston), J. M. and J. C. Stockton. (Later: Argalus Rice, Editor & Publisher).
1882 LOCAL PROGRESS, Livingston, P. Roger Rose. (Still being published in 1902)
1889-92 NATIONAL ALLIANCE, Livingston (Farm publication).
1892 THE CORRIGAN INDEX, Corrigan.
1895 LIVINGSTON LOCAL, Livingston, R. L. Synott, Dave Green, and Will Palmer.
1905 POLK COUNTY ENTERPRISE, Livingston, Will West (First Linotype press in the County brought from Coldspring ).
Early Leaders in the Community.
Doctors: B. C. Marsh, E. B. Parsons, Junius Taylor, J. H. McCardell, W. K. McCardell, Harry Bergman, W. F. Gibson, J. W. Angell, W. B. Everitt, H. S. Denham.
Lawyers: James Murray Crosson, John Lane Henry, George W. Davis, T. F. Meece, Judge Edwin Hobby, Judge Jim C. Feagin, Judge J. E. Hill, Sr., Judge Joe Holshausen, Peter Gray, A. B. Watts, Pleasant Reid Rowe, J. A. McCardell, Clarence L. Carter, John Tackaberry, C. G. Tackaberry, S. H. German, J. L. Manry.
Musicians: Charles G. Fitze, Burrell Magee, Winona Hill Davis (teacher), Sam Barington, Frank Manning family, A. W. Peebles family, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Willis, Mrs. Evelyn Bean Collins (teacher), Mrs. Mamie Rose Cochran (teacher), Mrs. Ben Lewis (teacher), Mrs. Inez Meece Laramore (teacher).
Ministers (Methodist): D. B. Blackwell Dunnam, John W. Stevens, B. C. Anderson, Thomas Wilkin, William H. Shotwell, William P. Sanson, D. M. Stovall, J. A. Smith, Acton Young, Alfred Kavanaugh, J. X. Box, John McMillen, James Gipson Hardin, L. C. Price, M. C. Simpson, James E. Scroogs, R. M. Kirby, J. H. Neeley, T. A. Scruggs, J. H. Sweeney, E.W. White, J. M. Bond, R. M. Sproule, W. H. Crawford, J. M. Porter, J. A. Smith, C. H. McKnight, L. C. Ellis, J. T. McClure, W. A. Sample, J. M. Perry, J. L. Hare, E. Philip Angell, Lacy Boone.
Ministers (Baptist): J. W. D. Creath, Reuben Brown, Arnold Rhodes, P. H. Bilbro, Thomas McCrorey, Joseph H. Ellis., J. T. Browning, John Marc, Dr. W. B. Everett, W. J. David, E. D. Blankenship, W. B. Wadsworth.
Ministers (Presbyterian): T. DeWitt Burkehead, L. W. Currie, T. W. White, John G. Henderson, James G. Tower, William McCarty, W. J. Sechrist, G. W. Storey.
Livingston Burns. In August of 1902, one major fire took every building between Abbey and Polk Streets, except the Courthouse, a brick building.
Prohibition was the issue and a citizen, said to have been in illicit liquor business, was accused of burning the town. He was tried in Livingston, but there was a hung jury. The case was moved to Huntsville and he was cleared.
A smaller fire about a year later caused the death of one man. A Mr. Zimmermann, who was helping to put out the fire, was hit by a shotgun blast and killed.
No insurance was available at that time to help cover losses by fire. One businessman, who lost stores in both fires, was unable to rebuild the second time.
To this date, no saloons or legal sales of intoxicating liquors have been allowed in Livingston.
Churches. The first church building in Livingston was the Methodist, built sometime between organization in 1849 and October 27, 1859, when the deed was recorded. Polk County conveyed to the trustees of the church Block No. 40 as a gift to be used as a Sunday School and church. Soon a building was erected and other faiths also worshiped in the same structure. Another lot was purchased on September 19, 1905, and another building erected in 1906. The original building was moved to the northeast part of town and used as a place of worship by the African Methodist Church.
In the 1850s the Baptist Church was organized and preaching's were held in the community church. About 1882 they erected a small frame church on the site where Central Baptist Church now stands. In 1906 this building as replaced by a red brick church costing about $4,200.00.
The First Baptist Church was started in 1884 when M. B. Stone came to Livingston from the Bold Springs community, and he and others organized the church after a disagreement with the original Baptist Church of Livingston members. The actual division came in 1904. The Baptist Church organized in 1847 became known as the Central Baptist Church and remained on the original site.
The First Presbyterian Church was organized in Livingston in 1881 and services were held in the school house, but later the Methodists kindly offered the use of their church for preaching services once a month and Sunday School every Sunday afternoon. In 1884, J. M. Crosson, who was county judge at that time, presented the congregation the block of land on which the church now stands; the purchase price of the lot being $10.00. A building was erected which was used until a brick building was completed. The first manse was erected in 1890.
Early Livingston Businesses.
Stores: Elijah Peters and Walter Willis, W. D. Willis, B. W. Henry and Demetrius Willis, M. B. Stone, C. J. Gerlach and Brother, W. E. Fitze, C. H. Davison, David S. Chandler, J. A. McCardell, Davis McCardell, Abe Peebles, C. R. Miller, Chandler and Carr, John P. Kale, L. R. Fife.
Livery and Feed Stable: C. K. Sisson.
Barber: T. F. Meece.
Surveyor: Ben Lewis.
Land and General Agent: R. W. Hubert.
Jeweler and Auto Mechanic: C. N. Fisher.
Real Estate and Cotton Gin: J. W. Cochran
Hotels. The first hotels in the county were located at Swartwout and Drew's Landing, and the Andress Hotel in Livingston had the distinction of being the third. It was established around 1848, and was a combination restaurant, saloon, grocery store, livery stable, bank, post office, stage station, and frequently the only office for the town's businessmen. James Andress built his hotel south of the present courthouse, where Pedigo's Furniture Store is now located. It was a center of bustling activity for many years, and Sam Houston attended dances there. The hotel records for the years 1851-1856 are available today.
Andress Inn customers, August 1851: Wm. Fields, Charley Cleveland, Arthur P. Garner, Wm. Agee, John Perrins, John P. Kale, Samuel Rowe, K.B. DeWalt, James H. McCardell, M. Darby, J. W. Knight, Oliver Garner, D.D. Moore, Robert Williamson, James Hickman, John H. Jones, John Victory, Wm. L. Gates. J. L. Neyland, Wiley I. Peace, John English, Wiley Harper, Alex Weathers, W. H. Gee, G. W. Nelson, W. L. Knight, Elby Curtis, J. M. Williams, John Culp, Jackson Long, Enoch Jones, Jack Jones, E. T. Wingate, Isaac Williams, W. H. Carter, James Butler, E. A. Burrell, Col. Buckner.
The story of the old Keys Hotel as told by Mrs. W. T. Epperson (from POLK COUNTY ENTERPRISE, October 13, 1938) "It was in the year of 1860 when I was a child of four years, we arrived at the Andress' Inn by way of stage coach. The Inn, situated on the south side of the present courthouse of Polk County, was the only hostelry in town.
"It consisted of two large rooms and a hall downstairs, two rooms upstairs, and a kitchen out in the back yard. Here the meals were prepared on A huge fireplace. The large dinner bell that could be heard all over the town, is now owned by the Masonic Lodge of Livingston.
"The bedsteads for the guests were hand carved and laced together with ropes that served as springs. Sills of the Inn were hand hewed logs about 12 x 12. As the county prospered, a new courthouse was built and the old courthouse of one large room was purchased by Mr. Andress. This he attached to the Inn and used it as a dining room. In this room square dances were enjoyed.
"The passing of Mr. and Mrs. Andress left the Inn to their only heir and daughter, Mrs. H. C. Keys, who as proprietress, added several rooms and discarded the kitchen in the yard for a "modern" attached kitchen with a cook stove.
"The name of the house was then known as the Keys Hotel. In later years, Mrs. Epperson, granddaughter-in-law of Mrs. Keys, took charge of the hotel and remained its proprietress until 1907, when the property was sold for building purposes."
In 1902, the City Restaurant, owned by Miss Lillie Stockwell, opened and was located just across the railroad from the courthouse.
The Oleander Hotel was owned and operated originally as the Meece Hotel by T. F. Meece and his wife.
Public School Education in Livingston.
The earliest recorded school system in Livingston was free academy financed by the Trinity Lodge # 14, A. M. & F. M. The school met in two rooms on the first floor of the original two-story Masonic Lodge building.
This structure stood in the southwest corner of what is now the Old City cemetery. The school opened in 1849 and offered free education to the children of Livingston until the late 1880s.
A complete list of teachers during this period is not available, however, from U. S. census and fragmentary school records, the following teachers can be associated with the early school 1850-Uriah Blue and A. A. Ayden; 1857-G. S. Hart; and 1860-5. T. Newton and James A. Bright.
The school term generally lasted three months, but students often enrolled for two such terms when instructors were available. Among the last teachers to staff the Livingston Academy were Miss Ida Hill and a Mr. Milliken. The city school director in 1873 was Andrew P. Coker. For advanced training, most Livingston graduates attended either the Gillett Academy in Coldsprings (which at that time was in Polk County or the Male and Female Academy at Moscow. A few tutors conducted small private schools within the city and, in the 1890s, Miss Jennie Rose had a kindergarten which met in her home on Polk Street.
On April 25, 1888, the Public Free Schools of Livingston purchased
from the Shotwell family a portion of the City Block #6 on Jackson Avenue to erect a schoolhouse. The Board of Trustees, A. B. Green, Y. W, McNeil, J. M. Stockton, W. H. Matthews, and L. F. Gerlach, received financial assistance in this transaction from the Trinity Lodge #14 and the Methodist Church. Additional property was added to this initial purchase in 1889 and 1910.
The first structure built on the new lot in 1888 was a large two-story building with a water well in back. Later, when the well went dry, buckets of water had to be carried to the school. Two boys were selected each day to bring water from a well at Judge James C. Feagin's home. They placed the bucket on a broom handle and carried it between them. A common dipper as provided for drinking.
Although the school had a bell, the dinner bell at the Keys' Hotel, downtown, rang each day at 11:55 and the children used this as a signal to put away their books and get ready for lunch.
The usual starting age for school was nine, but ages varied according to circumstances at home and the need for the children to work on the farms. Some families alternated, allowing one child to attend each year.
The playground was divided by a fence to separate the boys from the girls. This type of segregation was also practiced in the classroom. There was no playground equipment and the children amused themselves playing "Pop-the-Whip" and "Red Rover" or softball with a board for a bat. The girls enjoyed dancing to the music of a French harp and telling ghost stories, using the setting of the dimly lighted upstairs of the school to add stark horror to heir tales. An amusement during class was taking baked sweet potatoes from other students' lunches and eating them in the cloakroom while the teacher wasn't looking. The most exciting day of the year was when the Mollie Bailey Circus parade passed the school on its way to set up tents on the vacant lot behind the Feagin home. Classes were disrupted for this annual trek of clowns, performers, animals, and a small, but loud, band.
Classes were held from 8 to 4 and many pupils had to walk long distances to the schoolhouse. Sudden storms occasionally flooded creek bottomlands and when students couldn't get home, parents trusted the teachers to find their children suitable lodging with local families.
Administrators and teachers in this school who have been remembered by older citizens were C. L. McCartney, W. B. Hargis, L. D. Washington, George Davis, William Walter Peebles, Hill Davis, Jesse H. Taylor, J. L. Manry, S. H. Barrington, U. M. Brown, B. D. Holland, Fox Campbell, Kate Miller, Ella Davis, E. A. Davis, 0. P. Hill, Eva Rowe, Marcellus Winston, May Andress, and Mrs. Willie Leggett.
Prior to 1901, the average salary for teachers was $35.00 for four months ($8.75 per month). In 1901, the salary was raised to $50.00 for a seven month term ($7.14 per month). The community furnished room and board, and the students kept the schoolhouse clean. The boys moved the desks and the girls swept the floors. Discipline was not a major problem. Sound thrashings quickly eliminated most difficulties. One teacher reportedly whipped the same two boys each morning, whether they needed it or not, just to start the day off in the right spirit. School records show there were 190 pupils enrolled in 1903.
Livingston High School (grades 9 and 10) was initiated in 1906 with J.F. Stevens, principal, and Miss Eva Rowe, assistant teacher. The other teachers in that year were Carroll Ray (grades 7 & 8), Maymie Rhodes (5 & 6), Cleo Murchison (3 & 4), Fannie Andress (2), and Winnie Jones (first grade). The school term was extended to 8 months. The POLK COUNTY ENTERPRISE Printery advertised report cards at 2¢ each.
The first high school graduating class in 1908 was composed of the following students:
Myra Lewis (Green) who taught school in Livingston and Raymondville.
Brown L. Meece who graduated from Texas A. & M. and became vice-president for the Globe Oil Co., Chicago, and later for the Sinclair Oil Co.
Ralph Feagin who was a graduate of the University of Texas. After some years as a lawyer in Houston, he became executive vice-president of Electric Bond and Share Co., New York City. He later returned to Houston as a partner in the law firm of Baker, Botts, Andrews, and Wharton.
The first high school commencement was held at the Livingston Opera House with J. F. Stevens, principal, in charge.
There was only one graduate in 1909, Allie Garvey (Bean). In the fall of 1909, E. P. Gaines accepted the position of principal. On March 17, 1910, the first materials arrived for a new school building and the school closed early in April to get the children off the grounds before work was started. Five graduates received high school diplomas in April 1910: Addelle Green (Peebles), A. E. Gerlach, J. W. Cochran, Jr., Charlie Epperson, and Vester Kersh. These last graduation ceremonies from the old school were held at the Methodist Church.
During the summer of 1910, the school building was divided. A portion of it was put on logs and pulled by mule teams to the Green Field division here it became the Negro schoolhouse. Another portion of the building was used to form the C. F. Fain home. A new two-story brick building was erected for the Livingston school system at a cost of $25,000.00 (to be paid in 40 years). It was a modern building for the day and had the advantage of the first daylight services being offered by the Livingston Light and Power Company. The building was 75' x 165' and had nine classrooms, a library, an auditorium that would seat 425, and a heating plant in the basement. The design was described as the "old mission style." The building opened on Wednesday, October 26, 1910.